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Social Business Adoption: Focus On People

To increase social business's success rate, companies need to focus on people in all stages of the project.

Many companies understand the value of social business: increased employee productivity, increased revenue and reduced operational costs. In July 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute released a report that found that social technologies within an enterprise can "raise the productivity of knowledge workers by 20% to 25%." Organizations buy into the social investment to get the results they desire and, as a byproduct, the way we work is changing.

But attaining that success can be challenging. In April, Gartner found that "most social collaboration initiatives fail because they follow a worst-practice approach of 'provide and pray,' leading to a 10% success rate." The concept of providing a technology and hoping for adoption is not a sure bet for social business success. To ensure that enterprise investments have a measurable and positive return, people have to opt into a technological and cultural change.

In another Gartner report, the research company highlighted that social business success hinges on an understanding of how people work, with whom they work and what needs should be met through the collaboration tool. Carol Rozwell, VP and analyst at Gartner, said that "successful social business initiatives require leadership and behavioral changes." This research points to the critical key to social business success: focusing on the people.

[ Are there other ways to increase social business adoption? Read Social Business Demands Working Out Loud. ]

To increase social business' low success rate, companies need to develop and execute a strategy and a social experience that revolves around people being able to better communicate, share knowledge and collaborate inside and outside of the enterprise. Cultural change begins with a groundswell, but enterprise leadership should ideally lead from the front. When considering your corporate social strategy, employ these tactical moves that consider the following people-centric objectives:

1. Design a user-centric social experience.

In the book Designing Social Interfaces, Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone ask the question: "How can you create a space that invites healthy participation from users, grows organically and creates value that is greater than the sum of its parts?" The answer: Design for everyone.

Highlight key tasks that integrate with a user's daily work. For example, design with visual cues for users to start a discussion, thus replacing email with a threaded, collaborative discussion. Make the experience to join and sign in both easy and enjoyable for your audience by removing all barriers to opting in. Finally, allow users to personalize their social experience and keep an open space for them to add their voice to the conversation. In other words, design with empathy.

2. Start building the community from day one.

Engage your potential community members from beginning to end and include a community management strategy with solutions for driving adoption. Building use cases from ongoing conversations with a group of real people will not only lead to a community that is tailor-made for the users but will help identify your early advocates as well. Consistent iteration of strategy and design with a group of early advocates gives you a sense of what kind of community management tactics are needed to drive adoption of the community. Think about your community from the beginning of your social journey.

3. Gain and maintain executive support.

The Community Roundtable (CR), a peer network cofounded by Rachel Happe for community managers and social practitioners, has a research platform called The Social Executive, which seeks to understand executive engagement and identify their expectations and priorities for social business. (Note: UBM, InformationWeek's parent company, was one of the first case studies published in the CR research.)

Gaining and maintaining the support of social executives requires providing unique support and coaching, and Happe advises leaders to communicate directly and often, mentor and re-align teams, and ask for feedback and suggestions. Just as with your early advocates, engage executive leadership from the beginning of your social journey. The cultural and behavioral changes that lead to enterprise social success lean heavily on an organization's structure.

The key to social business success is focusing on people from the beginning to the end. Communities are built by people, with people and for people, and collaboration and relationships are the way to realize the value and the benefits of social investments. What other tactics have helped your business gain adoption?

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David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/7/2013 | 4:51:56 PM
re: Social Business Adoption: Focus On People
A social collaboration environment can also be a great tool for understanding the working relationships between your people ... except that's only true once you get them regularly and actively using it. The challenge is to kick start things when the volume of conversation and collaboration isn't what you would like it to be.
User Rank: Author
10/7/2013 | 8:20:56 PM
re: Social Business Adoption: Focus On People
For those looking for practical applications of some of these points, you might be interested in DigiGov University, a training site dedicated to improving how federal agencies interact with the public via social media. Here's a link:
User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2013 | 9:08:24 PM
re: Social Business Adoption: Focus On People
Employees need a compelling reason to use social tools. If that can't be communicated, clearly and often, forget it.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/9/2013 | 1:57:36 PM
re: Social Business Adoption: Focus On People
All three points are important but number 2 is essential. There's too much "provide and pray" with little sense of how employees are actually interacting and what their real social networking needs are. People are maxed out on social media in their personal lives -- if a social tool at work doesn't help them be more productive, they won't stick with it.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/11/2013 | 2:24:44 PM
re: Social Business Adoption: Focus On People
I always think advocates for social collaboration tools should be careful about claiming success stories for the tools -- better to credit the success to the people using the tools. The same tool can succeed or fail in different organizations depending on how effectively it's used, which as Kristen points out is a people issue.
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