Here’s a simple yet powerful trick for driving social computing technology adoption: kill your internal email for everybody in your organization.

We do it here at NewsGator and it works. Friday is our no email day. Although we are very social already, the point of #SocialFriday is to eliminate all email unless it is external or truly confidential. This helps us break a habit that has been drilled into knowledge workers for the last few decades. Even though we’re power users of our own stuff, as we should be, certain departments tend to participate in social computing more actively than others just like any organization. #SocialFriday forces the issue -- as well as the transparency, efficiency and productivity benefits that come with it.

#SocialFriday works because it affirms our enterprise social network, Social Sites 2010, as the “one place” we go to for our internal communications and collaboration. Many organizations introduce social business solutions but are too timid to go all the way. In practice, if not by fiat, email remains the official channel for their important information. This slows social business adoption and its desperately needed benefits. Imagine if we’d never let email be an official medium… we’d have to dial the phone for all official business!

How Friday Became a Day for No Internal Email

The genesis of #SocialFriday was a customer visit. One of NewsGator’s project managers and I were onsite working with a customer project team. As an exercise, we walked through the team leader’s email inbox to see how much was truly confidential and how much of the content would have benefited the larger community.

The finding: Nine out of 10 emails didn’t need to be there.

Some of the discussions in his email should have taken place in an online community where they would benefit others. Other discussions were irrelevant to him and should have taken place in an online community that he probably would not choose to follow on his own. Another portion of his email consisted of lengthy, digressive threads that had branched out into typical, never ending email trees that had long lost their relevance to the majority of recipients, and even he had lost track of which branch to respond to. His inbox was a classic case of email overload, a problem replicated across millions of inboxes at millions of organizations every day.

The project team started talking about ways to get people out of email so that any important knowledge could be captured and shared. We had a eureka moment: turn on our internal Out of Office messages in Outlook and steer colleagues to communicate with us in the activity stream via microblogs, ideas, questions, etc.. Now #SocialFriday is an institution here at NewsGator.

Here’s my OOO message:

It’s #SocialFriday. I've purposely turned on my “Out of Office” message for internal emails. We are THE social computing company for the enterprise, and I want to utilize our product in a way that sets an example for our customers. For this reason I will be participating in #SocialFriday to help dramatically reduce email and rely more on our product. This will also increase transparency with what's happening in our customer accounts and in the organization as a whole. If you need me, don’t expect a response via email today unless your message is truly confidential. You can target me @christys in your activity stream. If this is customer-related, please target the customer community as well."

#SocialFriday Benefits Everyone

This started with just a few of us but quickly went viral and included most of the organization. Many people’s OOO messages just say something very Zen like “Find me in the stream.”

If I do get an internal email I’ll read it, but will respond in the activity stream, targeting the person who asked. The increased transparency benefits everyone. I recently received an email from one of our sales reps about how a customer was using a certain product feature. I answered in the appropriate community. Lo and behold, our VP of product management saw the comment and chimed in with a heads-up on a new feature that would directly and significantly benefit the customer we were discussing. Winner!

If I had simply responded to that email with another email, the conversation would have ended there. Instead, we are making a customer happy with a new feature I didn’t even know was in the works. That’s pretty cool.

So yeah, we started our “SocialFriday” effort to eliminate the majority of internal email at NewsGator for one day, but it has turned into #AllSocialAllTheTime. It just goes to show that a little reinforcement can help even the most socially savvy organizations.

Your Insights

What about you? Do you have any simple tips to share on how you are changing behaviors to take advantage of social business in your organization?

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