The Social Media Challenge: How Do We Meet It?

You are here

October 2010
In This Issue:

With the wide-ranging accessibility that is at the very core of social media, both individuals and businesses are finding all the possibilities provided by the available technologies to be a bit of a double-edged sword: offering both tremendous opportunity and extreme challenge."

— Gabriele Piccoli, Editor

In this issue of Cutter Benchmark Review, we turn our attention to a topic that has been increasingly in the public eye: social media. With YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter becoming so much a part of today's everyday language for the average person, it's easy to forget how new they really are. The truth is, though, that the current landscape of social media technologies looks remarkably different from how it looked just a few short years ago when it was first emerging onto the scene. What was originally only an interesting diversion for a small population of techies and college students has quickly and rather explosively become a major social phenomenon — one with cultural, practical, and business implications that become more far-reaching in scope every day. People both young and old now use social media to connect, share information, and increasingly shop and complete transactions (post a job on LinkedIn lately anyone?). To get a sense of how far we have come, just watch the video "The 20 Oldest Videos Posted on YouTube." (You'll find it on, where else, YouTube; for the record, my personal favorite is the two Chinese kids lip-synching songs from the Backstreet Boys.) With the wide-ranging accessibility that is at the very core of social media, both individuals and businesses are finding all the possibilities provided by the available technologies to be a bit of a double-edged sword: offering both tremendous opportunity and extreme challenge.

So what does this all mean for us in the IT shop? How do we manage in this environment where so many of the contributing factors are not within our control? And how do we use the information we can gather from social media monitoring (SMM) to set ourselves up for success? While most of us are familiar with at least some portion of the variety of available social media, often using it daily in some capacity, we are considerably less familiar with the specific ways in which it can be used as a tool to move our organizations forward. In view of its exponential growth and increasing influence (as Time tells us by putting the founder of Facebook on its cover), this seemed like an excellent time for us at CBR to examine how companies are currently using and monitoring social media technologies, as well as the resulting perceptions of the impact of that usage. To benchmark current practice, we conducted a survey of business managers and IT professionals to see what their experiences with social media have been thus far. For practical guidance, we then asked our academic and practicing expert contributors to interpret the survey results and provide us with some insight and recommendations for moving forward.

Our academic contributor this month is Rajiv Sabherwal, University of Missouri Curators Professor at the College of Business Administration at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. In addition to being a frequent Cutter contributor, Rajiv focuses on knowledge management (KM), business intelligence (BI), information systems strategy and success, and social aspects of systems development. His findings have been published in numerous journals, and he has coauthored several textbooks on KM and BI. Rajiv's extensive knowledge and background make him uniquely qualified to untangle the results of our survey on this significant and timely topic.

Providing our view from the field is Vince Kellen, CIO at the University of Kentucky and current Senior Consultant for Cutter's Business-IT Strategies and Business Intelligence practice areas. Vince writes, speaks, and advises organizations on business and IT strategy, IT organizational development, and IT trends. His extensive background and in-the-field experience are invaluable resources for us as we try to gain a deeper understanding of business experience to date with social media technology.

Rajiv begins his contribution by discussing the SMM aspects among survey respondents, specifically addressing its impacts on market understanding and firm performance. He follows by discussing the kinds of social media that companies monitor. I think you will find Rajiv's thorough dissection and insightful analysis of the survey data informative, particularly his examples from current business and his concluding recommendations for those managers looking to move forward.

Vince's article provides us with a concise breakdown of the complex layers that surround SMM, from the overall percentages of businesses that do it to the views of its perceived benefits and the many considerations and beliefs surrounding its implementation. Providing us with a straightforward analysis of what the survey numbers mean in context, Vince's piece will either galvanize your already preconceived ideas about social media, or it will pique your interest in finding out more about the possibilities that social media represents for your organization in the near future.

Whether or not you have already jumped onto the social media bandwagon, you will find this installment of CBR helpful as you attempt to get a broad overall view of the potential benefits and pitfalls social media represents for your organization. Hearing about the supposed prospects to move your business forward may not be enough to move you toward any kind of implementation just yet, but learning from the candid responses of your colleagues from a wide swatch of organizations, as well as from the insightful analysis of those responses by our expert contributors, will hopefully allow you to gauge the potential that SMM holds for you in the near future. After all, who better to learn from than those who have already leaped into the fray?