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Decision Brief

How to Use Social Media in IT Technical Support

Hank Marquis, Global Knowledge Practice Director


Social media like Yammer, IBM Connections, Facebook and Twitter can now replace my IT service desk, which approaches are best for social media technical support and why?


Many IT managers wonder if social media can replace an IT service desk. Social media outlets offer new ways to connect with customers and users, but they can also hurt business and IT productivity and reduce customer satisfaction. Here we examine the use of social media in IT support.


As IT leaders are keen to reduce costs, self-service via social media sounds like a panacea. Unmanaged crowdsourcing of support from other users and using social media to connect IT technical staff directly to users may be a bad idea. Multiple unvetted answers to a question can extend outage time as well as reduce productivity of those who are asking and answering. Allowing users to "ping" the IT organization as a whole for answers is also a bad idea — not only due to lack of information captured (and loss of organizational learning) but also due to interruption and potentially incorrect actions taken. Social media is probably not going to replace your existing IT service desk; and if unmanaged, social media-based support can become a detriment. However, social media can be a very useful addition to your support portfolio if you understand its capabilities and harness it appropriately. Should you choose to use social media outlets in IT support, they must integrate into your existing IT support management framework. Avoid replicating the very situation that gave rise to the single point of contact (SPOC) service desk or help desk function in the first place. Social media can play a role in delivering IT support and it should leverage good practices such as those in ITIL® (formerly called the Information Technology Infrastructure Library).

What You Need to Know:

  • Social media systems and services, such as IBM Connections, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, LinkedIn and Instagram, provide new ways of gathering and sharing information from powerful peer-to-peer relationships. Anyone seeking information has a dramatically larger or even unlimited number of potential responses and responders. This has both positive and negative potential.
  • Allowing users to contact members of IT staff outside of the SPOC provided by the service desk function can interrupt IT project schedules, result in misrouted and lost incident records (tickets), and can result in decreased business productivity. Implementing a SPOC improves both business and IT productivity, so any social media solution must align with and contribute to the SPOC concept.
  • Using social media properly (i.e., as an optional alternative along the lines of email and managed by a SPOC function) can improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction. Social media outlets continue to grow in popularity and proper usage — should you decide to incorporate them — is critical to your success. The entire point of a SPOC is to capture, build and share knowledge and solutions for the express purpose of quickly restoring service to users.

What You Need to Do:

  • For the context of this brief, separate social and business use of social media, and limit your focus to providing IT support to authorized employees and contractors IT.
  • Analyze your current support approach and understand what social media is and how and why it works for your IT support structures. Most IT support organizations provide telephone, email, instant messaging, fax and self-help support options. Be wary of dropping or changing how existing support approaches operate. In most cases, incorporating new social media intake and communications methods vs. replacing your current methods is the best solution.
  • Assume some but not all of your IT staff and users want support via social media. Do not assume that all users or IT staff should have it. Seek opinions of others you trust in your organization and marketplace. See which social media applications work best for your situation. Remember that allowing IT staff outside of the SPOC function to address incidents can result in valuable information lost, extended outage duration and drive projects past due dates — diminishing IT support organization effectiveness and business productivity.
  • Investigate the reasons for having a social media support option. Social media such as Twitter is more akin to instant messaging and telephone support and you must treat it as such, so be sure to understand the issues involved. Decide to accept or reject use of social media by examining the most commonly cited challenges and risks: 84 percent of information security managers worry about social media leaks. Data loss, protecting information in private clouds and taking ownership of unstructured data, such as documents, spreadsheets and email are top social media concerns.
  • Assess the readiness of your SPOC function to take on management and support via social media as well as email, phone, or self-service ticket systems. Without a mature escalation and prioritization workflow capability, some social media connectors may not work as planned. Consider Twitter, which is a real-time messaging application. If a user has a problem and seeks support via Twitter, will the SPOC staff drop another "call" to handle it? How will you "queue" Twitter inquiries? Will users then learn to bypass support queues by using Twitter? What impact would that have on the SPOC function?
  • Start now by forming a team to understand the challenges and solutions required to provide a social media connector to your existing SPOC function. Choose an appropriate application (perhaps Twitter) as a pilot test and then verify specific challenges/risks and solutions/countermeasures. If you’re satisfied with your trial, move to full use for the selected applications and then repeat these steps for the next application.

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