Over the last 12 months, I’ve been working with a lot of companies thinking, strategizing, piloting and deploying social media tools with the hope to improve their collaboration effectiveness. Yes social media is collaboration, because it requires user participation and/or user generated content. Consumer-focused social media tools include Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Google+ and Foursquare. There are a number of enterprise-equivalent tools each providing some or many of the features that these consumer tools provide. That is the context of social solution that I am referring to in this blog. In the corporate world, this means people would be expected to create and participate in things like creating profiles, blogging, microblogging, tweeting, rating and reviewing content, creating, posting and viewing videos. The more popular social solutions for corporations implement solutions that deliver features analogous to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogging.

What? Did I hear you say who cares about social media tools/solutions? Well, since you must have been living under a rock or deep inside the earth, here are some stats to chew on. Digital Marketing Intelligence source ComScore says in its 2011 report that social networking websites reach 82% of worldwide internet users. Facebook reaches over half of the worldwide audience, and accounts for one in every seven minutes spent online. Twitter grew nearly 60% in the last year, reaching one in ten internet users worldwide. Clearly social media use is growing like crazy, and making a big business impact within the marketing space as recently revealed by Econsultancy. Their report says that 91% of companies say social media is becoming more important to their overall marketing strategy. More specifically, their State of Social 2011 worldwide report indicates 87% use Twitter as part of their social media marketing strategy, and 82% use Facebook.

Well one could argue that success in marketing does not necessarily mean improved enterprise collaboration. And ROI from social tools has been the key issue keeping folks out of the water. But recently, say the last 18 months, “show me the ROI” has turned into “I don’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage” so even aqua-phobes are at least putting their toes in the water. So, I thought I would post some of the key learnings I’ve had from numerous projects, as well as others that I have not been intimately involved with but know about through colleagues. Surprisingly, or maybe not, the learnings apply across vertical industries and appear to be common to social solution adoption, and they also apply across different vendor’s tools and across platforms.

The customers I”ve been working with have been some of the larger enterprise companies, interested in “best of breed” solutions like Jive, Yammer, etc, as well as social platforms from IBM and Microsoft, and social applications like SF.com. These customers have a heterogeneous environment, usually utilizing both J2EE and .NET applications, and multiple portal and database products.

Do NOT adopt a fire, ready, aim approach. Well, just because some may be having success doesn’t mean you will. So don’t just throw on the bathing suite and jump in the water, even if you think you know how to swim. You must define your social strategy before you start. By strategy, you need to articulate how the social solution will improve innovation and create a competitive advantage. Big Gulp you say, well if the social solution is going to make a big difference why do it?Specifically,

  1. Define your business objectives and ensure the social solution will solve very relevant business problems. What are you really trying to accomplish?
  2. Design the solution and the implementation to take into account your company’s culture. This is critical because it is more about people and processes than technology.

I know you’re probably saying to yourself, “this is obvious, of course we’ll do this”. Well experience says that this is NOT being done. There is a lot of beef here and I”ll make sure to break this into a blog all it’s own. But just so I’m clear, by strategy I’m not talking about a 100 page document, and I’m not even saying it has to be a document, better if it is, but as for most things the process of discussing what you are really trying to accomplish BEFORE you design and deploy is what is key. You don’t even have to have 100% agreement before you start. I’m in the process of working with companies to develop their social strategy and it is a very interesting process, key word is PROCESS. More later.

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. Many organizations set very aggressive metrics for their deployments in terms of adoption, which were very unrealistic but they must have looked good to somebody. Many times I’ll see companies expecting 100% adoption of the new solution solution, only to be very surprised to find that they have less than 10% adoption. Even though they know that some of their folks will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to adopt anything new, they still think they will jump on the “next great solution”. It’s interesting that companies are finding that some employees adopt and contribute very readily while others will “participate” but very rarely contribute. Forrester has recently released its report “Global Social Media Adoption in 2011“. The full report is available to Forrester clients only but they publically share a great graphic that tells the whole story. If you have a chance to read the whole report definitely check it out. But one of the more interesting conclusions was that less than 25% of those who are online participants actively create content. This is pretty amazing when you think about it. Also notice, that the majority are spectators, folks who use the tools but just to read/see what others are doing. This has dramatic ramifications in how you implement and deploy your social solution, and I will devote a whole blog to this in the near future. Stay tuned.

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Any social solution must take into account and maybe be part of the overall corporate communication strategy of the organization. This makes adoption more seamless, because it conforms to how people are communicating today and how they are getting their work done. You say, what is your corporate communication strategy? Well, I have found that most organizations have not articulated a strategy, but every corporation has one and it is implicit in how people communicate. Typically, the communication strategy utilizes the following, with email and DLs being the most prolific, with blogging and microblogging growing in interest. Interestingly, Web portal are under-achieving in terms of their value to the knowledge worker.

  • email
  • Distribution Lists
  • Web Portals
  • Video
  • Blogs and Wikis
  • Microblogging

This essentially means that people are used to communicating in some way(s), and they have a process for getting their work done. The social solution must conform to that process for doing work because this introduces the least change. Now it is also very clear that social solutions can change the way we communicate. So one could argue that the solution doesn’t have to conform to how folks work it it provides a radically more efficient and effective communication solution, and I have seen this as well, and so have others How Social Media Changes Technical Communication.

Social tool adoption within an organization must include a governance plan. Although very similar privacy issues occur with email, social tools provide many more opportunities and typically broader audiences for divulging information that should not be shared. Also, many corporations are having to manage social account proliferation as employees adopt these tools as discussed in Corporations at Risk From Social Media Adoption Issues. This has reminded me of the fire, ready, aim approach many have done with SharePoint and then realized that they had site proliferation and figured they should implement some type of governance.

Well much more to say, but as always too little time…until next time….

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