How to be an IT social media star

Savvy IT leaders are using social media to better communicate with peers, employees and customers. You can too.

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Social media outlets like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blog networks give IT executives invaluable opportunities to network, improve company operations, learn from other thought leaders and become thought leaders themselves.

But the transparent, real-time nature of social media can be daunting. New channels seem to crop up every other week, and real PR disasters can result from the wrong kind of exposure. Even the savviest social media users are still charting their course in these exceptionally muddied waters.

How's an IT leader to cope? The sad fact is: many aren't. According to a survey released this year by, a company that provides social software, only 10% of Fortune 250 CIOs are actually using social media themselves. A game-changing technology that is increasingly the communication norm for the masses is being delegated to junior staffers or ignored outright by the executives who drive tomorrow's IT ideas.

However, IT execs may be wising up to the importance of social media engagement. "I think [executive social media adoption] is steadily increasing," says Jeffrey Mann, VP for collaboration and social software at Gartner. "It's gone from 'What is this about?' or 'What does this have to do with us?' to 'How can we use it to drive innovation or break down barriers within our organization?'"

Computerworld set out to answer those questions for IT professionals looking to adopt or broaden a social media presence. Forget learning about hashtags or how to toggle your privacy settings; these are real strategies social IT leaders use every day to engage with customers, connect with industry leaders, manage internal operations and improve the company bottom line.

In short, these tips can help you go from IT executive to IT social media star.

Tap into the social information network

"When you jump in [to social media], you really need to have a clear definition of why you're jumping in," says Mike Capone, corporate vice president and CIO at Automatic Data Processing. "Otherwise it just becomes another channel of things coming at you."

One great reason to jump in is to find information about the markets, businesses, technologies and ideas that matter to you. Services like LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ provide massive, open and free repositories of information shared between people looking to solve each other's problems. The executives we talked to mine social sites for links, commentary and connections that facilitate conversations -- all in real time as research is released and market trends take shape.

"I use Twitter not just as a source of communication, but as a source of information. It's a walking encyclopedia," says Gina Tomlinson, CTO for the City and County of San Francisco. According to Tomlinson, that kind of information is power -- and it comes from people.

"My advice would be to follow first and let it organically grow," says Mike Rodger, director of digital innovation for Delta Hotels and Resorts. "Sign up, start tracking [topics] and following people. Find other like-minded individuals. The beauty of these social media channels is that you can see who those people are following" and follow them in turn to grow your network.

Rodger does just that to keep abreast of developments in the hospitality and IT sectors, while tracking consumers' responses to Delta's latest projects. Even if you're not putting your personal thoughts out in the ether, you can leverage social media to learn the thoughts of others who are. And once you do that, you might just want to start making your own waves.

Be yourself

When you're an individual IT pro developing a social media presence, authenticity and personality matter. Promoting and protecting your brand and company are big concerns, but ones that are best left to your marketing and PR teams. More important, our experts say, is to share your technology passions, problems and expertise. Far from a liability, this sort of transparency can be an asset.

"It does not show weakness. It does not show vulnerability. It shows that you have an openness and a willingness to learn, share and network," says Tomlinson. "Giving yourself that level of transparency, it actually strengthens your organization."

ADP's Mike Capone says he goes out of his way to encourage other executives to forgo sales pitches on social media sites. "I don't use LinkedIn to try to knock down doors for sales. I want social and LinkedIn to be a safe space," he says. "I don't ever want [connections] to feel threatened like I'm trying to sell them something."

That kind of no-pressure authenticity separates the stars from the wannabes. For real results, give real feedback. Tomlinson does so often when it comes to the projects her department executes. She shares information, successes and, yes, problems she's encountering debuting new initiatives.

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