When a company needs to add a new technology platform that will improve business processes for employees and customers, the tendency is to tap the CIO to do the work. After all, he or she is the person responsible for the company's tech infrastructure.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this is also true for businesses that need to implement a social networking platform. But it's not the case, according to Gartner analyst Anthony Bradley. The CEO is the one who needs to pick the most appropriate platform.
The answer is simple: Social networking is a people-driven technology first and an information technology second.
"The CIO cannot make a business social," Bradley said. "Only the CEO or senior business leadership can make the business social."
Bradley co-authored a book on the social media for businesses, titled, "The Social Organization: How to Use Social Media to Tap the Collective Genius of Your Customers and Employees."
Unfortunately, that's not the way a lot of large businesses are going about crafting their social enterprise. On the contrary, many companies practice "provide and pray." That is, the IT organization rolls out social media software and hundreds or thousands of employees run wild with it.
A classic fail case is when a company replaces their corporate directory with a social network. They hope that something good comes of it and that users participate.
Unfortunately, this approach fails 99 percent of the time, Bradley said.
Success with social media is a nut that has to be cracked by business leadership, not technology, he said. It's only when management figures out what it wants to do with social technologies that it can go ahead and work with the CIO and the IT department on choosing and implementing the right social tools.
This is a big shift for IT since IT has long been used to just setting up a platform for email and instant messaging and making sure it's properly upgraded.
And that's the next huge challenge: figuring out what tools are needed. Does a company simply require blogs for individual messaging, discussion groups for customers or both, with a heavy dose of Facebook-style social media, such as user profiles with the ability to share photos, videos, status updates, events and documents?
Forrester Research is so confident in this market that it believes such tools will replace classic unified communications and collaboration suites in a few years. This emerging market for social enterprise software will grow at a compound annual rate of 61 percent through 2016, topping out at $6.4 billion, according to a Nov. 30 report.
Vendors such as Jive, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce.com and a cornucopia of others stand at the ready to provide such tools. Fortune 500 companies such as Ford Motor Co., General Electric and AT&T are experimenting with, or have selected, such software tools for their employees and possibly even customers.
Ford typifies the classic large enterprise that is dabbling in social networking software, and Bradley acknowledged the motor vehicle company as an enterprise that has enjoyed repeated success in social media.
Ford has between 40,000 and 50,000 knowledge workers using Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software suite, which includes shared workspaces and Microsoft Communicator for unified communications.