Often times I talk to organizations who have no idea what their goals are or what they want to do with the latest and greatest social tools on the market. They focus too much on the technology and whether it looks pretty or is simple to use. They have no strategic focus, just a "feeling" that investing in enterprise social technology is the right thing to do or because some analyst told them to look at specific vendors.

Just because the technology has the halo and the hype of the social enterprise, doesn't mean it's the right answer to the business problems you're trying to solve -- assuming you even know what those problems are in the first place. It doesn't mean the solution is secure, it doesn't mean it's compliant, and it doesn't mean it integrates well with existing technology investments.

More than ever it's time to go back to basics. People, Process and Technology. It seems a little cliche, but it's simple enough for everyone to understand especially when introducing social software that is broad in context and feature-rich in capabilities.

Now no one is discounting the overall user experience.  However, the UX can easily be tailored to the business use case with simple branding or navigation changes once you have identified the people, process and technology parts.

People. It’s Not Just Who, It’s Who and What.

Social technology changes how people communicate and focuses on targeting individuals and groups (aka communities) of individuals with microblog messages and knowledge. The problem is that most organizations have never taken the time to step back and whiteboard the myriad of targeted audiences that social tools are there to serve.  

What communications should be sent to whom and when? What type of communication is it? Rich content or just straight text-based communication? Do you know what types of communities of practices exist in your organization? What type of knowledge is being shared or needs to be shared? All of these questions need to be answered before you even consider technology.

Process Has Purpose

When it comes to collaboration, process is often ad-hoc and driven via email. Unlike a factory where logistics and supply chains drive manufacturing processes, knowledge worker processes are a collaborative set of activities.

One of the keys to recognizing value is to look at these collaborative processes within your organization and identify ones that can be improved with social technology. In other words, what are the use cases and business problems that you're trying to address? In a broader sense, what’s your social purpose? Across all industry verticals, there’s a fairly common set of business drivers including:

  • Accelerating Onboarding, Training or Innovation Process
  • Increasing speed and access to knowledge and expertise
  • Attracting and retaining talent and improving employee engagement
  • Improving relationships and relevancy of communications

The challenge today is that these ad-hoc business processes are informal, not measured, and have no baseline understanding of who, what, where, when and how these activities are accomplished. We all know they need improvement and they are critically important to the business. The goal is to make knowledge work more productive, faster, easier and more relevant. It’s also about providing more visibility in these sets of activities and influencing the right collaborative behaviors.

Technology is all About the Ecosystem

When it comes to the technology platform, you want to choose one with capabilities that enables you to realize the goals you identified, recognize and quantify real value, and solve real business problems. You also want to choose a solution that offers an integrated technology and user experience. The last thing you want to do is add yet another silo into the organization. Most organizations have too many systems, too many repositories where content lives.

The key to success is take a step back and think about how social technology integrates in the flow of work and other enterprise systems. How do social tools leverage and compliment (vs. compete with) existing investments you have in other tools? At the end of the day, enterprise social is just user generated content under the covers and it needs to be managed, needs to be secured, and retained as knowledge assets.  

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading this article by Rich Blank: