CIO Dashboard

Is Social Media Leadership Critical for a CIO?

by Chris Curran on May 3, 2012 [email] [twitter]

Post image for Is Social Media Leadership Critical for a CIO?

Do CIOs need to engage and evangelize public social media networks to effectively lead their organizations in social media initiatives? Or is facilitating connection and collaboration among employees and clients enough? Who is most responsible for cultivating a social corporate culture?

These are the questions I asked myself after reading the news that only about 10 percent of CIOs in the Fortune 250 are using public social networks. According to’s research, a paltry 4% maintain blogs. Sadly, most of the LinkedIn profiles of the CIOs who were researched are populated with fewer than 100 connections.

All of you know that I’m an avid user of social media. I strongly advocate for CIOs to engage in social activity through the CIO Twitter Dashboard and other lists and forums. So, it might surprise you that I answer this question with an unapologetic no. I don’t think that CIOs need to use social networks to effectively lead social media initiatives.

I reviewed the list of the top 25 most social CIOs in the Fortune 250, and read David Lavenda’s strong stance that CIOs need to walk their talk, or more accurately, tweet their tweets. As I did, I thought about the CIOs I know who are silent on social networks, but successfully leading social media initiatives. And I contemplated the reverse, the CIOs who are tweeting, but not leading.

To help illustrate my point, I compared the most social list of CIOs with this new list of the most social Fortune 500 companies. The organizations with the greatest followings-Verizon, Southwest, Starbucks, Coke, McDonalds, Walmart, Target, Nike and Kohls, do not have CIOs who are on the most social CIOs list. The only exception is Google.

In an ideal world, corporate CIOs would blog compelling content consistently, tweet numerous times a day and chime into a few well-chosen LinkedIn discussions on a regular basis.  This would serve multiple purposes: help to engage his employees in the public forums, build corporate brand, build personal brand and increase the firm’s attractiveness to new recruits. However, that’s not realistic for most corporate CIOs. They are simply too busy. Just because a CIO doesn’t engage in social media we shouldn’t discount her opinions or direction on how to orchestrate social media initiatives in the firm.  You don’t need to be an avid ERP user to lead an ERP-driven transformation.

Recently we asked 489 business and IT executives in our Digital IQ survey to tell us the most important characteristic of a successful CIO.

A CIO’s ability to be an innovative thinker and apply IT to relevant business problems was paramount. CIOs don’t need a public presence on social networks to track what people are saying about their brands over social networks or to foster communication between their firms and customers.

Sound off: Do you think it matters if the majority of CIOs are MIA in social media? Who do you think is the most responsible for setting an example at a company with a strong social media presence? Does it even matter?

Image shared by jepoirrier

Did you enjoy this article? Please subscribe to CIO Dashboard to receive the latest posts!

  • Neil Pearce

    Interesting article Chris but on this one I don’t agree with your conclusions. For a start I actually think the top 25 most social CIO list was very inaccurate apart from maybe the top 10 it made no sense to me at all. I know a few of the CIO’s on that list personally and I would not describe them as “social CIO’s” (actually I am sure that at least a couple would have been surprised to see themselves on the list) and I don’t think having a LinkedIn profile counts in any way! One obvious exclusion from that list was @stephengillett who was until recently CIO at Starbucks and also an active user of Social Media who seems to find the time to invest in it whilst driving the agenda in the companies he works for. I question whether the CIO’s in the companies that have deemed most social are driving the agenda or are simply watching from the sidelines whilst the CMO and others are pushing forward the social media strategy of their businesses. The danger for many CIO’s is that they will end up being sidelined to run the ERP and innovation such as social will come from elsewhere!

    • Chris Curran

      Appreciate your thoughtful comments Neil. First, I think of the lists as an interesting catalyst for this discussion rather than a definitive list.  I’d be interested to know what publicly available data you would suggest to determine if someone is active in social media or not.  I’ve spent a little time looking at things like Klout and Socialmention but haven’t formed an opinion yet. 

