There's so much about social business software that's brilliantly intuitive and self-explanatory, it's tempting to think that deployment should be a no-brainer. Just give people the tools, and things will take care of themselves, right?
Er...no. However compelling the technology, the leap to social entails something of a cultural shift. Ingrained habits, established work patterns, mistaken expectations and the all-too-human resistance to change (no matter how beneficial the change is) are just a few of the institutional forces that can hamper adoption and usage. Ignore these realities and you risk disappointing results.
With that in mind, here are a few proven principles to ease the transition, minimize discomfort, ensure buy-in and drive substantial benefits from your social business software.
1. Make Sure You Have Two Senior Champions: One from Business and One from IT
A united front is essential for a social deployment to work well. Support from both business units and IT is a key to ensuring general adoption and a well-executed rollout. Without support from the upper ranks of business units, it'll be harder to convince the troops to embrace social solutions. And without the backing of IT, the deployment may take a back seat to other “more mission critical” priorities. Bringing in both sides of the house helps to set up a new status quo and underscore the depth of the commitment to the project.
2. Keep It Simple
Always err on the side of simplicity, providing just enough functionality to make the new social environment useful and sufficient to achieve expected results. Unnecessary complexity not only increases upfront costs, but can also add confusion as employees deal with a greater number of changes to existing processes. Aim low at first, then add functionality later as needed via app marketplaces or by custom code and connectors written to the platform’s APIs.
3. Hire a Community Manager for Your Internal Social Business Deployment
OK, so you’ve got your senior champions from IT and the business side. Now assign a community manager. If you're a larger company, the community manager job warrants a full-time appointment. If you're a smaller company where a FTE would break your budget, consider carving out a half or quarter-time assignment. Either way, making community management an official duty reduces the danger of the project becoming an orphan, beloved in concept but largely shelfware.
Among the community manager's responsibilities are raising awareness, articulating how employees will use social business software, and identifying ways that different types of employees can contribute without leaving their comfort zone. Perhaps the most important task is to identify effective volunteer advocates and facilitators for various units or sections (marketing, sales, finance, R&D, manufacturing, etc.). Without these foot soldiers, the community will not take off.
4. Encourage Participation By Finding Your Users' Comfort Zone
You want rapid adoption? Tailor the launch program to fit the natural social propensities of nearly everyone. Create an environment where collaborators can collaborate, bloggers can blog, mentors can mentor, and sharers can share. The key is to provide a wide range of ways to contribute using as many media as possible without upping complexity too much.
Example: A major farm equipment manufacturer had a cadre of old-guard engineers who knew how to make great tractors and combines that beat the pants off the competition. Many were nearing retirement, and the company was desperate to capture some of their knowledge. But the silverbacks were not really into the social thing. So a community manager had younger engineers interview them and publish the conversations as blog posts. The elders thought of it as mentoring, something they loved to do. Over time they began to blog on their own and became social without any initial intention of doing so.
There are myriad other ways to ensure that employees enthusiastically participate in a social business program. Marketers, who are used to writing, may enjoy doing blog posts about their experience. Busy front-line sales executives can post status updates. Project managers can curate or actively follow other interesting internal company projects.
5. Conduct Monthly Update Meetings with the Champions and Community Facilitators
Regular discussions provide a way to address brewing problems early on or pivot use cases to better reflect reality. Second, these types of informal chats and meetings can help guide the second and third iterations of the social IT architecture at the company. These meetings are also a convenient place to compare actual results to the goals identified before the launch.
And by the way, make sure goals are adjusted to reflect the business challenges users are actually solving with social business software. This can make or break management's view of a project as a success or a failure. For example, a company may believe it needs social business to drive product innovation, but in reality employees embrace it for collaboration-- because that’s the most critical business need. So calibrating expectations to actual results ASAP is simply good corporate hygiene.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Ask the Experts
If your social business software vendor has been in the game long, they should have a battle-tested team of consultants and service professionals adept at navigating the transition to social. They can help you avoid missteps and tailor your social initiatives to particular company requirements, cultures and business objectives. Some providers may even have vertical expertise in your industry, and offer special service programs to plan successful launches, drive adoption and tune communities for optimal results.
The upshot of all this is that there's no magic to making social business work for your business. Mostly it's a matter of being attentive to (surprise!) social and organizational realities: giving everyone something they can relate to, defining essential roles, engaging stakeholders, and communicating early and often. Doing so will go a long way toward nailing a successful deployment, high out-of-the-gate adoption and use rates, and rapid business results from your social IT infrastructure.
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:
- Is Your Company Lost 'Socially'? Here's a Guide to Navigating the Social Ecosystem
- Key Location-Based Technology Stats & the Effect on Social Business #SocBiz
- Social Business Software or Enterprise 2.0 Platform?