Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Second-wave adopters are coming. Are you prepared? Part 3 / 3

by Christoph Schmaltz

This is the 3rd part of a blog post looking at user adoption.

1) Overview of barriers to introducing Enterprise 2.0 and user adoption
2) Scrutinizing barriers to user adoption
3) Thoughts on how to attract second-wave adopters


In the previous post we looked in more detail at barriers to user adoption and identified the following as key to be addressed to get second-wave adopters on board:

1) applications not part of user’s workflow
2) time effort > personal value
3) complex applications

Letting people engage with social tools using what they are already familiar with, seems to be paramount. If you are too prescriptive about the tools they need to use to interact with others or the tools themselves demand a certain type of interaction, you will lose a lot of people on the fence.  

Since a lot of people live in their inbox, we should be looking at ways to interact with a company’s wiki, blogs, forums, social network and even microblogging engine using an email client. I specifically say ‘email client’, by which I mean not the ‘email inbox’. The inbox should be for private information only. All other content (e.g. updates from blogs, wikis, newsletters, RSS feeds) should be received in different folders within the email client.

There have been some interesting developments, but I would expect to see more in the near future:

1) Blogs
Users should be able to post content to a blog using email. Products like Telligent, Movable Type cater for it already.  The latest version of WordPress also allows to reply to comments via email. Three days ago Posterous, the ultra-simple blogging platform, announced a new feature which lets users interact with the platform without ever having to leave their email client. I would expect enterprise vendors to implement similar functionality in the future.

2) Wikis
Pretty much all wiki products allow users to subscribe to updates via email. But very few products allow users to post content to a wiki and even create wiki pages via email. Socialtext is one of them. However, as far as I am aware, Socialtext and other products do not allow users to directly edit content in an email client and sending it back to the wiki.

3) RSS
A lot has been said about the use of RSS. While RSS for plumbing purposes has been widely accepted, standalone RSS feed readers are having difficulties to find their way into the enterprise. Primarily because most feed readers are fairly complex and expensive, but also because users don’t understand the difference between receiving their newsletters, updates in their email inbox and in a reader. For them it’s an additional destination they need to go to. Newsgator for example offers a plugin, which enables users to consume feeds in their email client. Since feeds are completely different than private conversations, they are displayed in separate folders and not in the inbox.  

4) Internal / External Social Network
Email is used to connect with other people, but so far most email clients don’t show context information about the recipients or senders of an email. It would be interesting to automatically have profile information, status updates, last actions from a sender or recipient of an email. This could work for a company’s internal social network but also with external networks like LinkedIn, Facebook using XOBNI or Gist or services like Jigsaw, Zoominfo, especially for sales people.

5) CRM
CRM set out with the best motives but many CRM initiatives fail because of low user adoption, significant amounts of inaccurate data and a poor match between processes and technology. In the end, CRM is a top-down tool that works for managers who can get their salespeople to play the role of a data entry clerk in addition to selling and managing customer relationships. Companies should look at possibilities of exchanging data between email client and CRM systems. For example, scheduled meetings or to-do items are automatically transferred into the CRM system. Team members can view that information inside their email client before sending emails to clients.

5) Microblogging
Twitter is all the rage at the moment and we are seeing very promising products appear in the enterprise space, e.g. Socialtext Signals, Yammer, Socialcast. For most people however, it is yet another application and destination they need to go to. Yammer allows to post and receive messages via email.

6) Instant Messeging
Sometimes it is desirable to initiate an IM chat right after having received an email. For example, IBM’s Sametime IM technology plugs into MS Outlook indicating if a person is available for a chat/call and allowing the user to directly contact another person within the email client.

7) Email distribution list
As mentioned before, people use email to have conversations about non-confidential topics. In this case, it could be beneficial to the company if these conversations where accessible to other employees. But convincing them to use forums, blogs or wikis can be very difficult, as they are outside of their workflow. In its latest version Thoughtfarmer introduced a feature, which publishes content from an email distribution list to the wiki adding details like profile pictures, links to employee profiles. There it will be indexed and the information is accessible even if people leave the company.

All these examples are related to email in one way or another. However, transition strategies go well beyond email. In general, it is important to keep in mind:

Don’t be too radical
For example, working on wikis and blogs potentially exposes people’s work to the entire firm. Most people are uncomfortable with that idea. Furthermore, it can require considerable effort. Instead of implementing wikis and blogs from the start, it might actually be better to look at social bookmarking, social networking or social messaging (microblogging) first. The value/time investment ratio is usually better than for wikis and blogs. Look at social bookmarking: The workflow is not radically different from what people are used to. They can opt out of sharing on a case-by-case basis, learn how valuable tagging can be for themselves. At the same time they understand the value of transparency when searching/browsing colleague’s bookmarks instead of relying on the enterprise search engine.

Let people decide how to interact
Early adopters and enthusiasts will be happy to work directly on the wiki, consume news and updates in their RSS feed reader and read and send messages directly in the microblogging engine. For the rest make sure that they have the possibility to use those new tools with something they are familiar with.

Let people receive content the way they want it
If people find content (sources) interesting they should be able to decide how and when they want to receive content; let it be via email client, RSS reader, feeds on the team space, message on the microblogging engine, or PDF. Stop pushing
content down people’s throat using email!

Build on existing workflows
This is nothing new, but I believe people have been rather ignorant to the fact that a lot of existing workflows involve email. Instead of simply implementing some new shiny tools, try to bridge the gap between the old and the new world.

New behaviors will emerge, but it won’t happen over night. That’s why enthusiasts need to acknowledge that most skeptics will continue to follow the path of least resistance and reject tools that are not part of their workflow, are too difficult learn and use or don’t yield an immediate personal benefit. If you ignore that, the success of your Enterprise 2.0 initiative may be in danger and the skeptics may prevail in the end.  

2 Responses to Second-wave adopters are coming. Are you prepared? Part 3 / 3

  1. By Cliff Allen on May 17, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    This is one of the most insightful descriptions of what’s needed for social knowledge tools to flourish inside enterprises.
    It’s so true that people — employees and customers — will naturally use the tools and techniques that are valuable to them personally.
    And, a person’s e-mail client is the hub of their activity — so we should help them use that hub more effectively.
    It’s interesting that the successful social networking Web sites rely on sending e-mails notifying people about messages received, events posted, etc. It would be much more efficient to just include the details in the e-mail.
    But, of course, those sites are more interested in Web page visits than in providing the best experience for their users.

  2. By Bill French on May 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Christoph:
    Great overview. All too often we discount technologies (such as RSS) in the enterprise because it’s not used directly. The reality is that the notion of “feeds” is here to stay and enterprises are adopting this spec as a core element of their information plumbing infrastructure.
    Why? It’s so cheap! It eliminates many IT integration hurdles and paves the way for greater operational efficiency while increasing information architecture agility.
    Two points about your observations…
    1 – Office 2007 integrates RSS as a seamless aspect of inbound information; plugin not required. When RSS begins to blend into the background and is supported ubiquitously across enterprise apps, then you know it’s reaching deeper adoption and acceptance.
    2 – Information architects employing RSS typically miss the security requirements necessary for broader adoption of enterprise RSS. In 2002 we designed our own platform such that the security model supports discrete contexts at the item level. This makes it possible to design RSS apps where a single feed can deliver content to different classes of users (or portal endpoints) based on each security context.
    Cheers! –bf