7 Ways To Drive Social Business Buy-In

A successful transition to a social business hinges on employee adoption. Plan carefully for these seven ways people perceive change.

Dennis Pearce, Contributor

November 20, 2013

5 Min Read

I've discussed the theory of "Diffusion of Innovators," developed by scholar Everett Rogers, which identified the five types of adopters within an organization: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. But the theory also includes a list of innovation characteristics that influence whether a given person will adopt something new. By understanding these, you can lubricate the adoption of social business within your company.

These five characteristics include relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability. Two additional factors were later added by J. David Johnson (a student of Rogers and a professor of mine): adaptability and riskiness. Here's how each of them affect social business adoption, plus examples from my own experience.

Relative Advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it supersedes. We try to continually remind employees about the benefits of adoption. These benefits could be improvements in existing capabilities -- such as more efficient communication with less email -- or new capabilities such as Enterprise Q&A. Benefits can occur at all three levels -- individual, group, and organizational -- so try to illustrate benefits across the spectrum.

[ Want more tips on transitioning to a social business? Read Ensure Social Adoption Success: Bring It To Employees. ]

Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as consistent with the existing values and experience of its adopters. When social platforms are initially rolled out, employees are often unsure of how to use them. It's important to clarify any boundaries or prohibitions as quickly as possible so employees can align the platform's use with company values. For example, at Lexmark we have repeatedly assured employees that our HR department views purely social groups as acceptable and even encourages it within our environment.

As we transition to a social intranet, we have embedded some of our older intranet sites as frames within the social platform. This provides employees with a familiar environment surrounded by the newer collaborative features. We also see many of our internal community managers embedding Google sites and docs within their collaboration spaces for the same purpose.

Complexity refers to how difficult an innovation is to understand and use. As vendors continue to add functionality, many social platforms become Swiss Army Knives. The complexity is not so much in performing any one function as it is in the sheer number of things that can be done.

We have a self-help space called "Learn More" with more than 500 tips, instructional documents, and videos. We also work with teams and departments to help them focus specifically on the capabilities most necessary for them to achieve their goals, rather than overwhelming them with broad surface-level training.

Trialability references how much experimentation is allowed. To strike a balance between encouraging creation of communities and preventing silo formation, any employee can create a new community on our platform without approval, provided that community is open to all employees. Creating private communities requires submitting a request form to IT. This freedom to create communities means that we have to occasionally clean up duplicates and dead ends, but it's a small price to pay for increased adoption.

Observability is the degree to which an innovation's effects are visible to those who haven't adopted it yet. We tackle this by having our corporate communications team frequently run stories about teams and business areas that have had success applying social business practices to their work. We are always on the lookout for innovative ways that the platform is being used and we direct employees to those places whenever possible.

Adaptability is how much an innovation can be modified to meet local needs. In order for employees to work out loud, the social platform has to be the central place where work is done and not just an auxiliary tool or afterthought. To that extent, we are working to integrate ours with other key enterprise applications. We already have connected it to our email system and some of our own software products, with more integrations planned.

Riskiness is the degree to which the innovation is viewed with uncertainty or uneasiness. Riskiness can take different forms based on the culture: fear of embarrassment, failure, or time wasted. For example, because the pace changes rapidly within the software industry, some of our employees worry that this platform will disappear as quickly as it came. One way to counter that perception is by executive involvement. Our CEO has his own space dedicated to promoting and explaining the corporate strategy, and several of our senior executives are blogging via both text and video to communicate their own business area strategies.

The specific examples I listed are from my company's experience and might not apply to yours. But as you drive your organization toward becoming a social business, you can't go wrong using the factors listed above to frame your adoption efforts. In my final post on this topic, I'll discuss how you can use your position on the adoption curve to shape these tactics.

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About the Author(s)

Dennis Pearce


Dennis Pearce has over 30 years experience in manufacturing, product development, quality, IT, and knowledge management. He is currently Enterprise Knowledge Architect for Lexmark International, Inc., focusing on internal and external collaboration strategies and systems.

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