As part of CMSWire’s "Back to Basics" theme for the month of February, I thought it’d be worthwhile to take a fresh look at something that is both obvious in its importance and yet challenging for all of us in the social business space: Driving adoption.
While much is rightly written and discussed here about best practices for site development, the pros and cons of underlying technologies like SharePoint and so forth, none of it really matters if we lose focus on the basic importance of driving user adoption. As I mentioned in a previous post, UX still matters -- and when it comes to driving adoption, it matters more than ever.
Here are some perspectives and suggested best practices from the front lines, having watched companies succeed and fail in varied areas of adoption:
Remember: Your Technology Isn’t Really All That Cool
What?! Don’t come to the party with preconceived notions that you have a great technology package that’ll instantly create a grand social business site fostering open communication, increasing productivity and bringing collaboration to record levels. Ideal as that all sounds, the hard truth is that each company is unique (more about this below) and that if anyone tells you that they have a great one-size-fits-all solution, you should be skeptical, at best.
Don’t get me wrong: technology can be extremely cool and is critical to what all of us do. The important nuance lies in layering the technology with a highly personalized interface that is easy, comfortable and even familiar for everyone who uses it, from a CEO to the entry-level employee. Expect widely varying opinions from these different camps about what this means, so your solution should also allow for a unique experience based on what the user wants to see and use.
Make it Intuitive. No, Really
While the word "intuitive" has almost become a throwaway phrase in technology circles, those of us in the social business space need to take it very seriously in all that we do. Simply put, if an employee or user within the enterprise has an easy and positive experience that enables them to be more productive, she or he will be much more inclined to return and encourage their peers to do the same. There should be little to no learning curve and the interface should be welcoming and familiar, not intimidating or seeming like an obligation. Speaking of which:
Take the Training Test
How much employee training does your social business site really require? If it’s more than a few minutes, you’ve essentially "failed" the training test. The ideal social business solution will be intuitive enough that it requires little-to-zero training by those you’re hoping will use it. After all, does Facebook require an in-depth training session? Did buying your plane ticket for vacation require a help-desk call (let’s hope not)? These are the rules that should guide you.
If you find yourself setting up an entire user training regimen for your social business site, you’re probably making the site too difficult to use -- and adoption will suffer. Basic training is great, but if you need much more than this, you should be wary.
Keep the interface nice and simple, even though building the site can indeed be a very complex process. Don’t try and boil the ocean on initial launch -- instead, get those features out that are must-haves and then add features every month or quarter as the requests arrive. No matter how well your site development seems to be going, make structured plans to periodically take the "training test" to ensure you’re remaining on-course. This is for the sake of adoption but also to the overall well-being of what you’re trying to establish.
Make it a Can’t-Miss for Employees
Perhaps one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to make your social business site indispensable to employees is to provide company updates, news, notices and other important forms of communication simply not available elsewhere. For example, if you’re dealing with a publicly traded company, consider using your social business site as the most immediate way to provide employees with an inside perspective on your company’s just-announced performance for the quarter, as well as a look ahead. Taking it a step further, social business sites can provide an invaluable way for senior leadership to not only post news in a one-way setting, but to have access to real-time feedback and reactions from all levels of an organization. All-hands emails are so 2011, after all!
Identify "Champions" within the Enterprise
As you’re establishing or updating your social business presence, make it a point to not only seek continuous feedback from key stakeholders and rank-and-file employees along the way, but recognize that a cross-section of employees (not just executives) will be best-suited to champion the cause of social business within your organization. Beyond the obvious and common HR, PR and marketing areas, get feedback from employees in functions like legal, sales and finance -- as they all stand to benefit from more open and instantaneous collaboration within the enterprise.
Flatten the Organization
Some of the most successful companies out there are those which make its employees feel like true partners with executive management. Applying this to driving adoption, if employees have an online environment in which they genuinely feel a high degree of accessibility to each other -- regardless of title or rank -- it can not only drive adoption, but have a broader benefit of boosting morale and facilitating broader communication and collaboration.
Remember, Each Company is Unique
As I’ve written before, each company has a distinct culture, processes and other internal systems. While technology obviously creates efficiencies that are tempting to deploy in as many ways as possible, the social enterprise requires true and deep customization to create a great user experience and support adoption.
As 2012 develops, I think it will become increasingly clear that adoption just isn’t going to happen as a matter of course. Getting back to basics, there are a number of common-sense steps we can all take to provide great user experiences to foster the continued adoption of social business. I look forward to checking in during future months and sharing updates with you along the way.
My article next month will focus on being more productive. So much is written about productivity and how social drives productivity. Well, your social collaboration site better be more than what’s for lunch. This is a big deal in corporations: the social frontier is a new one and for the most part, legal and finance departments have allowed the “Wild West” to happen -- but if there is no value being demonstrated, your time in social paradise will be short.
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