IT leaders must develop a strong business case around the use of social media and define a clear return on investment with social media usage, Gartner has warned.

Speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Sydney, analyst Val Sribar, shared his insights on how to develop an effective social media strategy, and said that defining measurable goals was important.

"I need to think of building a business case so I can justify the spending," he said. "If you look at any [government] election today, these tend to be very aggressive [in the use] of social media...they have very specific purposes."

Sribar said deciding on a clear approach to social media has been vital to one of his clients, who could pick and choose the most relevant Web 2.0 technologies to deploy in their business.

"Their business case was to turn around and help deliver product delivery," he said. "So how did they do it? They used blogs and they used wiki's."

Maintaining a consistent and clear set of goals was another tip Sribar provided, with the analyst noting that understanding the audience you're trying to reach is vital.

"Be consistent with the goals, think about your audience and co-ordinate across pieces [of social networking software]," he said. "Try to think how to connect the dots, have a clear charter so we know who is responsible for developing a social [media] plan."

IT managers should also observe online discussions about their organisation, with Sribar saying online reputation could make or break a business.

"Most customer service organisations have a function that watches discussions on the internet and often the discussion isn't positive," he said.

While he said negative comments can come from online communities, Sribar said the flip side of online discussion can create a loyal base of customers.

"We've got clients who have turned around and realised that a huge number of clients are answering other customer's questions," he said. "If we can get mass collaboration to occur, that's a game changer."

While some politicians, for example Jamie Parker from the Australian Greens, have said that the use of social media is open and engaging, Sribar suggested that this may be an exception to the rule, and warned IT managers to avoid going down the same path, by preventing marketing teams from taking over their organisation's social media usage.

"Keep in mind of who needs to be engaged with our social media strategy," he said. "A lot of you will read a blog and say [to yourself] 'that person is getting paid by so and so so I'm not going to read it anymore'."