I can't help but be curious about how executives view social media, so I was determined to find out if CIOs really use Twitter, the microblogging platform where millions peck 140-character messages into cyber-space every day. Since Twitter search is in its infancy, I had to painstakingly cull the Internet to single out CIOs who tweet. So far, I've found more than 152 CIOs, 21 of them from the public sector.
While the word "tweeting" may sound silly, Charlie Catlett, CIO of Argonne National Laboratory, doesn't take his role on Twitter lightly.
"With 'C' in your title, you are more closely tied to your organization than a general employee, so you have a greater responsibility to represent your organization well," said Catlett. "In general I ask myself how my tweet would sound in a newspaper article. I also want to offer my expertise or judgment, to those who care to follow, to make the social networks more useful to others."
On Twitter, users find other people in their industries to "follow." In turn, people follow them back. Messages vary from banal details of someone's day to big breakthroughs in their thinking about a particular subject. According to Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA, users should think of Twitter like a networking event.
"When I first started using Twitter, I would say it was just a science project," Cureton said. "I wanted to experiment with Web 2.0 technologies and understand the value and how it worked firsthand. But, after a while, I developed some valuable professional contacts. It gives me a broader reach than I would normally get here in Washington, D.C., just around the Beltway," she said.
Catlett says Argonne National Laboratory encourages employees to participate in social networks including Twitter and to establish institutional identities as well.
"As we have seen many employees participating in social networks, we have also put together internal guidelines to help them navigate the often blurry personal/institutional identity, to alert them to privacy issues so that they are careful with the personal information they share, and to ensure that they understand that their participation reflects on the laboratory as well as themselves," Catlett said.
"I'm aware that people who work for me see what I post, so I try to post things that would be useful to them, while avoiding any post that I wouldn't verbalize standing in front of an auditorium full of my co-workers," Catlett said.
If you're a public CIO who is interested in seeing what Twitter is all about, following is a list of tips to help get you started and to maximize the time you spend tweeting.
1. Choose Who You Follow Wisely
In the real world, you are what you eat. On Twitter, you are who you follow. I've found that following CIOs, industry thought leaders, reporters, etc., exponentially extends my network of sources for inspiration, information and referrals. If your goal is to network with your peers and glean lessons learned from their experiences, you can find a list of other CIOs to follow at the CIO Twitter Dashboard.
2. Mix Small Talk With Big Ideas
Not everyone on Twitter is talking about what they ate for breakfast. Many professionals mix small talk with big ideas. Sharing links to outside sources like news articles and blogs can breed deeper connections and spur more interesting conversations.
"Talking about the weather may not be interesting, but reviewing a document on IT governance may be of professional interest to someone," said Cureton.
A retweet is when you repeat what someone else posted, paying careful attention to attribute the post to the original sender. It's like sending electronic kudos. Retweeting other people's tweets will help you generate good will with your followers and attract new followers.
"There are a couple of technical areas or policy themes where I try to watch for insightful or interesting things, and I'll retweet or post links to those," Catlett said.
4. Deepen Twitter Connections via Face-to-Face Meetings
Meeting people who I tweet with really has solidified my relationships with a number of allies in my network. Take the time to attend Tweetups or meet your fellow Tweeps at conferences.
"I also found that when I went to conferences ... like a Gartner conference, I would end up meeting people who were following me and thus developed an instant familiarity," Cureton said.
5. Tap Twitter Apps
Twitter has spawned a slew of Twitter applications that are unreliable, but some are useful. For example, Tweetlater is a tool that you can use to schedule posts to be sent ahead of time. Spending time testing Twitter applications is a great place to see some innovation at work.