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Social media governance lacking at top firms

Corporate social media is a free-for-all. Many enterprises are experimenting with the technology, but they lack good governance. In most cases, IT organizations are not involved, and companies lack social media policies and adoption processes.

Enterprise adoption of social media and social networking technologies remains a free-for-all with little to no governance, putting many companies at risk of security breaches and public relations nightmares.

Research published this week by Cisco Systems found a startling lack of policies and procedures in place for enterprise social media use. Professors from several leading business schools conducted in-depth interviews with social media "thought leaders" at more than 100 enterprises that have incorporated social media into their unified communications and collaboration strategies.

"Only one in seven companies had a formal process in place for deploying social networking tools," said Dr. Neil Hair of the E. Philips Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology. "Only one in five have policies in place for use of social networking technologies. And only one in 10 noted having direct IT involvement in social networking initiatives. It has bypassed IT departments, but if we're going to ramp up efforts and explore the benefits of social media, more direct IT involvement might not be such a bad thing."

The lack of involvement of IT organizations in social media initiatives is probably contributing to the overall failure of enterprises to adopt processes and policies.

"It's really about IT taking a more active role," said Hans Hwang, vice president of advanced services at Cisco. "It's about taking a leadership position and understanding the business stakeholders' needs and providing them with a more common platform that multiple divisions can make use of. Right now many divisions are making purchasing decisions independent of IT. IT organizations need to work with legal and public relations to define acceptable usage policies."

3M, the international manufacturer of industrial goods and consumer products, has been experimenting with social media for several years. Although the IT organization hasn't spearheaded the company's global efforts in social media, and processes for social media adoption vary from project to project, the company has established specific policies for use of the technology.

3M has three sets of social media policies in place, according to Hugh Murphy, business manager for e-Channels for 3M in the U.K. "First we have a policy for the use of social media for personal use on 3M IT systems," Murphy said. "Then there is a policy for contributing as a 3M employee to public social media sites. Finally, if you want to create a specific 3M-owned social media program, we have a policy for that."

At many enterprises, IT organizations tend to be involved in social media projects that exist within the corporate firewall, such as an internal enterprise social networking project or a wiki-based intranet, according to Mike Gotta, principal analyst at the Burton Group. However, when enterprises start experimenting with external social networking projects, such as establishing corporate pages on Facebook, IT loses control.

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"Outside the firewall, social media is generally owned by marketing, and IT organizations may not be fully involved," Gotta said. "Marketing might use Facebook and Twitter, but they may not appreciate that interoperability and tools exist to mitigate risk. Outside-the-firewall use of social media is where I'm seeing the biggest bump in client inquiries. Identity and security pros are asking about it. They're having more integration issues with Facebook Connect and Twitter APIs," he continued. "All of a sudden, they're starting to bring social data inside the enterprise and put it alongside enterprise applications, and we don't have identity insurance. IT is just beginning to get involved from an identity, security and risk perspective."

3M has a social networking platform in place inside the firewall, Murphy said, although he declined to name the vendor that supplied the technology. External to the firewall, individual business units have taken ownership of social networking projects. Murphy's role is to help his division's sales and marketing organizations to use public social media technologies to interact and collaborate with customers and partners. For instance, he helped launch a 3M YouTube channel aimed at distributors of 3M products.

"It allows our sales and marketers to interact with distributors in a fun and humorous way," he said.

End users at 3M who have experimented with social media are becoming interested in having more integration between social networking tools and enterprises applications, Murphy said. If users continue to push for that integration, IT may have to respond.

"One of our senior managers posted a question on our [internal] social network," Murphy said. "He asked: 'How do I get alerts or follow activity in our CRM [customer relationship management] system related to my customer set?' He's seeing the usability of Twitter, and he'd love to get data out of his CRM system in a Twitter format. We don't have an answer to that yet."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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