Back in February, I explored the topic of driving adoption in social business and have had a ton of interesting feedback from peers in our industry, as well as a number of follow-up thoughts of my own. There have been many different takes on this very important topic, so I thought it’d be worth revisiting while all of this is fresh, especially since driving adoption is something that affects us all.

Whether we’re talking about internal or external developers, executive management or rank-and-file employees (the all-important "customers" in this equation), here are some additional perspectives and suggested best practices geared specifically toward driving adoption:

Don’t Change Your Business Process to Fit a Plug-and-Play Solution

As has been well-expressed on CMSWire, each enterprise is unique, with distinct cultures, internal challenges and yes, opportunities. While companies like Jive Software have done so much good by shining a light on the social business opportunity, the notion that any company can develop a plug-and-play solution for enterprises is puzzling to me.

Each day we hear from huge enterprises about the intensifying need to develop social business solutions that are highly customized, in order to reflect each organization’s unique circumstances. If you’re working internally for an enterprise and someone comes to you with a solution that they claim will take care of all your needs, be skeptical.

And if you’re working externally, avoid the temptation of trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution, as I am convinced you’ll get an increasingly chilly reputation from enterprises, especially those which have already dipped their toes into the world of social business and now make it clear that they want and need services and solutions that fit their unique needs.

Tailor Your Solution to Current Business Process or Work-flow

In addition to the obvious operational efficiencies and boosts to productivity that can come from this, providing a social business solution that is highly relevant to an enterprise’s real business and work challenges today can send adoption levels through the roof!

If you have an arbitrary, plug-and-play social business solution not developed to solve any specific problems NOW, you’re likely to get a shoulder shrug from the very people you’re trying to get on-board.

Putting it another way, if your user base asks if your solution easily works with their day-to-day workflow needs and your answer is “not in this version,” -- you should probably ask yourself why not. Remember, business process is not going to be reinvented overnight by any new Facebook-like solution.

Make it Easy

All too often, those of us in the business of developing collaboration solutions feel that if we make a site too simple in nature that it somehow undermines the technological chops of the site developers.

Nonsense! Great companies like SAP and Salesforce have erred by pushing surprisingly complex systems for rank-and-file employees to navigate, which can be both intimidating and harmful toward driving adoption. As successful as they’ve been, I think they could do so much more by making their solutions truly easy-to-use!

We see this all the time in the software world -- solutions become bloated ERP solutions due to a road map developed without real customer input. Then, Version 2 is surely more complex than the first version and users are more confused and intimidated by the new and latest features.

If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix It

If there is an internal company process that is working quite smoothly without the use of social business solutions, don’t waste your time and money trying to build or fix something that isn’t needed. To address this proactively, I suggest conducting an actual audit, to assess which functions within an enterprise have immediate needs for improvement, as well as those which are functioning well currently.

Your management team/clients will appreciate this and you’ll be in better position to really focus on the areas that do need improvement. Jumping into the discussion with the statement that social collaboration will solve problem x or y out-of-the-box will only add unnecessary criticism once the solution fails to meet these new claims.

Make Finding Easy

We’re talking about more than enterprise search here. If you’re serious about driving adoption and improving productivity, don’t make your employees go on a wild good chase each and every time they’re trying to find something on your site.

Search is not the answer when one is trying to connect with another worker or another project. Allow for unstructured data and ad hoc connections -- too often, following the methodology and mindset of “I can take care of that in search,” will leave the users asking for more.

Adoption is about making that first experience welcoming and easy to use -- second and third uses will allow the ability to explore -- so, don’t lose the audience before they have a chance to see the show.

Have a Plan

Last but not least, work with senior management of the enterprise to develop a concise, company-wide adoption plan. While it might be tempting to go overboard in planning, you should really focus on a short list of important things in your plan. These include:

  • Getting executive management on-board and excited: Show management that you’re developing solutions that really address the company’s specific needs -- and that you’ll enable better collaboration and productivity throughout the organization along the way.
  • Identifying and training “champions” from all levels of the organization: Word-of-mouth is powerful. While some employees look to executive management for cues and leadership, they tend to respond even more favorably to their peers -- that is, if someone they know and trust within the enterprise is using a social business solution, they’ll be more inclined to try it and use it themselves. Start with opt-in pilot programs for people who have heard about this new project -- these are the champions you want on your side when rolling out this new widget.
  • Keeping the site fresh and relevant to the enterprise: Make your site the equivalent of “Must-See TV” within the enterprise by providing relevant and real-time updates. Whether you’re talking about the company’s recently announced earnings or other product or personnel milestones, if you post this information on your social business site first, you’ll get a lot of loyal followers…and they’ll likely tell their friends within the enterprise about it!

As 2012 continues to progress, my best bet is that driving adoption will be seen as more of a priority than ever. Enterprises are spending real money on social business sites -- and they’re going to want to see adoption and results from the investment, pure and simple.

Not having metrics to back up your original claims will ultimately hurt you -- some of these companies are reporting they are spending millions on their solutions -- they better also have real data to support that sort of investment and user base.

Taking a step back, consider this: If you can hand a new device like an iPad to a user and without any training they can connect their corporate email, get online and start using Facebook and other sites, this is adoption. Applying this to our world of developing social business and collaboration solutions, remember to keep things natural, intuitive and easy on the user. Adding new features can be great, but only if they are truly useful.

Title Image courtesy of Marietjie (Shutterstock).

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