      On LinkedIn, I think there is a social aspect if you participate in the groups.  Have you tried any of those?  It’s a bit of hit or miss but some are active and some are spammy.

      Thanks again.

      • Neil Pearce

        I have had mixed experience of LinkedIn Groups too, the majority seem to be simply another way for a marketeer to build a list!

        Unfortunately I don’t think that there is a single source of data that will point to whether a  particular CIO is social or not. That said if a CIO is not engaging in any channel then I would question whether they are social or not. I think like with all people we have different ways of interacting socially in real life and online, and no one way is the de facto standard that we can measure and be confident that it tells the whole story. What I am sure of is simply having a presence is not enough you have to talk to people and engage with their views and ideas. Silence and only ever broadcasting messages is not being social. 

        What you clearly identify in your article is that CIO’s don’t have huge amounts of time to invest in social media and hence chasing a great Klout score is not going to be a good indicator of sociability and I think drives the wrong behaviours, like automating tweets!For me Social Media is a great tool to learn, keep up with the latest ideas, network with other senior IT professionals and share my own views and ideas. I have seen it move a company share price in real-time and enable engagement with customers that can radically reshape the way you do business. It is for these reasons that I think other CIO’s should be involved to some degree in Social Media to learn and understand.

      • Chris Curran

        Thanks Neil.  I too see tons of value in participating in social networks and have been a long time advocate in what is possible for all leaders, not just CIOs.  The question I pose is simply does a CIO NEED to be an active user of social media to be a good advocate/leader of it.  I don’t think so based on both the positive and negative cases.

  • Jerry Bishop

    In an Ideal World…the CIO would need a good business case for devoting so much time to personal social media uses. With most CIO’s having an internal focus their communications should be directly internally so I am not sure Twitter or other platforms is a good tool and many CIO’s do blog only internally.

  • Kim Batson, The CIO Coach

    Chris, I tend to agree with you, with one caveat: although CIOs do not need to be aggressively engaged in social media (tweeting several times a day, blogging frequently, etc.) which can be very time-consuming, it is good for them to at least engage, even on a periodic basis, e.g. every few days or weekly, in social media to be aware from a personal perspective of the needs and challenges of the consumer, the employee end-user, etc. I also agree with the ideal world paragraph, there are other advantages for a CIO’s career, but time is the one challenge we all struggle with. Thanks for excellent thoughts.

  • Pingback: Is Social Media Leadership Critical for a CIO? — CIO Dashboard « Serve4Impact

  • Mark Fidelman

    Thanks Chris for
    keeping the topic current. I disagree of course, given my stance in the
    original article. I can summarize my position by stating the obvious. If a CIO
    never used email, mobile phones or configured a network, would you trust them
    to build a strategy and implement them? Of course not.

    You say,
    “You don’t need to be an avid ERP user to lead an ERP-driven
    transformation.” <- (My response) Perhaps not an avid user, but
    definitely a user of the system. Are you trying to say that you know CIOs that
    have never used an ERP system and are implementing them now? I'd love to talk
    to them.

    So a lack of
    participation in social networks does mean the non-participating CIOs will not
    have a full understanding for how to support a Social Business. It also means
    they will not understand the corporate governance and security risks. This was
    made clear to us by the CIOs that are participating. They made it clear that
    it's a "you don't know what you don't know" situation for those CIOs
    not participating.

    My other
    disagreements with your article:

    First, in your
    argument above you imply that Social only applies outside of the organization.
    It doesn't. It's equally important internally as well. So when you compare an
    organization that is social with a CIO that isn't - it's really an irrelevant
    comparison. Marketing can surely make the organization appear social
    externally, but they cannot develop the systems internally to make employees,
    partners, and suppliers collaborate better. They can't implement a solution like
    SharePoint to collaborate around projects and documents. They can't implement
    an innovation solution to track ideas from beginning to implementation.

