Strategies for Enterprise Social Adoption

Deploying enterprise social software (ESS) is easy compared to convincing people to use it.  This post explores the difficulties that you may encounter in your organization, and some strategies that you might take in order to help the adoption curve go faster.

Why is Adoption Difficult?

Here are some of the reasons that I have heard for NOT using the enterprise social software:

  • I already get all my contact from email, why should I learn something new?
  • I would use it if more other people used it, but right now there is nobody else to contact that way.
  • It is “one more thing to check” and I am already overloaded.
  • I don’t really understand how it works.

It is hard to believe at this point, but I remember very similar reasons being used in the early 90’s by those slow to adopt email in the workplace.  Today social technology faces a similar challenge.

All technology has an adoption curve which starts with innovators and early adopters, but social technology has a much more severe barrier because of the network effect: the benefit of social technology depends upon there being a critical mass of people already on it.  Early adopters are taking a “leap of faith” that enough of their coworkers will adopt it as well, in order to see the benefit.


Successful deployment of ESS will involve most of the following:

  • Send a clear signal from the top of the organization that there is commitment to the approach.  Without this people will worry that this might be a fad or passing phase, and nobody will invest a lot of time in learning how to use it, for fear that it will be completely wasted.  A commitment from the top will help give early adopters confidence, but usage can not be commanded.
  • Clearly identify the need for change.  For most of us, this is the flood of email we get and that “owns us” for a large chunk of the day.  I personally have found the argument that it will reduce the amount of email to be very persuasive. Others justify the need to make information easier to find.  Whatever it is, you should identify something more specific than simply “collaborate better.”
  • Create a cross-functional council to coordinate efforts in different groups.  Remember the different organizational units have distinct micro-cultures.  This council does two things: first it makes sure that the needs of each culture are represented at the planning table, and second it helps to translate the benefits into the specific language of a particular organizational unit.
  • Dedicate people to the roll out.  If everyone is a part-tie volunteer, there is every liklihood things will slip through the cracks.  Change is difficult, and resources need to be dedicated if you want to assure success.
  • Leverage both IT and Management working together.  IT professionals can deploy the systems, but can not motivate the use, nor can they give people confidence in investing the time.  Management by itself can motivate, but can not provide the support the people will need.   This has to be an example of collaboration as well.
  • Use ESS to extend existing tools.  Make the change as gentle as possible, and leverage tools that are already in widespread use.
  • Cross entire organization immediately.  Social technology depends upon a network effect to succeed, so make it available to everyone from day one.  Phased roll-outs when arranged by department or group fail because communications is not exclusively within such groups.  From a technology perspective it is easy to make a system available to everyone in the organization.  Realize that not everyone will not take up steady usage on the first day, and actual usage will grow over the months.  Making the system available to everyone from the beginning will allow people to adopt when they see the need, or when they think they will gain the benefit, and they are more likely to have a positive experience at that time.
  • Don’t wait for 100% solution.  Deploy some capability that will yield specific benefit, but don’t wait for the final complete implementation before initial deployment.  Expect that you will go through several iterations, and listen to the users to drive the focus for the nest iteration.
  • Eliminate barriers to use. Anyone who wants to use the system should be able to register and start using immediately.  Any need to “get approval” or to “get an account” or any other extra activity beyond just starting to use the system will delay usage, and possibly killing the impulse to contribute, and drive people back to email.  Either pre-load the system with all the corporate log-in ids, or else allow people to register without administrator involvement.  Test for and eliminate network problems that prevent access to the system.
  • Seek and reinforce early adopters.  Identify those who start using the system early, and make them “ambassadors” to the rest of the organization.  Recognition and awards are a good idea to continue to popularize the usage.
  • Train people in information security.  Users need to know the benefits of using ESS correctly, but more importantly they need to know the risks and techniques of information security.  ESS allows people to communicate more effectively;  at the same time it makes it harder for IT to effectively enforce a wall around all the corporate information.  The organization must shift into a new mode where individuals are more responsible for guarding and sharing information correctly.  Particularly if you are implementing Social CRM which includes people outside the organization into the system.  The mechanisms to guard the information are there, but the users need to understand how to use them.  You don’t want to find your entire corporate IP on wikileaks.


Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler offer a good collection of insights into adoption and use of social technology in their book: empowered.  I was most interested in the section of the book that covered how IBM Software Group VP wanted to teach sales teams to be more productive.  He identified a motivation for change:

Salespeople were frustrated by how much time they spent seeking people and information.

He put Gina Poole in charge.  She started by identifying 100 people in the organization that already had a blog or used wikis, and were already familiar with the benefit and potential.  From those 100 she hired 6 of them as full time staff to drive change.  She leveraged the rest of the 100 as fans of the new way of doing business, and they became the core of an ambassador program of 1200 volunteers throughout the organization to help train and introduce the new technology to 400,000 employees.

The introduce a clever acronym “HERO” which stands for Highly Empowered Resourceful Operatives.  Social technology makes these early adopters far more effective than they would have been in earlier years at spreading information and influencing opinion.  The point of the book is to leverage the HEROs within your organization to make you more effective, and to respond quickly to HEROs outside the organization to make sure they are pleased with your service.  The book is a good read, just over 200 pages.

Other useful resources:

2 thoughts on “Strategies for Enterprise Social Adoption

  1. Pingback: links for 2011-01-10 « steinarcarlsen

  2. Pingback: Good advice on social software adoption | Collaborative Planning & Social Business

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