Avoiding the trough of disillusionment beyond the peak of inflated expectations*

So your enterprise jumped on to the bandwagon of enterprise social software in 2011 with the hopes of fostering new innovations, breaking down organizational silos and establishing a sense of social communication for your geographically distributed staff. Predictably, a large number of people signed up in the first few weeks, a few enthusiastic ones posted blogs, formed communities around domain and business, a senior business leader perhaps even attempted to make this the mainstream platform for her organizational change process. However, as the year draws to an end, the over enthusiasm of a few lighthouses seems to be tapering off, user adoption has slowed down, people are getting back to old ways of working. In summary, the trough of disillusionment is not very far if corrective actions are not taken.

(*2 key phases in the hype cycle as defined by Gartner)

How can platform sponsors ensure that beyond the initial adoption, enterprise social platforms deliver to their promise? A few suggestions:

Adopt a Small Bite, Multi-Phase Approach

Let’s face it, your Facebook-savvy staff has not taken to discussing ideas regarding sales pipeline enhancement on the organization’s social platform. Processes rolled out on social platforms in a big-bang approach typically achieve moderate to low adoption. Organizations (and this does not only imply a central organization here) need to take small bites to roll out features and business processes. While your Enterprise social platform may have the features OOTB to roll out all at once, user adoption is not likely to keep up pace leading to the danger of a disillusioned staff. The key is to have small functionalities covering wide audiences in each of these phases with a corresponding narrowed down success criterion. Needless to say, multi-phase approaches must be backed by a long-term strategy.

Reinforce the Executive Support Along with Department Level Support

This is to ensure that even with limited functional rollouts (small bites), adoption is not limited to certain departments only. This however is not a command and control structure, this would consist of “influencers”/evangelists across departments.

Identify & Promote Content & Community Leadership

While user adoption dwindles, it is important to have content leaders who can create content regularly, start and moderate communities, bring out thought leadership and seed innovation. Such content leaders exist in every department and line of business. Incentives, recognition and assignation of responsibilities will be helpful to bring them to the fore.

Identify “Champion Processes”

A corollary to content leadership, identify certain “champion” processes which when introduced on a social platform deliver and demonstrate the business value and relevancy of the platform. This could be your annual business planning exercise or “why a particular mega deal was lost.” Once the initial success is demonstrated, replication and adoption is relatively easier. Additionally, evangelize tool usage by showcasing platform adoption case studies and success stories from across the organization.

“Lightweight” Governance & Guidelines

Even with the self-organizing nature of a social platform, it is important to have a governance model, even though it may be predominantly flexible and lightweight in nature. It could be localized, federated or centralized. Additionally, this governance structure must make available policies, procedures, platform usage guidelines, etc. for right platform usage and adoption. Moderation may be required to avoid content and community duplication.

With the right adoption steps in place, your social platform can not only avoid the trough of disillusionment, in 2012, it can transform your staff into a connected, informed and collaborative workforce and increase the “collaborative index” value of your enterprise.

Happy collaborating in the New Year!

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