    My second issue
    is your use of the Digital IQ survey to prove a point. You say, "CIOs
    don’t need a public presence on social networks to track what people are saying
    about their brands over social networks or to foster communication between
    their firms and customers." BUT your survey suggests the opposite is occurring
    and that CIOs are participating:

    How do YOU and/or your company use these social media for
    business? On average 65% say they use social media externally
    and 34% use it internally.

    confused about how you drew your conclusion.


    In fact, the overall
    survey suggests to me the opposite. For example, one answer in the survey shows
    that 32% are investing in internal social media systems. Who is going to
    implement that? The IT intern?

    I’ll close with a quote directly out of the same survey that you commissioned: “Chief information officers (CIOs) are
    uniquely positioned to lead their organizations in the complex work of turning them
    inside out…..Our survey shows that top barriers to business success include an
    inability to gather and process information to make decisions, as well as the
    inability to adopt new technologies quickly enough. Addressing these issues at
    the executive level can lead to tremendous improvements and ultimately drive
    greater revenue.”

    Even from your own report, it’s easy
    to draw the conclusion that participation is necessary for greater improvements
    and revenue.

    I propose we settle it by setting up
    a tweetjam on the subject and invite CIOs of the Fortune 500. We can make it happen
    on our end.

    • Chris Curran

      Hey Mark - thanks for the time you spent reading and commenting.  I really appreciate it!

      I guess I can summarize my thinking by saying that leaders need to know what they know and what they don’t know.  For the latter, they need to know how to get people on the team that know what they are doing.  This is how a CIO (or CMO …) can be an advocate and leader of a business program that leverages social media without themselves being an active user.

      The genesis of this post was a reaction to seeing a CIO on one of these lists who is a very visible active social media user but who’s company (based on first hand experience) is in dire need of social media leadership!  I am also very familiar with the opposite case in which a CIO is an active champion and leader of using social media for both customer-facing interaction and internal employee engagement but doesn’t choose to personally engage in social networks.

      I personally see a lot of value in personally participating but I don’t think its a requirement.

      In terms of a few specific points you raise:

      - I agree with you that social media is relevant internally too as you will see in several of by blog posts, sorry if I led you or others to think otherwise :).  This is one of the CIO social media frameworks I use:

      - the DigitalIQ question about internal/external use of social media refers to the company use not the individual respondent

      Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

      • Mark Fidelman

        Thanks Chris, I forgot to mention that over 70% of internal collaboration and social platforms fail. Probably a direct result of the CIO not understanding how it should be deployed, used, etc. 

        Again, love to discuss this more as it’s an important topic. 

      • Chris Curran

        Unfortunately the high failure rates do not limit themselves to social media related projects and haven’t improved for the 4 years we have been running our survey.

  • Shaleen Shah

    Perhaps, we see a minority of CIO on the Social Web for fear of privacy issues, among many other things.  Besides, one bad word about your brand spreads like some digital plague so avoidance is the best way to play it safe?  

  • Ward Walker

    CIOs in a large org are Executive, and as you mentioned are very busy with the affairs of that level. In most cases, they lead more from an MBA and less from a CS/CE background. One key to their success is to have the right techie people accessible to them and trust-able by them so they make well informed business value decisions. CTOs are harder to generalize, but one would expect a CTO who isn’t the IT Director/Ops person to be a hybrid mix of executive and techie.  I would argue that, with few exceptions, a CTO who didn’t at least dally with social media would not be able to be as technically competent as they should be in the social space.  Unlike a CIO, a CTO who relies on subordinate staff for all technical advice will probably not continue in the confidence of the IT rank and file-there is an expectation of technical subject matter expertise. I’m sad to see any IT leader who doesn’t engage in the technologies of the day-there is always the opportunity to monetize in new ways, and that opportunity must be sought out with zeal.  However…I have observed in executives that I personally mix with that they put a digital firewall in their lives and don’t maintain public personas (or at least aren’t active in them, or the public persona is actually an organizationally-operated front).  Perhaps they are just completed saturated already, and see social media as an unwanted additional source of raw data.

Previous post:

Next post: