Gartner issued a prediction last week that until 2015, “80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve the intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology." Some thought leaders have also said that because organizations have tried and failed, we have now entered into the “Trough of Disillusionment" phase in the Hype Cycle.

We can all agree that social has changed how we communicate in our personal and professional lives. The genie is out of the bottle, and you can’t put it back. So why are so many struggling to uncover business value?

A key reason highlighted by Gartner in the report, is that many companies have gone into social tools-first versus addressing the more nuanced behavioral aspects. Social is not about tools; social is about the conversation and the collective action; when done right, it accelerates and scales individuals beyond their own limitations.

So now what? Let’s take a look at some key aspects that can hinder, as well as accelerate, your organization’s use of social, and what to do about them.


If you study history, you’ll know that it repeats itself. When companies started using public social channels for business purposes, a similar trough was experienced because companies rushed into it, with the wrong intent and without preparation. They wanted to be “hip” and connect with customers so they could message them. Then they quickly realized that social highlighted inefficiencies in their processes. The smart ones learned from this and made changes.

Why it’s important:

Same is happening with enterprise (internal) social. A lot (not all) of the initial wave of employee networks were deployed without much forethought or for the wrong reasons.


The danger is that when an open communication platform lands on a culture that shuns openness and collaboration, it may end up backfiring. Social takes a giant magnifying glass and exposes everything -- the good and the bad. The success or failure of your enterprise social effort is a manifestation of your success or failure as an organization -- you just may not know you are failing yet.

What to do about it:

Social, when used effectively, becomes a central nervous system, a rich feedback loop that delivers velocity and a powerful change agent. To get the most out of it, you need to shift away from a “need to know” basis to “public by default” communication style: public, unless it has to be private.

Culture is the unwritten behavior code and a set of core principles that inform what we do and how we do it, in the absence of directions. As our world becomes more complex and information dense, it requires us to make more decisions faster, and to do that, we need to become more fluid and decentralized -- and we need strong cultures more than ever.

Culture is shaped over time through incremental things we do every day, and through how leadership behaves. While not every culture is ready for open communication from day one, companies that are open-minded will see culture change eventually. You do need to commit to listening and acting on feedback, engaging constructively and removing roadblocks to employees working together.

Implementation and deployment

Why it’s important:

Per Gartner, social efforts fail because of how they get deployed to the organization. Traditional view on enterprise software has been that IT owns it, drives it and tells users to use it. This doesn't work with social because you can’t make people share -- they must opt-in. Fundamentally, enterprise software has followed the push paradigm, while social is about pull.

What to do about it:

Instead of limiting your options by going through a traditional enterprise deployment process, you should approach social as an organization-wide exercise that considers user preferences, engages leaders and aligns to business goals. In today’s world, technology spending by CMOs is starting to outpace that of the CIO because cloud software is easier to provision and maintain. The truly beneficial scenario is when IT partners with business to leapfrog innovation and become faster and more competitive.

Bottom-up Meets Executive Sponsorship

You've implemented your social technology; what’s next? This is the part where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Executive approach to social matters, and so does individual employees’ adoption.

Why it’s important:

To be successful, the social effort needs to be fully understood, vetted and supported by executives -- financially and by “blessing” it. However, too many execs stop at proclaiming how great social is, and... never using it!

Alas, too many employees also start using social, don’t see the value and stop. Social only works when people use it, and the more people use it -- and the deeper they go with it, the more useful it becomes.

What to do about it:

To truly help social become strategically important, execs have to use it, and in a way that engages employees. If you are the exec, this means sticking with simpler, conversational language and honest dialogue in favor of carefully scripted statements.