With Social Collaboration, Start Small

It’s pretty clear that social collaboration tools, especially enterprise social networks, have been struggling to find wider corporate acceptance. Recent ESG research shows that the knowledge workers in general don’t see or anticipate social collaboration tools having much impact on their ability to collaborate. This lack of enthusiasm was seen across companies of different sizes, different roles, and between different industries. There have been success stories but Facebook-like social collaboration features are struggling to transition from the early adopters to the mainstream. In the survey, ESG found 40% of those respondents that had access to an enterprise social network never used it at all. Only 13% said they used it daily. That is clearly not the type of usage data one wants to see in software with “network” in the title.

Why is that? Social collaboration software clearly has a lot to offer, especially for an increasingly mobile and virtual workforce. IT professionals certainly think so, citing reasons such as greater efficiency and the ability to collaborate across departmental and geographic lines for installing social collaboration tools in the first place. Yet even IT professionals recognized that there has been resistance from the rank and file knowledge workers, mirroring what knowledge workers themselves are saying.

The answer may lie not in what social collaboration is or does but in how it is introduced into an organization. When IT rolls out social collaboration solutions, they tended to provide it for everyone in the company. If you want to harness network effects of social collaboration tools, you need to make it available to as many people as possible. That just makes sense, except that it left knowledge workers adrift. They had tools but no reason to use them. The tools were there but, from the knowledge workers perspective, they lacked any clear purpose. Viral adoption had similar shortfalls. Even when a few enterprising knowledge workers sign-up themselves and a few co-workers for free versions of collaboration tool, it rarely translates into company-wide adoption. The conversion rates from free to paid are poor and the propensity to spread to others is low.

Both of the types of adoption suffer from the same problem—they do not address a specific need that has immediate impact on everyday work processes. Another way to look at it is that neither is intentional enough. Both rely on a nearly mystical need to “collaborate” without much thought as to what you are collaborating about. Whether a company rolls it out social collaboration software to everyone or just a few, there is not enough effort made to find a purpose relevant to the broader community to use these tools.

One way to get knowledge workers to adopt social collaboration—tools and methods—may be to start small. Find specific workflows that would drastically benefit a small number of people before purchasing any software or even signing up for a free account. Prime candidates are workflows that change with each iteration, involve cross functional cooperation such as people in different departments, include highly mobile workers or workers in different geographies, and are critical to the workers ability to perform their jobs. The best type of workflow would also be time critical and highly important to the company overall. These are the type of workflows that are hard to model in traditional process tools, difficult to implement in systems of record, have low success rates, yet high need for that success. Some obvious places to look for these workflows are in sales and human resources.

The key is to think of what the purpose of the social interaction is ahead of time. Don’t leave it for the average knowledge worker to figure out how to use the tools by themselves. Start with a reason to use social collaboration tools and worry about the technology after that.

Topics: Enterprise Mobility