Six months ago, I walked into AT&T and was immediately propelled into a social business netherworld that I imagined would make AT&T’s iconic founder, Alexander Graham Bell, incredibly proud. Bell would see a firm – peopled by Twitter tribes, Social Media ambassadors and technology strategists. He’d see a company at the forefront of social disruption.  After all, wasn’t Bell a heralded disrupter who created one of the largest and most innovative social networks ever?

Imagine if Bell was alive today.  He advocated “leaving the beaten track” and “entering the woods” writing that “you will ..find something that you have never seen…. one discovery will lead to another, and before you know it you will have something worth thinking about…for all really big discoveries are the results of thought.” What would Bell  say about the radical transformations taking place in communications? The big question: how would he advise CIOs to harness the full potential of social?

Here are 4 tips I believe are worthy of Mr. Bell’s legacy of leadership and innovation:

1. Be the chief velocity and change officer.

AT&T’s slogan, “Rethink possible,” is perfect for today’s landscape as companies reinvent, collide, and expand at breathtaking rates. Challenge yourself to embrace social innovations, self-disrupt, and build communities with customers, partners, and employees— even machine to machine (M2M) or across industries.

The telephone was one of the first tools for virtual engagement. But today, we’re in a world on social steroids much like my transformative era in terms of scale. Industry leaders and analysts estimate that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020 and we’re seeing a dramatic increase in social channels, business models, processes, and new entrants daily.

To lead change in your enterprise, you will need to assume the mantle of chief change and velocity officer of this brave new hyper-connected world.

2. Lead the revolution across each line of business.

Social will transform your business channels: customer care, marketing, sales, product development, you name it. Social tools and processes like social analytics and PR command centers, social commerce, crowd sourcing, and mobile only (the growing adage of Gen Y’ers)  will transform how you do business in every way.

Begin with a careful analysis before you develop a strategy and game plan, I always say. Each business area will differ in terms of its social needs and readiness. Firms such as Gartner, Forrester, and others have introduced social maturity materials and tools for completing quick self-assessments.  Once an assessment is performed, determine how to capitalize on social media’s opportunities and develop game plans, marrying needs with optimal strategies, tactics, and technologies.

3. Build a team of mavericks.

To harness the potential of social, build the strongest possible social IT team. Leverage change management principles, and make sure that your team becomes adept in the social technologies of this world.

Encourage IT personnel to socialize themselves by leveraging the new channels. They can even function as social Jane or James Bonds, sharing observations about the ways in which colleagues, friends, and family members are engaging in the social sphere. These mutigenerational insights can lend tremendous value to your business and help you to stay on the cutting edge of this transformative force.

Continuous learning and experimentation helped fuel my innovations.  Encourage your team to work closely with many different business areas to experiment with new social tools and tactics, attend industry conferences together, and take courses live and virtually.

4. Tap into the biggest killer app of all – the human cloud.

You know what excites me the most about this new era? It’s the ability to leverage the collective intelligence.  Thousands of brains worldwide can deliver far more ideas than those within your walls.  Champion the use of gamification, social collaboration, cross functional committees, and brand ambassador programs. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and many others have launched robust crowd sourcing engines for product development.  And it is paying off. A McKinsey Global Institute study estimates that leveraging social technologies and platforms including co-creation could improve productivity rates by 25% and contribute up to $1.3 trillion per annum across four commercial sectors. We’re just at the beginning of the social juggernaut, just as I was at the beginning of telephony.

Today’s world is far more competitive and meteoric than mine. But one thing is certain. Success will go to passionate people who align themselves with “like-minded birds” and persist until they harvest the potential of new ideas.

 What are your tips for the Social CIO?