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Adoption strategies for Social Software

by Amit Kothari

This post deals with adoption of social software in enterprises. It might echo with people that have faced problems in getting others to believe that their approach works. It promotes how to “get a feel” for success; rather than a measure of adoption. It’s in-house employees and veterans of the company that know how dispersed a deployment really is.

Whilst many things have been written about aficionados and early adopters, it’s critical to involve non-power-users for their insight into the maturity of a deployment. It’s those people that offer the most valuable and realistic view of adoption. Like slow-burning logs in a fire, they take some time to get going but eventually beam us through to a mature roll-out.

Is adoption successful when we have 6000 likes and 1200 posts?

Not necessarily. In my view, these are the sentiments of successful adoptees:

  1. “I’m using this to get my work done”
  2. “This is helping us get things done”
  3. “Our function is improved now”

Whilst it’s tempting to measure at higher/macro levels, such efforts are generally fruitless. Imagine handing out a screwdriver to 10,000 employees and then trying to work out how useful the screwdriver is and how frequently it’s being used. It’s important to hand out the screwdriver, since the cost of not doing so is likely to be large.

All this assumes that your social software deployment is well-designed, with due concern for the situations in your business.

What are well-designed social software rollouts?

The maturity in use of a social software system is still open to consensus for rating purposes. Metric approaches have a certain vulgarity. Some don’t sound sensible – especially web-centric analyses like page views. Making social actions accountable to verbs, is something I’ve written about before – they would make metrics look trustworthy and close to business goals. We’ve even seen ROI-driven approaches that might lead to better processes.

The ultimate goal is process-oriented sociality where critical business processes have been transplanted/forked at points where the process is designed to get better through collaboration. The outputs of such business processes being “better” or “quicker” is then easily judged. Results should be more pronounced in companies operating with rigorous processes already.

Theories of motivation

Whenever you decide that an internal social software project has gone beyond a pilot, you need to foster understanding in the people who still don’t see any value. These people will have peers. A colleague pointed me to the VIST theory of motivation which is linked to empowered teamwork. VIST is a model of a members’ motivation in groups. To identify missing components in the motivation of people who don’t use your system, consider the following:

  • Valence – the subjective importance of team goals for individuals.
  • Instrumentality – the perceived indispensability of individual contributions for the group outcome.
  • Self-efficacy – the perceived capability to fulfil the tasks required in a team.
  • Trust – willingness to rely on a person, group, event or process. This covers the expectancy of team members that their efforts will be reciprocated, and not exploited by other team members.

The recognition of this human connection is where the dominoes that lead to adoption begin to fall. It goes wide and deep, but it’s necessary to be an adoption practitioner. Make it known that colleagues are in the circle and attempt to re-configure how you relay motivations to adopt the system in groups. Borrow approaches from this great vision in marketing that led Apple into its’ epic Renaissance. You can create a movement that uses your system as a vehicle – but make it a grassroots effort, not an institutional ploy.

Alternatively, you could target groups on a situational basis with an enterprise app-store to support business processes, or it could be through “guerilla” exposure, which is more likely to get results. I favour the simple approach of exposure, since it nudges usage of your social system in context – replacing whatever was done before, and without prejudice. At first contact with your system, people will use the tool they heard was relevant to them.

Spreading the word

How can people “hear about” the thing that “everybody seems to be using” in a business? Despite our best intentions, my gut feeling is that it’s not too different to the way that people hear about celebrity gossip in the media. It’s centrally pushed through a medium you have chosen to read, or you find out verbally. Maybe you could offer an incentive – but be very careful as it shouldn’t be monetary. As we know well, game mechanics in social software can go some way to encouraging stickiness from power users and newbies alike. Don’t get too hung up on stickiness – it’s attention-seeking and more suited to public sites like Facebook where more eyeball time leads to more ad-clicks.

When new people land on your well-designed social software deployment, you can often make a cup of tea and relax. The best part is the open-ended nature of social software. Discovery leads to usage. Simple things like editing a document or updating a status are done without friction. Using the tool in any way can lead to a cascade of affinity, if everyone tends to do it at the same time. You need to fan the flames of the network effect to some critical point, which is likely to be the most important aspect of such a system tipping into full-scale use. So the lesson is – don’t consider always doing a pilot first but give serious thought to a global rollout from day one. One of my clients did that for their social intranet with great results.

Ensure you are listening

The most simple things work. Advertise it with a context. Push usage through traditional, mobile and digital means. Most people will not interact, they find it useful to just view/consume. You will know when you’ve hit a wall when:

  • Your initial assumptions were wrong and you need to re-jig what you deployed.
  • You need to dive into specific teams and get the tool to fit their work pattern – or commonly, a work process. While finding out the details, try not to change the work processes of teams – they might realise and change it themselves.
  • Some people don’t have any use for your social software (rare).

This is why you need to think about designing your adventure into a collaborative experience. You need to have a strategy and pick the brains of people who have done it before.

Cultural friction

As much as I want to say that some corporate cultures impede the use of social software (by nature or due to being a regulated/professional services business) – I don’t personally believe it’s true. It’s really about changing the mind of individuals and their peers, case by case. A colleague wrote a series of posts on the barriers to adoption in that sense.

In summary

People promoting social software internally are like entrepreneurs launching a product into a messy world. There’s no set paths that give you the best results. In time, as more organisations build a library of stories about how they became a Social Business, I look forward to tales that are rich with experimentation.

The process of people adopting internal social tools to constant use is the next frontier in Social Business. We don’t need to grab all the real-estate on the screen and take all the attention. We need to show it helps people get work done faster, better and easier. You will see this being reflected in an organic change to your business processes. Do this properly, and your company will endure.

3 Responses to Adoption strategies for Social Software

  1. Pingback: Adoption Strategies for Social Software « Dachis Group Collaboratory

  2. By Felix on July 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks for the linkback, Amit. The VIST model is a really interesting way to look at teams and the podular way of working that Dave Gray has been discussing. The most discussed model of motivation theory (extrinsic _ intrinsic motivations) is great for looking at individuals and large groups, but I think it neglects the dynamics of the teams that people really engage with each other in, which is so critical to adoption.

  3. Pingback: Does Viral Adoption of Enterprise Social Business Software work? « Dachis Group Collaboratory