What is the CIO’s role in driving social media into organizations? Listening to many of our clients it seems that it is often that of “social police” – IT gets asked by legal to block any and all social media applications. While in some cases security concerns drive the decision, in others it’s deemed a compliance issue.  There are also those who believe blocking social media improves productivity.

The trouble with this approach is that it assumes social media can and should be stopped with technology. The fact is many people are already using web-enabled social applications in the workplace on their own personal smartphones (see “SmartPhones and Telecommuting: Workforce Adoption 2009”  by Ted Schadler).

Perhaps the problem is we are thinking of social media interaction in the same way we think of all other   digital communications. What if we were to think of social interactions on applications such as Twitter or Facebook in the same way we think of conversations; both are transient in nature.

I personally agree with the suggestion of at least one CIO I heard last week: we should be trying to police social applications through policy and training rather than using technology. Just because we have the ability to record every phone conversation doesn’t mean we should. Shouldn’t we take the same approach with social? By setting clear policy on the use of social media and training employees are we not likely to have an equally effective approach to blocking breaches? At the same time it would allow our organizations to benefit from social media.

There is also the risk that by blocking it we are giving a huge advantage to our competitors who figure out how to embrace it. Like many others, I believe social media is going to have as big an impact on society and business in the next decade as the Internet did in the 90’s. Remember all the IT people in the 90’s who said there was no role for the Internet in business? What about all those people in IT in the 80’s who said there was no role for the PC in business? These waves of technology transformation have a way of becoming inevitable no matter what we do to try and block them.

The thing is, social media is too big to block. Sure, we can put in place technology to plug a leak in one place, but it’s likely our creative colleagues will simply find another way to access social technology covertly.

Am I being deliberately controversial? Maybe. Here’s the thing … If you agree, share your opinion on why and examples of what your organization is doing with social; and more importantly, the role of the CIO in driving social adoption. If you disagree, share your thoughts and opinions on why and what you think the answer is for your industry.

I’m currently researching this topic for an upcoming report on the role of the CIO in Social Computing, so if you are a CIO and have examples of how you have helped your organization embrace social computing please post your comments on this blog and join the research group on LinkedIn.

Don’t miss my next post – “The CIO and Social Media: Social Evangelist