Today’s IT department should embrace the growing rise of social media as the ideal platform to increase customer engagement and generate new sales rather than focus on the challenges it presents such as network security and reduced employee productivity.

IT professionals have an important part to play in creating a best-practice framework that maximises the commercial potential of social media and elevates the role of IT at the same time.

Love it or hate it, the fact remains that today’s social media world is big business and those who consider it just for kids or consumers should think again. Not only do social media networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter represent a vital new sales channel but the real-time, viral nature of their content, posted 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world, can wreak havoc with a company’s corporate brand.

IT directors have a duty to take control of the new social media environment around them in a way that empowers their staff rather than stifles their commercial creativity.

Round-the-clock social media requires a round-the-clock response. More and more people are using social media to praise or air their grievances about the products and services they receive in both business-to-consumer and, increasingly, business-to-business environments.

Consumers are choosing to take notice of complete strangers rather than rely on the traditional word-of-mouth reputation or the opinion of a friend. As a result, companies need to know what customers are saying about them at all times.

The rise of social media poses today’s IT professionals with a real conundrum. Traditionally, IT decision-makers have frequently taken the decision to block social media networking sites in the workplace for fear of compromising corporate network security or for reasons of reduced staff productivity.

However, banning social media entirely effectively shuts down a valuable sales channel and isolates companies from what their customers are saying about them, denying them the right to reply where they can protect and defend their brand.

The best way forward is to adopt an IT service management approach to social media. There are many success stories which prove how the IT department can and does take an active lead in creating a best practice technology framework that demonstrably contributes to commercial success.

High profile brands such as Anglian Water and Vision Express, for example, have introduced flexible but process-driven service management infrastructures that have enabled them to become role models for the rest of their organisation. In just one year, Vision Express raised SLA performance from 87% to 96% and premier contract catering firm Elior has extended the functionality of its IT service desk to other departments including purchasing, supplier management and HR with considerable success.

IT has long been the vanguard of new technologies and processes that ultimately impact the bottom line. Most importantly, vendors should continually strive to improve their service management product offering and invest in developing innovative new technology that addresses their customers’ changing social media requirements.

Sophisticated applications that integrate seamlessly with today’s social media networking sites will enable organisations to track industry perception of their products and services so that they can proactively respond to complaints and ultimately encourage consumers to provide direct and constructive feedback online.

Along with the right technology, IT should develop a best practice social media policy that supports existing corporate HR and operational risk management procedures and is communicated widely across the organisation in the usual manner.

Social media is no longer the exclusive domain of marketers. The time has come for the IT department to become the corporate hub and centre of excellence for social media. By applying their already extensive expertise and proven track record in service management, IT directors are perfectly placed to help their client-facing departments increase their digital presence in the workplace and use it for competitive, commercial advantage.