In early 2013 Gartner published a report indicating 80 percent of Social Business efforts will not achieve their intended benefits through 2015. That is a staggering number and a bold prediction to say the least. Gartner can back up  from the data unearthed during its extensive research into social business.

At the same time, the importance of social as an integrated business tool is mounting. In 2013 MIT Sloan Management Review released a report stating that 18 percent of respondents to their Social Business Survey in 2011 said social was “important today.” In 2012, that number increased to 36 percent and in 2016 this number is expected be 69 percent.

As social grows across industries and vertical markets, many companies are facing common implementation barriers. The interest in using the solution runs high at the start and then slowly drops off as organizations move to deploying it across the company, leaving many organizations wondering why this is happening and how it can be addressed.

Why Your Social Implementation Might Be Failing

Implementing a social collaboration platform is a difficult process. There are many specific variables that need to be taken into consideration with this type of project so it's no wonder Gartner is estimating such a high failure rate.

Some of the biggest issues companies are facing today include:

Freemuim Only Goes So Far

Freemium model social solutions are a great way to try a concept and see if it has enough merit to implement further within the organization. Unfortunately the freemium model can only take you part of the way. Rich Wood's article on how freemium models affect ROI calculations does a great job explaining what the freemium model is, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

If you’ve chosen to start your social journey using the freemium model you may hit some significant roadblocks in taking the solution mainstream within your company. One of the under-recognized issues with freemium software is data ownership. Your company doesn’t own the data that is stored in the solution unless you've purchased an enterprise license. David Carr wrote a great article on the challenges with freemium solutions that describes who owns the content stored on freemium social networks and how difficult it can be to wrest control of these rogue solutions.

The freemium issue causes significant heartburn for companies where users are posting company secrets and proprietary information on social feeds. IT often bristles at the thought of solutions that they do not control regardless of the success and innovation provided. Be sure you understand what freemium means and how you’re going to use it before rolling out a solution that could create a significant legal or confidentiality headache for your organization. Partner with executives and IT to ensure you understand the compliance and implementation issues your organization faces.

Lack of Executive Sponsorship

Any project will struggle without senior level management support. Social collaboration implementations mean more than having an executive sponsor cheering on the effort behind the scenes, they require active participation from top management, encouraging others to follow their lead. This is critical to the success of your effort.

Middle managers are often the most resistant to the introduction of social collaboration as it challenges the existing hierarchies and lines of communication that have been in place for many years. Senior management value the ability to connect directly with grassroots employees and typically feel more in touch with the mood of the organization. Those in the lower echelons of the organization value the opportunity to get noticed and build connections across the company. Middle management is often bypassed in each of these cases. Middle managers find themselves losing influence at the same time as having to learn new skills that run counter to the way they’re used to operating.

Gaining executive sponsorship is only one part of the equation, you must have the support of middle management as well.

Lack of Business Focus

With the explosion of ESNs and social collaboration platforms sprouting up, many companies implement these solutions because they think it’s the right thing to do. ESNs are being deployed without much thought to their overall purpose or how they will be managed going forward.

Every social collaboration implementation needs a defined purpose and scope. Although there may be a clear need for social within one group in your organization, other groups may not see the need or be ready for the solution. Be sure you map out how each group can benefit and what the solution will provide before getting started. 

Many organizations think that by simply standing up a technical solution it will provide value. Unfortunately that's not the case. It’s not just about the technology with social collaboration but more about the people and process in successful implementations. As a Collaboration Architect I’ve seen many projects fail due to a significant lack of planning and execution that stems from this “build it and they will come” mentality. Your social collaboration effort needs a defined vision and business focus with buy-in from senior executives for it to succeed. You need to understand how social will help your business and where it will drive the most value to ensure success.

Learning Opportunities

Dealing With an Unsupportive Culture

An unsupportive culture can kill a social collaboration effort if change is not managed and thought is not put into overcoming these obstacles.

The cultural barriers are made up of feelings and perceptions from those who don’t fully understand the nature of social collaboration. They are a combination of a lack of understanding, ignorance of the changes happening in business and fear of change in how they work.

The following quotes are actual employee comments from one of my clients that implemented Yammer across the organization. These quotes were taken from a pre-project survey conducted to gain an understanding of the cultural and operational barriers they were facing. I’m sure you've heard these or similar comments in your organization:

Social is a time suck and really has no value here”

If you have time to be on Yammer you don’t have enough to do”

Social has no place in our Corporate Environment”

We don’t need Facebook at work”

The comments illustrate an uneasiness with social collaboration and underscore the effort needed to address and change these perceptions. Change will not happen overnight, but will be gradual as knowledge workers and business leaders see the operational value and measured success over time.

They will see the success from those that are using the solution to solve problems across geographies faster, communicate issues across the organization more effectively, ask questions from a large group with diverse backgrounds, get answers from experts and respond to changes in a more effective and timely manner.

Culture and organizational behavior are the greatest barriers to adopting social collaboration solutions. In fact, Anthony J. Bradley, group vice president and lead analyst for social media at Gartner has indicated this is one of the biggest hurdles in becoming a mature social business.

Corporate culture is complex and can vary radically among disparate organizational levels, job roles, and even organizational units. You need to take the culture of the organization into account when implementing social collaboration. Not addressing this important step will lead to a greater risk of non-adoption.”

Lack of Implementation Planning

“Build it and they will come” is not a strategy -- it's a path to failure. One of the key mistakes an organization can make in deploying technology is standing up the environment and letting the business determine how it should be used with little thought to implementation, governance, education and maintenance. This “light on” management approach leaves the solution exposed to misuse and will lead to unintended outcomes. Planning the deployment of a social collaboration deployment is critical to success. Each group will utilize the solution differently based on their specific business focus within the organization so this needs to be taken into consideration.

Many organizations start a social effort through grassroots or viral engagement, where a social solution takes root organically and grows through co-worker participation. When corporate realizes that the solution has merit there must be a transition process from the viral approach to an enterprise wide deployment with real governance, policy management, user education, community management and a corporate wide deployment plan that should be addressed. Many companies struggle to make the transition from the initial success of the viral approach and see adoption and usage drop over time. The drop in usage can be attributed to a lack of governance, training and implementation planning.

While these issues may sound insurmountable, don't give up hope. There are lessons that can be taken from successful social implementations that will get you on the path to success. Check back for the second part of this article, where we explore the solutions.

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