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Coca-Cola On Chatter: Beyond The Secret Formula

Coca-Cola wants's Chatter to be a force for innovation, if the company can get past its 'secret formula culture.'
While the introduction of Chatter to business units was carefully planned, within each unit adoption by employees was still voluntary, rather than mandated. While adoption "bubbled up" naturally in some cases from employees who latched onto the tool, having a business unit executive lead the charge made a big difference, Newstead said. That's one reason he made sure Chatter was perceived as a business initiative, rather than "a central IT push."

Early on, Chatter enjoyed a rate of adoption and a level of activity that surpassed all expectations, but that didn't last, Newstead said. "After the initial surge in activity, it slowly drifted back down" as people reverted to their old habits of sending email rather than using social communication.

"We addressed that by talking to managers about why their people were drifting away and encouraging them to get back in," Newstead said. It turned out that if an executive leader would just commit to logging in once a week to make a post and a comment, that would be enough to remind people this was something they should be paying attention to, he said. "With executive engagement, you don't have to mandate activity."

This example also shows "the critical importance of doing regular monitoring of your quantitative metrics" to detect problems and promptly address them, rather than managing from general impressions of the success of a social collaboration program, Newstead said.

"We leveraged the business evangelists an awful lot," Cain agreed. She emphasized "being very, very clear about why you are doing this" and being "clear about who it is for--it may not be for the masses." People who had complaints about current modes of communication, such as feeling they were drowning in reply-to-all email lists, were more likely to take to Chatter, she said.

Also, to make Chatter feel more like a social network people would want to be part of, rather than a corporate system with participation dictated from on high, Cain and Newstead said they tried to manage it with a light touch. For example, no one has to ask permission to create a Chatter discussion group--the network operates on the assumption that those that are the most valuable will rise to the top. Cain said that when a mobile marketing executive asked her to shut down the multiple mobile marketing groups that had been established in favor of his own, she told him, "no."

"My response was, it will self-correct. It's like when you use Facebook to check out a restaurant and two entries pop up--the first one listed that has the most members, that's the one I'm going to check into," Cain said. In other words, she told the executive it was his job to make his group the authoritative one everyone would want to join, while the other groups might persist as focus groups on specific tactical aspects of mobile marketing.

On the other hand, Newstead said his monitoring will detect if a group has fallen inactive. He won't necessarily close it down, but he will talk to the group owner about whether it should be deleted or combined with another group.

Similarly, Cain and Newstead said they avoided heavy-handed corporate policy on use of the enterprise social network. "We decided not to wrap the social platform in a whole lot of governance and guidance," Cain said. "Instead, we asked people, what feels right? What's the best way we should be leveraging this platform."

Coca-Cola already had a set of acceptable use policies governing the use of electronic communications for private and proprietary data, Cain said. Other than that, they trusted the individual departments to come up with their own policies, while also watching for any problems that might crop up, she said.

"Where we see need for governance, then we'll start to apply it," Newstead said. "There's a danger of putting in too much governance up front because then it's perceived as a corporate vehicle."

One behavior they "nipped in the bud" early on was people setting up Chatter accounts associated with email aliases, Cain said. That was a shortcut some users tried as a way of translating existing mailing list collaborations into the Chatter environment, "but we decided this didn't feel right," because the point of social communication "was that we connect the knowledge with the person," she said.

Coca-Cola also uses Microsoft SharePoint 2010, including its social MySite feature, which is a potential source of confusion. Newstead said his strategy is for SharePoint to remain the "book of record" for storing enterprise documents, while Chatter is the "dynamic conversation environment." Cain said she would also like to see the company reconcile the multiple employee profiles in its IT systems, so that people would have one consistent profile including information from both social sources and human resources.

Newstead said he also looks forward to turning Chatter from a separate destination into a capability that is embedded in the systems where people get their work done. Chatter is designed so it can be embedded in other Web and mobile applications, with discussions keyed to specific topics, such as discussions about a given customer on a screen related to that customer.

The way collaboration systems are divided today reminds him too much of "the old days of email, where unless you had the same email client, you couldn't actually communicate," he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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