When a late arrival thought he'd catch up on the buzz at a recent conference of CIOs, he logged into Twitter. What he found -- or rather didn't find -- amazed him.
"I couldn't find a single tweet about what was happening at the conference that morning -- 300 CIOs in a room and not a single one using Twitter," recalls Paul Gillin, founder of Paul Gillin Communications, a social media consultancy in Framingham, Mass. Gillin, a former Computerworld editor in chief, was referring to a 2010 conference held by a vendor he didn't want to name.
[ InfoWorld's Bob Lewis looks at the true value of social networking at work. | Also on InfoWorld: 6 tools that help businesses tame Twitter. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line blog and newsletter. ]
Though he acknowledges that marketing is the dominant use of social media tools, the lack of Twitter activity by a group of CIOs "didn't make sense to me," Gillin says. "When a new technology comes into use, it is IT's responsibility to understand it."
"Were they healthcare CIOs? We're always five to 10 years behind," says Ed Marx, CIO at Texas Health Resources in Arlington, in response to Gillin's anecdote. Marx, who calls himself a "big-time" Twitter user, says, "it's unfortunate that CIOs who really should be out there leading and experimenting and innovating are not."
Marx says he started using Twitter two and a half years ago, and now regularly uses Facebook, LinkedIn, and an internal social media tool.
Marx and others aside, IT in general appears ambivalent about social media. In a 2009 survey of over 1,400 CIOs by Robert Half Technology, more than half of the respondents said that their companies banned social media use by employees. Another 19 percent said their companies limited social media activity to business use only.
When the staffing firm updated its social media survey in May, only 31 percent of the CIOs polled said their companies ban social media outright.
A 2009 Manpower study (download PDF) based on a survey of 34,000 employers -- the respondents weren't necessarily CIOs -- found that only 24 percent percent of U.S. companies had formal policies about social media.
Outside looking in
"I don't see IT taking the function over," says Joseph Yanoska, vice president of technology at American Greetings Interactive in Cleveland. He thinks marketing should control the technology, since "it's ultimately a tool to help the relationship with customers."
But Gillin doesn't think that means IT should be less involved than it was when, for instance, companies began adopting ERP systems 15 years ago. "IT was very involved in that despite the fact that ERP was an accounting technology," he says. Social media, he adds, "is the future of how companies will operate, will engage with customers. IT should have an important role in it."