A short blog piece first published on www.cio.co.uk in April 2015.

The poor guys in editorial at CIO magazine must have had enough of me pushing social media at them over the last year as a topic that CIOs need to engage with to reach a wider audience and a tool that, as CIO’s, we need to ‘enjoy’ more.

I have a confession to make, I’m sorry, but I love social media’s place in the role of CIO. There I have said it, I’m not quite an addict and I try to limit myself to three re-tweets a day!

But why, and some CIOs have asked that very question, why is it a good thing and what does it do for me?

The reason I started using Twitter in particular was as an agile way of engaging with a team widely dispersed over a complex geography and cultural hierarchy. The communications team at my previous role were amazing at supporting the engagement of the team but the reaction time for any corporate communications team will never really satisfy a CIO who is trying to move forward a digital change agenda through engagement with a team.

In my new role in Ireland the role of social media in public sector is still crystallising for many. The health service is recruiting a digital communications leader and the ability for public to follow a twitter account to support them in quitting smoking is now accepted as extremely beneficial. Members of the government have quite active accounts and engage with the public in debate all manner of issues, health being high on the agenda throughout the country. But these are all small steps to truly making use of some great technology that is there to release benefit and is free to use.

Engaging with clinicians through the use of social media is starting to be a real possibility for my organisation. By using Twitter as a news feed for the larger programmes in the portfolio we have been able to create a working group of enthusiasts that have a tool for communicating with each other readily available on all the devices they may want to use. I guess an example of bring your own ‘device’ in action, kind of!

As a health service the ability to use analytics on top of the social media data pipes is an ambition, the urban legend that the high street shop is able to spot a pandemic from the use of analytics over the top of loyalty cards goes one step further when one considers the ability to analyse what people are willing to share via social media. In a recent pilot in one of the Dublin hospitals social media was used to gauge satisfaction with patient experiences in the hospital. The results were startling as was the new working practices hospital management were able to put in-place to support the improvement of patient experiences.

What are the risks though? Well there is an obvious risk, what you put on social media is meant to be there for all to see, there are many lessons learnt from people who have either accidentally on in a fit of pique commented on something they then come to regret. Not to mention the ability for most social media apps to know a different word for the one you just spelt incorrectly! A key lesson, stop, breathe deeply, read it again, then post!

The way in which you use social media as a CIO is also a risk, the whole concept of listening as well as talking needs to continue to apply in social media communications as it does face to face. Twitter is not just for broadcasting! There is also the element of being a human; engagement on social media is about a conversation not just a statement. Twitter is not a numbers competition too, and it is very easy to fall into that trap, it’s not the number of random followers that counts for a successful adoption of a social media platform but the engagements that are made.

At a recent strategy launch event we created a ‘#’ for the event and the preparation in the run up. Whilst it was less than 25% of the attendees that did engage via this mechanism it was a simple, cost effective and personable way in which the team could share their own perceptions of the day ahead, during and after the event. The output was a great barometer for the way in which the new strategy and operating model were being accepted by the whole team.

My focus initially for social media was the use of Twitter as we mature in our attitude to the medium we have been able to consider other elements of social media. Our first step into the creation of a podcast has also helped the wider organisation get a feeling for the new shape of technology delivery without having to present to thousands of people and encouraging members of the team to think about writing a guest blog has been shown to work in my previous role as a way of ensuring the organisation is inspired by more than one voice.

My enthusiasm for the use of social media as a tool for engagement with the full width of a CIOs communications responsibilities holds no bounds. My advice to anyone who hasn’t tried, give it a go see where it takes you but remember to listen as well as speak.