March 19, 2012

Social Network Success: What It Takes

We’re often asked what it takes to ensure a successful internal social network using Convofy. This is not an idle query, especially in the face of the fact that internal social initiatives often don’t live up to expectations. The challenge is that, while the technology enables a vastly improved way to communicate and collaborate with your colleagues, often organizations stumble on changing old patterns of behavior.

In a recent report called Helping Information Workers Find The Value In Collaboration Tools, analyst TJ Keitt described a general under-utilization of social tools. In the article, Forrester research discovered that even among social software users, email is the preferred communication method.

Anyone undertaking an enterprise social network solution initiative would find this discouraging news indeed. But there are clear steps that can be taken to overcome the natural adherence to older, less-efficient modes of communication. TJ’s article nicely elaborates both the benefits of social software as well as the barriers that deter workers from using collaboration solutions.

Benefits vs. Barriers

The Forrester “convenience quotient” is a simply a score derived by subtracting the sum of the barriers from the sum of the benefits. Though the benefits of social platforms for communication and collaboration far exceed those of email, the barriers are significant enough to tilt the scales in favor of email, which ends up with a higher convenience quotient.

Fortunately, the barriers to adoption of social software are not generally inherent in the technology. In fact, the article gave social platforms the top score on the one factor that is solely a quality of the technology – Ease of use.

Where social platforms had the lowest scores were in factors that can be addressed with a well thought out implementation plan and ongoing programs to support the more evolved form of engagement. One of the alleged barriers – Ease of setup – is naturally avoided with a cloud-based social platform like Convofy. But the remaining barriers are easily addressed with some forethought, planning and ongoing attention.

What Does Success Look Like?

From our perspective, the “success” of an implementation is measured by the depth and breadth of adoption. We can measure that in terms of the percent of employees that participate on the social platform, as well as the amount and quality of content shared.

To be clear, adoption of social tools is rarely a unanimous, overnight conversion. We often see pockets of usage within an organization, which can spread slowly as others get exposed to the value of the platform. Of course, once you get your leadership on board – which often doesn’t happen right away – then adoption can progress much faster.

There are other more subtle ways of measuring success in a social network. These aren’t quite as easy to measure, and the specific metrics depend on your strategic priorities, but you can look for improvement in areas such as employee engagement and retention, cross-team collaboration and innovation, consistency of internal brand and awareness of corporate objectives and results.

Planning for Success

In order to drive participation, as TJ Keitt explained, barriers to adoption need to be lowered. Our suggested implementation methodology to customers includes three areas that require planning and ongoing attention:

1. Strategy
Defining the objectives for the social platform, and determining ways to measure its success. The key barrier addressed here is Management advocacy, which can lead to Cultural acceptance.

This is usually the starting point, because you want your business leaders to buy-in to the platform, and they will likely need to be assured there is business value. Of course many organizations skip this step, but taking a little time to be clear on the expected value will help get management engaged, and also help guide other implementation parameters (per below).

2. Organization
Driving adoption and ongoing engagement is the critical success factor for a social network. This is where most of the barriers exist, and therefore is the area where the most time and care must be spent to ensure success. This can involve a whole range of activities including

  • Training, documentation and policies / guidelines
  • Support, both technical and procedural
  • Incentives that encourage regular usage.
  • Recognition and celebration of collaboration success stories

A key element in this area: local, on-the-ground champions within each workgroup and region, advocates that can provide all this and more.

3. Use Cases
Defining and refining how you expect people to use the system to achieve your goals. Many people will want clarification on how and when to use Convofy, and it would be good to clarify that up-front, at least for some of the obvious starting use cases, such as:

  • Project collaboration, internally or with external teams and freelancers.
  • Communities of Interest / Practice, which enable sharing and mentoring on business topics of interest that span workgroups.
  • Internal work teams will likely want to create groups where they can share status reports, meeting agendas and summaries, goals and objectives, etc.
  • New employee orientation, where you not only share reference content, but also enable new employees to engage in an online Q&A, which might become useful reference material for subsequent new employees.
  • Corporate Communications. Use Convofy as the channel through which internal communications are made. Here workers will have immediate access to news and updates, and also have a record of past announcements and other posts.

Results without Barriers

Once the barriers to usage are effectively addressed then the benefits of your social platform will carry the day. Using the methodology in TJ’s report, and the simple use referenced case, when the barriers are equalized through the approaches described above, then social software provides greater than 60% improvement over email.

If you’re considering adoption of a social platform to realize the benefits of a better way to communicate and collaborate, let us know. We think we have the best technical solution available today, and we can walk you through the simple steps required to overcome the usual barriers.

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