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.

This means working out loud and accepting the initial discomfort this may cause, as well as reaping the benefits of removing managerial blinders. If you are trying to get an exec on board, you need to find at least one executive sponsor to rally behind the idea.

Executive engagement won’t get you there alone. Because social can’t be mandated, employees need to adopt it voluntarily.This means that the design of your social platform has to be people-centric. This also means that a strategy needs to be in place to not only make a splash during roll-out, but also sustain engagement by closely aligning the platform to how people need to use it to get work done.

Integrated approach

How do you help employees get work done? How do you make social strategic and tactical at the same time?

Why it’s important:

Nobody wants to use “yet another tool,” and so the community strategist becomes fulfills the role of helping employees by helping them make sense of the technology in their own context. Check out Kai Riemer’s SNEP model on more about sense-making. If people are going to your social platform to talk about work versus doing work, it will never become sticky.

What to do about it:

To avoid making enterprise social into yet another silo or a toy for socializing, it needs to become a natural part of how people work. It needs to become deeply interwoven into your business and replace or augment processes that don’t work.

The great thing is that the more people work in enterprise social, the more value they will get out of it. IDC reported that "Social collaboration grows in value as more employees become engaged in the use of the tools and processes. It's a classic network effect."

Investment in Community Management

What happens after launch? How do you ensure that your social effort keeps meeting business objectives and people keep using it? Have a strategy and a community manager!

Why it’s important:

Community management is not a fluffy, feel-good job; it’s the heart and soul of any social initiative. Dion Hinchcliffe writes: “Community management is an essential capability of Enterprise 2.0… You must plan for community management from the very beginning.”

Too often, people who purchased or deployed software, become “accidental community managers.” They aren’t always trained, strategically or financially supported, and oftentimes have to do community management on the side. While a social platform is deceptively simple and easy to use, it fully depends on human cognition and behavior, which is anything but simple. There are resources to help accidental community managers and raise the overall literacy level.

What to do about it:

Because your enterprise social network is a community, you need to invest in community management, and you need to resource it as a strategic discipline beyond a moderator. The community manager is the gardener who helps the organization reach its strategic objectives, while at the same time helping teams build use cases, and helping managers and individuals create big change through small everyday actions.

Ultimately, the job of a community manager is to create an environment where people choose to work openly, an environment that appeals to intrinsic motivators and passions.

Evolution, not Revolution

Because social holds the promise of cultural change, it tends to excite people easily. The worst thing you can do is have unrealistic expectations. Changing behavior is hard, and changing culture takes a long time.

Why it’s important:

In its article “Cultural Change that Sticks,” Harvard Business Review advises against changing culture overnight: “Culture is highly ingrained in the ways people work; any company culture has assets… Honor your culture’s strengths, focusing on changing just a few critical behaviors rather than attempting a wholesale transformation.”

What to do about it:

Instead, focus on things you can change; a few daily behavior changes create a large impact down the road. Small actions, added together, create a movement. You have to go into it with an open mind and with willingness to experiment. You will have theories, which you will test, and it’s OK to not know everything.

You have to be willing to try, build on your successes and learn from your failures. At my company we say, “Aim, Fire, Adjust!” If you can take actions every day as individuals and teams to work out loud, if you can change your work to “public by default” versus “private by default,” you will catalyze change over time.

Image courtesy of Lim Yong Hian (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Maria, check out Social Business is Just Good Business