the rise of the Chief Tweeting Officer

Should CTOs Tweet? Should CIOs blog? Many frown on C-suite IT leaders using social media, but it could yield some unexpected benefits.

Is it worthwhile for CIOs to tweet, blog and update their LinkedIn status? A select few have decided that it is - but it is still just a few.

In 2012, records and knowledge management company surveyed the Fortune 250, and found that fewer than 10% of CIOs in that community were using social media. Things don’t seem to have improved, judging from more recent survey figures.

Recruitment company Harvey Nash found last year that only 40% of CIOs saw any value in social media as a tool in their own companies, and 23% saw it as a disadvantage. These are hardly the people to start blogging or tweeting themselves, in a professional capacity.

David Fletcher, CTO for the State of Utah, said that he saw substantial pushback from his organization when he started blogging in 2002, long before many people knew the term.

“Within government across the board, whether it’s federal or state, there was a lot of opposition to the use of social media,” he recalls. “Some felt that it created security vulnerabilities, in addition to potentially being a waste of time.”

a broader perspective

But Fletcher saw the potential in this new way of communicating. The biggest benefit is simply the ability to broaden his horizons, he says. “It has given me the opportunity to interact more with people on a global level,” he explains, adding that he has even taken trips to various countries as a result of interactions that started online.

“I have had the opportunity to interact extensively and see how people around the world are addressing challenges. It helps me to gain a greater understanding of the opportunities that exist in our field, and see where our innovation is occurring on a global basis.”

As a state CIO, Fletcher is also eager to reach out to the public, keeping them informed of the latest events. This is something that social media excels at.

social media policy

There are challenges to social media usage at the CIO level, of course. One of them is the potential for violating company policy. But that implies that the company has one. “Many organizations don’t, and a CIO or CISO can be instrumental in creating that,” says Bob Gourley. Gourley used to be the CTO at the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), but left to pursue a career as an analyst and consultant. He now operates the CTOVision blog, about federal technology.

CIOs, CISOs and CTOs can have significant influence on corporate social media policies when developing one for their own engagement, Gourley says. They can answer questions ranging from what a Twitter ID is allowed to be, all the way through to whether people should use separate personal and professional accounts, he suggests.

Twitter is a channel that both Gourley and Fletcher pursue. Indeed, the lightning fast, easily-updated medium has supplanted Fletcher’s blog as his main social media channel. Since then, he has expanded into different channels, with Twitter - which he adopted in 2008 - being among the most useful.

There are several dos and don’ts which resonate when it comes to CIO bloggers. Here are some key tips for anyone considering starting.

1. know your purpose

All too often, CxO professionals go into blogging without understand why they’re doing it. Have a purpose in mind, whether it’s to promote your own professional brand, to bolster your department’s position as a source of innovation, or to create dialogues with others in the field that can help your own practice.

2. consider campaigns

Campaigns are a good way to establish a presence for yourself as a thought leader. A campaign for more effective user education on cybersecurity can turn your social media channel into a breeding ground for new ideas and initiatives in an area of key need, for example. The campaign should be something that you’re passionate about, of course.

3. be consistent

Starting a blog with enthusiasm, only to post every six months, is an excellent way to discourage readers. They want to see you post regularly, even if it’s just once a week, so that they know they can keep coming back for more insightful comment.

4. don’t be discouraged

It can take months or more to get a serious following for a CIOs blog, and that’s assuming they put in the work. The important thing is to persevere, even when only three people in your department seem to be reading it.

5. be your own publicist

This is where engagement comes in. Guest posting on others’ blogs can be one way to promote your own blogging, as can mailing influencers to partner with them, perhaps with a view to exchanging links. Don’t blog or Tweet in a vacuum. Follow others that you like and participate with them, so that more people hear about you.

Some CIOs may see social media as a waste of time, a potential security risk, and a dangerous information leak. Misused, all of those things are probably true. But then, you could say the same thing about the use of the Internet at work - and in the early nineties, many companies did, Fletcher points out. Times change. The question CIOs have to ask themselves is whether they’ll be at the crest of the wave, or whether they’ll get pulled along by the tide.

Download the Orange social media guidelines for an example of how to use the technology safely.