Is Social Enterprise Dead?

By Jill Hannemann posted 11-20-2013 14:05


 Social enterprise is dead. Long live the digital workplace! That may sound harsh, but it’s the attitude companies should have if they want to get the most out of collaboration platforms to improve productivity and innovation.

Social tools can, of course, be valuable, if put in the proper business context and integrated properly with other internal tools. But the word “social” draws inevitable and incorrect comparisons to Facebook and Twitter, and those ideas can hamper adoption. Employees’ eyes glaze over — they think social enterprise tools will be one more thing they have to do and don’t see how it will benefit them. Managers hyperventilate, imagining trying to keep up with and encourage the use of yet another channel of communication.

However, if you think of social enterprise tools as just another form of communication and deploy them in a smart way that fits your company, you’ll find that those fears are unfounded. Keep in mind that email is so popular and (over)used for so many business tasks because it’s simple and accessible. You don’t need an internal version of Facebook, but you may benefit from threaded conversations or expertise discovery.

The digital workplace thrives when employees have the tools to effectively act as both content producers and consumers of content. In addition, there must be individuals — typically those responsible for corporate communications or site owners — that serve as curators of content to ensure that the content is fresh and relevant.

To know what is relevant you must have a clear understanding of the business context for all this lively communication.  All of this communication and content generation should tie back to serving customers and creating a compelling customer experience. Understanding the context, applying the right solutions and driving the desired behaviors serves to separate the digital workplace from the social enterprise. To make this all work organizations need to not only improve the “findability” of relevant information but also the “shareability.” This requires addressing information design and user experience with a keen understanding of the business context.

So how do you get started down the path to the digital workplace? Experiment. One of the great innovators of our time, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has operated with a set a basic principles that emphasize lots of experimentation and feedback. In an article on his acquisition of The Washington Post, he mentioned “experimenting” as a critical component to driving innovation. As organizations look to create innovative ways to use their accumulated knowledge, experimenting with pilot programs or limited rollouts may prove enlightening.

Pick a small initial deployment to test the waters, establish a formalized method for measuring adoption and utilization as well as feedback. Quickly find out what worked and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to abandon ones that don’t fit. This is about behavioral change — although not a dramatic one — and the basic strategies of change management apply. This could mean deploying a few specific solutions for a certain team, a certain community of practice or on a certain project. This approach makes for a smoother transition because those people are already interacting regularly and will be able to see the benefits of the tools.

One approach to driving behavioral change and encouraging use, especially content creation, is “badging.” This means awarding users digital badges for different achievements, such as posting a certain number of articles or responding to a certain number of questions. This can work great or not at all depending on the culture of the company. Want to know if it will work? Just ask whether employees would roll their eyes at the concept.

Having a strong evangelist (or group of evangelists) is another important ingredient for good adoption. This person should have a good rapport with management and colleagues, and be a true believer in the benefits of the new tools for the digital workplace. He or she is probably already facilitating information sharing.

Perhaps the best way to get buy-in is to put the tools in the context of the business employees’ work, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t forget to measure and refine.  You should start to see buy-in from the top down as well as bottom up.

So there you have it. Don’t worry about rolling out complicated social enterprise tools. Don’t feel pressured to implement tools you don’t need. By making these smart choices and encouraging content creation, curation and consumption (in context!), you’ll have a bustling digital workplace before you know it.


Jill Hannemann is the practice director for SharePoint Advisory Services at Portal Solutions. She is a recognized expert on the topics of portal strategy, governance and information architecture, and has a passion for transforming corporate intranets into digital workplaces that people love to use.


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