Companies continue to have geographically decentralized workforces, and social networks continue to grow in popularity. And yet, many organizations struggle to put the two trends together and persuade employees to use their social intranets.

The problem isn’t lack of technology. 

Social intranets are part of the booming social business category, which ranges from from full-featured enterprise social networks (ESN) to specialized start-ups offering messaging, microblogging, document collaboration, search, mobile access and more. Currently an $18 billion industry, social business is expected to grow to $37 billion by 2019, according to Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Research Director of Social Business Applications at 451 Research.

But without warm bodies logging on, all the technology in the world won’t have any benefit, an issue raised at a recent CMSWire webinar Top 10 Tips to Improve Social Intranet Adoption.

Pelz-Sharpe joined Rickard Hansson, founder and CEO of Incentive, the social intranet provider for security behemoth NATO. Their goal: to help webinar attendees, 44 percent of whom had social intranets, overcome barriers to adoption.

For a sequential list and more information on the top 10 tips, watch the webinar.

Nurture Key Collaborators

Those tasked with social intranet adoption face some uphill battles.

For starters, there are bad memories of legacy systems. “The first intranets were, in many cases, little more than clever bulletin boards, which weren’t terribly popular,” said Sharpe. “Those first generation intranets left a bit of a shadow sadly.”

Another problem can be the organization itself. During a poll conducted during the webinar, 60 percent of respondents chose company culture as their barrier to social intranet adoption. Some companies just aren’t very social.

So the implementation team must make the case for collaboration.

Icon for Incentive webinar

One way is to identify key people in the organization who will actually use and benefit from the social intranet (webinar tip #1) and get their input right from the design phase of the project.

Many implementation teams work with the budget holders and decision makers, but according to Pelz-Sharpe, the most important stakeholders are those who are going to use the system. If they see value in it, they are going to advocate for it.

That will make capturing and promoting winning situations --  (webinar tip #9) much easier. Define success from the start, asking yourself the tough questions about what’s in it for those key stakeholders, tying to measurable business processes (webinar tip #4) wherever possible.

However, behavior can be hard to change, and in select instances, you may need to enforce the use of the social intranet (webinar tip #9) in those key areas where its role has been defined. Incentive’s Hansson leads by example at his own company.

“If anyone emails me internally, I simply don’t answer. If they text me on my phone, I don’t answer,” said Hansson. “They have to communicate through the right tool.”

For example, forcing people to post meeting notes to the social intranet, where colleagues can comment and edit, gets people habituated to using it.

Avoid the Big-Bang Bomb

Social-intranet adoption also requires that IT departments change the way they roll out technology. Plan, budget, and staff for an extended rollout (webinar tip #6), explained Pelz-Sharpe. “Don’t just go live and go home.”

Expecting immediate, positive adoption of the social intranet is unrealistic. It’s important to continue to monitor adoption and identify intranet “hot and cold spots” (webinar tip #2). It’s also important to accept feedback — negative feedback can be particularly insightful — and to have a process for change (webinar tip #3).

"The progressive rollout is super important,” said Hansson, “I’ve seen massive failures when you do a big-bang rollout.”

Implemented successfully, a social intranet is an investment that can last many years and can connect an otherwise fragmented workforce. And perhaps more importantly, it can become a searchable goldmine of their collective knowledge.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Title image by keith ellwood.