5 Social Skills IT Pros Must Have

IT pros must have this distinct set of skills to successfully guide and support the business' social media initiatives.

Debra Donston-Miller

August 7, 2012

6 Min Read
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How 6 Tech Execs Set Social Example

How 6 Tech Execs Set Social Example

How 6 Tech Execs Set Social Example (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

As social networking becomes more tightly integrated into business, job descriptions are changing. This may go double for IT professionals, who are both using and supporting social technologies, tools, and processes. In the best of worlds, they are also working alongside the business to guide the deployment and management of social tools. To do so, however, IT pros must have--or acquire--certain social skills.

In its report "Reimagining Enterprise IT for an Uncertain Future," Accenture named the cultural impact of consumer IT--including social--as one of the forces it has identified as having the greatest impact on enterprise IT's agenda and the IT function's own future. "Smartphones, social networks like Facebook and China's Renren, and other consumer technologies have already transformed how people work, play, learn, shop, share, talk, and organize," the report said. "They are instigating big changes in culture, attitudes, and workplace norms.

According to the report, the IT function is ripe for reinvention. So, where should IT pros start? The BrainYard spoke with several social business experts to find out what IT pros should be focusing on to ensure that they are well-positioned to effectively support their organizations. Some of these skills and functions may exist and just need to be polished; others may need to be learned. All need to be considered.

1. Data Analysis Skills
Where social goes, so goes big, messy unstructured data. "In the social space, we have more data than we have ever had before about how people engage with our messages," said William Rand, director of the Center for Complexity in Business and assistant professor of marketing, operations and IT, and computer science at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

To gain a return on social business, IT professionals will need to become skilled in evaluating and implementing big data analysis systems, as well as in big data analysis itself.

[ Learn why Fortune 500 CEOs Shy Away From Social. ]

"To help their own or other departments uncover insights using social data, they need to be able to piece together a puzzle that includes understanding the dynamic relationship between structured and unstructured data, context behind user generated content, and how to attribute information to different community stakeholders," said Ari Lightman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of its CIO Institute. "Also, they need to understand what data needs to be obtained to bridge the gap between correlations and actual causality."

2. Open Standards Skills
The success of a social business depends on standards, said Ed Brill, IBM's director of social business, and IT must develop an understanding of how key standards work in context. "Open standards--like for example, Open Social 2.0--enable the seamless interchange of information between business applications, platforms, and devices to foster content sharing and increase communication," said Brill. "In today's distributed workplace--with great diversity in content, processes, and devices--open standards play a vital connector role. By embracing open standards, IT can help their organization become better poised not only to evolve their use of enterprise social networking tools, but to gain a competitive edge."

3. Marketing Skills
Do IT professionals need to be involved in marketing initiatives? No. But do IT executives need to be closely aligned with the CMO? Yes. The marketing department is likely at the forefront of social at your organization, and IT must get used to marketing--and other departments--calling some of the technical shots. IT professionals must demonstrate an ability and willingness to gain a deep enough understanding of other departments' roles and needs so that they can effectively provide not only support but also guidance.

"Investments in IT have long been the domain of the CIO and his/her staff, but all of that is changing as CMOs and their marketing teams increasingly impact IT investments in today's social and digital world," said IBM's Brill. "Given the business realignment between marketing and technology, the CMO and CIO and their teams can no longer afford to operate on separate stages. Despite their different backgrounds and cultures, these roles, IT and marketing, are in the same boat. They need each other more than ever. Together they can approach social business as an essential enterprise system that delivers innovation, business results, and better employee and customer experiences."

4. Social Collaboration Skills
IT professionals who successfully support and guide the technology underlying social initiatives will be social animals themselves. "[IT pros need] a thorough understanding of the company's social platforms, including rules of engagement, mechanisms for adoption, community moderation, data exhaust, etc.," said Lightman. "This should not just be at the theoretical level, but also tacit knowledge--that is, they should be social practitioners."

This includes promoting--and making available--their expertise on social channels. "[IT pros must] change their approach to providing information and knowledge by understanding the role of subject matter experts and their availability in social networks," said Esteban Kolsky, a principal and founder of research and analysis firm ThinkJar. "They must become more available for better use of their knowledge by more people. Communities are great places to do this--they reach out to many more people than one-to-one setups like help desks or even one-to-few as in a meeting or training session."

5. People Skills
The IT guy satirized so well by Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live ("It's the email that's stupid, not you, right?") is most likely extinct at most organizations, if he ever existed at all. With that said, IT pros today need a new level of people skills as they work to guide and support the business in its use of social and other technology whose use is often driven first by the users themselves and changes far more quickly than in the past. "Resiliency, along with flexibility, are key as today's technology models enable IT directors to choose and implement what's right ... at this particular moment in time, rather than for the next five to 10 years," Christopher Sokolov, IT director at the San Domenico School in Northern California, told InformationWeek for the report "Top Tech Tools for Educators." "I think taking the pulse of the organizational culture and the level of resilience and what's possible to implement and when is really important--probably the top characteristic I would look for if I was trying to hire my replacement."

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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