Are you asking users to ‘mingle’?

PCWorld have published an interesting perspective on the adoption of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), entitled ‘Many employees won’t mingle with enterprise social software‘ (and yes, that’s the first time I’ve used the word ‘mingle’ on this site!):

Carol Rozwell, a Gartner analyst, estimates that between 70 percent and 80 percent of companies she talks to about their ESN deployments are struggling with it.

“Too often we see companies whose leaders are thrilled with the technology, and they see how quickly consumer social networks like Facebook have grown. They think they’ll accomplish the same growth rate and participation if they purchase the right tool,” she said. “That approach doesn’t work.”

Gartner predicts that through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve their intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology, she said.

GE ColabIt goes on to discuss the success of GE’s internal ESN solution, GE Colab, which has been in place since 2012:

“Hundreds of communities have popped up on Colab,” said Andrew Markowitz, the company’s global director of digital strategy. “It’s very actively used. There are strong metrics around it.”

It has gotten so far about 50 million page views. Several hundred thousand comments have been posted to it. Users spend an average of 10 minutes on GE Colab per visit. “There is good, strong appetite for this type of tool,” he said.

Before turning back to consider the issues involved with lack of adoption in many ESN deployments, with quotes from Charlene Li and Alan Lepofsky amongst others:

Many ESNs aren’t living up to their full potential because they’ve been implemented as a technology and not as a business strategy,” Li said.

Gartner’s Rozwell stresses that there needs to be “a compelling purpose for which the tool will be used.”

Compelling in this context means not only that the software has to be enticing, but that it also helps people get their job done better, whether that means faster, easier, more efficiently or less expensively, she said.

For Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research analyst, the meshing of ESNs with business processes is essential. “If an ESN is not integrated with tools like file-sharing, CRM, marketing automation, support tracking or project management, then it becomes just another tool, and that is where adoption issues begin,” he said via email.

Organizations need to ensure that ESNs are woven deeply in to their core business processes in areas such as sales, marketing and engineering, according to Lepofsky.

Some thoughts:

  • It’s terrific that mainstream tech sites such as PC World are finally covering ESNs and collaboration platforms with some level of consideration beyond just publishing vendor press releases.
  • Even though the tone of the article is realistic, it is positive in terms of the GE case study and also the outlook for the ESN market generally.
  • The principal messages are sound.  That ESNs are not simply a technology to be deployed, but instead are an enabler for business processes and strategy, and should be seen as an element to be included in significant business transformation projects. Secondly, users have to understand why they are asked to use the new platforms and how it fits into their role, and into the organisation as a whole.
  • My own experience is that ESNs implemented purely by IT departments or by technology-focused partners or consultants are more than likely to fail.  This should not be a shock to anyone in 2014, yet it still seems to be at the root of so many negative stories and case studies that get published today.
  • Successful Social Business/Collaboration/Open Business projects are those led by the business for the business, that utilise talented teams and individuals with real-world experience of delivering transformation at strategic and cultural levels.  If you don’t have those people involved in your ESN project – stop, now’s the time to get them on board!
Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!