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Successful Enterprise Social Computing Adoption

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Enterprise Social Networking & Collaboration [July/August 2009]


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The seismic success of Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter and other social computing tools sets the bar pretty high for social computing initiatives within the enterprise. Though viral in the consumer realm, social computing tools require careful handling—and sometimes a little push—to achieve the desired results in a business context.

What businesses typically expect out of social computing tools are powerful new ways to discover expertise in a distributed organization; collaborate across roles, departments and divisions; recruit and retain employees; capture knowledge from an evolving workforce; and innovate at a faster pace.

Social computing can and does deliver these things, but it’s a myth that it happens automatically. So here are six steps you can take to ensure you get the results you want from your enterprise social computing program.

1. Identify business problems that social computing will solve. In addition to yielding broad business benefits, enterprise social computing can help solve concrete business problems. To get the most out of your initiative, identify those problems at a bedrock level. Instead of "better customer relationship management (CRM)," discrete business problems might be: initial customer response is not timely; customer problem resolution is not timely; and/or overall customer satisfaction is marginal at best.

When you’ve identified the discrete problems, add realistic "phase one" goals with key performance indicators (KPIs).

  • Initial customer response is not timely. Reduce the time from customer initial contact to response by 15%;
  • Customer problem resolution is not timely. Reduce time between initial customer contact and problem resolution by 7%; and
  • Overall customer satisfaction is marginal at best. Increase the average quarterly customer survey rating by 20%.

2. Define use cases of social computing solving those problems. Develop use cases to attack these carefully defined problems. Include the actors and events for each. Continuing with our CRM example, a use case could be:

  • Customer presents a challenging product question;
  • Account manager reaches out to community of individuals with expertise about the customer and the product;
  • Some community members respond; others critique the input via attention data such as ratings, comments and tags;
  • Account manager filters responses with the help of the attention data; answers customer, provides resolution; updates community with specific customer resolution; and generalizes feedback and updates customer support knowledge base.

3. Select the correct tools. Now that you know what the steps in your use case are, it’s a question of selecting the right tools. Among the more common choices for the enterprise are blogs, wikis, social profiles, social bookmarking, communities, discussion forums, tagging, micro-blogging, activity streams, status updates, voting and rating.

Let’s examine one of the steps in the CRM use case: The account manager might post a question to a discussion forum, browse/search "people tags" to find specific individuals with documented subject-matter expertise, or explore content tags to find creators of content related to the subject matter. Or some combination of the three. Experiment during the pilot phase and choose the alternative that works best.

4. Publish best practices. Some believe social computing in the enterprise should be left unfettered by directions, rules or guidelines. While that’s how it works in the consumer world, proper guidelines can increase adoption—and certainly results—in the business context.

Some examples of best practices include:

  • Prior to creating a community, explain its purpose and ground rules to prospective members;
  • Tag articles with terms that are meaningful to the group, not particular to the source material;
  • Discussion participants should stay on topic to preserve the thread’s value, and moderators should discourage digression; and
  • Social profiles are vital to a comprehensive social computing strategy, and profile-building "jam sessions" are a good way to get them done fast.

5. Identify obstacles. By 2012, more than 30% of large organizations will operate social software suites for all their employees, according to a recent Gartner report. Nonetheless, large organizations in particular will encounter internal obstacles. For example, employees may already be using Facebook, LinkedIn or other systems and resist alternatives. They may worry about making their ideas public and uncensored. Management may be entrenched in "old school" hierarchical thinking, or worry about reduced productivity. It’s prudent to identify these obstacles, prioritize them and develop tactics to address them.

6. Identify desired cultural transformations. As obstacles are overcome, Web 2.0 can make an enormous impact on the culture of a company, including: improved transparency; decentralization of information; increased sense of identity; democratization; emergence of knowledge; and improved communication for a distributed workforce.

An organization should do some soul-searching to ensure it’s ready to support cultural transformations like these. They don’t occur without a willingness to change and a commitment to improve the bottom line. For those who are ready, here’s a good plan of attack for the all-important cultural change piece:

Provide direction by preparing a mission statement for your cultural transformation. Identify specific examples of activities that would illustrate the transformation in action.

Identify the second- and third-order impact of these activities on the bottom line. Identify groups and individuals who are good role models for the transformation, and list their relevant traits. Finally, identify groups that may resist the transformation, and understand why.

Armed with this deeper insight into cultural transformation, the champions of the enterprise social computing initiative can work more effectively with the departments most concerned over possible cultural changes. 


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