Good advice on social software adoption

Deloitte Center for the Edge has released a new white paper on “Social Software for Business Performance” (pdf) which offers some important and relevant advice to those attempting to adopt enterprise social software (ESS) in an organization.  The advice applies equally to ACM.

It starts with a contrarian position:

Focusing on adoption as a success metric will likely lead to failure because it engenders resistance. A recent survey found that 64% of companies implementing social software faced resistance from management and 72% faced resistance from users.

Too often, companies implement social software without clear business objectives or a strategy for making an impact on organizational performance. These efforts typically fail.

Anyone who has tried to introduce social software to an organization has experienced the same things: the software is easy to deploy but very difficult to get people to use.  I talked about this a bit on my Jan 9 post “Strategies for Enterprise Social Adoption“.

The white paper looks at four different adoption strategies:

  • Intra-team – grassroots
  • Scaling team initiatives
  • IT sponsored knowledge management
  • Senior executive sponsored

To each of these it notes stumbling blocks that can get into the way and defeat the initiative.  Yet adoption is imperative to address the needs of the “Big Shift,”  the CFTE term to describe the deep fundamental changes that the business world is going through as  Enterprise 2.0 becomes more prevalent.

The paper describes five unique capabilities that social software can bring:

  • Identify expertise
  • Facilitate cross-boundary communication & conversation
  • Preserve institutional memory
  • Harness distributed knowledge
  • Discover emerging opportunities

Later they identify how well different types of ESS, such as Microblog, Discussion Board, Wiki, Idea Voting Platform, Blog, Social Network, Prediction Market, Social Bookmark, Podcast and RSS might meet each of these capabilities.  They make an interesting comparison to knowledge management with which social software is often confused:

Where social software provides a platform for the organization to create new knowledge, knowledge management solutions are generally confined to the capture and transfer of existing knowledge.

ESS adoption is better assured by avoiding focus on adoption. They say that successful adoption has come from identifying “specific operational pain points in the business that social software could address. By focusing on something tangible, broadly relevant and widely acknowledged as a problem, they overcame initial skepticism.”

Not surprisingly, they recommend that you identify an opportunity that is highly unpredictable and yet still has a business impact.  They call these “exception-focused opportunities.”  Then identify the capabilities of ESS that will help, and deploy the right kind of ESS to meet those needs.

Not surprisingly, the initial deployment is sustained through the ripple effect: “As the organization builds confidence and proficiency using a social software tool to resolve a targeted type of exception, it can expand use of the tool to address additional attractive opportunities.”

Social software has the potential to improve business performance in the short-term and transform it in the long-term. Yet somehow, cast as a new way to communicate, social software ends up seeming trendy or, worse, a waste of time. Executives are skeptical of its value and wait for it to go away. This is a mistake.

Companies must act quickly and decisively. Early adopters of social software have the potential to reap financial rewards and develop skills and experience that can build a stronger competitive position over time.

Anyone facing the challenge of ESS adoption will find this Deloitte white paper to be a strong tool in the kit.

2 thoughts on “Good advice on social software adoption

  1. Keith, excellent post and a relevant comparison to ACM.

    I have written many times that the focus of social collaboration has to be on something ‘tangible’. What could be more tangible than performing work towards a defined goal?

    I totally agree that the empty chit-chat or indescriminate blogging by anyone who feels like it won’t deliver the expected benefits. Outside the business social networking thrives by the sheer numbers of people. Inside it has to thrive by exciting people that they are given more freedom to work as they see fit. The outcome (linked to business objectives and targets) is relevant not how it is achieved in the detail.

    These are the ‘operation plan points’ and ‘exception-focused opportunities’. But how would anyone communciate and manage all that in a typical social software environment? That’s why social communication only makes business sense in an adaptive process environment (i.e. ACM) where the objectives, targets and goals and their achievement are explicitly made transparent. Social software doesn’t do any of that. No wonder, they struggle with adoption and scepticism.

    The problem is that the confidence and proficiency doesn’t solve any of the above. To make social software work needs either more governance or additional software to manage goals and measure outcomes. Why bother? Go for Adaptive!

  2. At InKat we believe that social business software can make a significant impact on any business. The trick is to understand what are the core features of social business software. What are the primary use cases you should put social business software into. These seem like very simple statements but in most cases, this understanding is what is hindering adaption.

    Seventy percent of respondents to the 2012 global executive social business survey conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte believe social business is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way their organization works. Yet many companies face meaningful barriers to progress.

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