The last couple of years have been thrilling times for social software within the enterprise. Several case studies showed the positive impact social software had on businesses around the world. Most of these early adopters were sure that their first steps into social software would soon be extended to the whole organisation. However, if you revisit these companies today many of them are still at the pilot stage or are – due to lack of acceptance by the employees – considering a change to different software. All of these companies proceeded rapidly from the heights of optimistic adoption to the depths of the adoption desert. This is the adoption course I have seen in many companies. Common indicators of being on the declining slope of adoption are:
What went wrong? All of the companies I worked with had not understood the different nature of social software and had been deluded by the quick initial success of the adoption process. Let us look into the causes for this in more detail.
It is not just further software to unwrap
Quick adoption sounds good but a detailed examination of the users who logged onto such a platform usually reveals that only a small group of enthusiastic users within the company were involved. Neither word of mouth nor internal marketing campaigns nor training courses managed to bring the other 90% of the employees on board¹. And this is where the lack of comprehension of internal social software and social networks comes in. The value of social software is generated by the people themselves, their creation of self-organized networks and the content they voluntarily share. The value does not arise from the social software itself. This represents a huge difference to business software such as ERP, DMS or CRM, which is about digitizing processes, workflows, filing etc. Social software comes to life when people collaborate and communicate. Employees can only be motivated to participate when they see the benefit for their personal work and their peers. This means that you must have a clear concept of what you wish to achieve for your employees and your company before you unwrap that shiny new piece of software for your employees.
False expectations combined with flawed priorities
Do not expect help from your social software vendor. I have been talking to various companies such as IBM, Open Text or Newsgator: they are all aware of the fact that they have to resolve the adoption problems but they are not yet able to deliver. So, the question of subsequent adoption of the software should really be considered before it is purchased. However, in many companies, the very reverse is happening: Software is merely purchased to avoid uncomfortable questions from C-levels “why the internal social software project is not moving forward”. Significant money (easily 1m EUR/USD and more with software, trainings, internal resources allocated etc.) is spent on stuff that is unlikely to work for the employees. And even worse: The business potential of social collaboration is impaired through bad user experience with subsequent rectification measures pushing the costs up even more.
Press to deliver the answers needed to succeed
There is no sense in plunging into such a project without taking the time to find answers to a few essential questions, such as:
Why should the _____ (marketing, controlling, etc.) employee care and become engaged? Why should an experienced employee with a well-established personal network participate on a social platform? Identify the use cases in which social collaboration contributes to an improvement for the individual employee and the company and rank through increased business impact.
How can you help people make the transition from old platforms or their proprietary tools to the new social space? How can you make people engage on a long-term perspective? Little things like email notifications to pull in users can make a difference. Leading by example is also a must – especially for team-leaders and middle management.
Does C-level management really understand the benefits of social collaboration for their own company? Are they aware of the urgency in adapting their business model to a globally networked world? Are they able to identify the areas of their business strategy where internal social media can make an impact? Will they themselves also participate in social collaboration and discussions? Investing into social software projects without C-level awareness of the change involved is a waste of money.
If the three areas mentioned above are sufficiently covered, your company can say goodbye to the adoption peak and move forward on its path to full adoption. The path won’t be straight and may change along the way but with people being the core of success of social software this is an intrinsic component. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that companies which embrace social collaboration are more successful and adjustable and can rely on a highly engaged workforce to meet the increasing complexity and speed of today’s business.
¹ It might be worth talking about the different reasons for this in another blog post.