8 Ways to Garner Adoption for Social Computing in Your Company

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on the essentials for social computing and collaboration for business. The first of those essentials was a recommendation to have a maniacal focus on garnering adoption. As I speak with customers around the world, I find that an increasing number of companies are struggling with the mechanics of how to accelerate adoption of the social computing capabilities they’ve made available to the enterprise. Worse yet, many are apprehensive about moving forward with some of the truly transformative ways to use social computing because they fear that their organizations are more conservative than most, and their users are probably not going to be up for using these cutting-edge ways of interacting and collaborating.

While these seem like perfectly reasonable objections, accelerating adoption is possible in the most conservative of user bases. Here are a few ways to do so in your organization:

1.   Help users imagine the possibilities. Classic IT methodologies for deployment of technologies start with requirements-gathering, followed by technology provisioning. I am oversimplifying to make a point, which is that we typically start with what users want, and then deliver what they are looking for. There’s one problem with this approach. It’s the assumption that the users always know what they are looking for. With social computing and collaboration, it is quite the opposite. There is tremendous transformative potential, but it’s not always obvious to all how a “Facebook” or “Twitter”-like functionality is beneficial for the enterprise.

The very first thing we recommend is to help your potential users understand in very simple ways how capabilities like microblogging could truly open up boundaries of interaction among employees – ideally in the context of a scenario that users engage in on a frequent basis. We at Doculabs recommend the storyboarding technique, which demonstrates how certain small activities could be materially improved through the use of these new ways of interacting. What storyboarding provides the user is a logical and visual depiction of how social computing can enhance their experience for activities they are familiar with. Showing users a mock-up of a sequence of vastly improved activities which wouldn’t be possible in the past tends to create a high level of interest in users.

Recognize that this is not a new problem. Back in the days when telephony was first invented, people had a hard time envisioning why one would need a phone. Or when someone at IBM thought that the worldwide market of PCs was in single digits. So start with helping people imagine the possibilities. That truly is the biggest challenge that stands between social computing and its broad-based adoption.

2.   Analyze your demographics and roles. Most organizations assume a phased, and universal, approach to infrastructure-level functionality. And it makes sense in the long run. Everyone today uses a cell phone. Everyone today uses email in business. However, think back to when these two very ground-breaking mechanisms of communication were first introduced. Not everyone had a cell phone. I remember in our company when only those who travelled received a cell phone in the mid-1990s. And that wasn’t that long ago. Don’t expect people whose jobs prohibit them from working in a transparent and open manner to be the early adopters. Someone in the legal team is less likely to be an active microblogger than someone in marketing, or executive management. There is more reason for a CEO to use it as a means of communicating in a more direct way with employees to engage them in a personal way, than someone from corporate finance. Identifying roles, understanding their predispositions, and then enabling them with the relevant social computing capabilities, is key to seeing the value.

3.   Adoption = some contribution + a lot of consumption. I often hear that a company tried to roll out blogs, but no one used them. Social software requires few thought-provoking content contributors who can make it worthwhile for a lot of content consumers to get on. As I’ve mentioned before, there is going to be participatory variability among individuals. But a few will contribute a disproportionate amount of content to start with that most will simply consume. Eventually they will comment on some of it. And finally more will start originating a contributory cycle. Identifying the strong contributors and creating incentives for them is absolutely critical to creating a viral effect.

4.   Create Policies to Empower Users Rather than Highlight Risk. Many organizations are very concerned about how employees will behave when they are given the capability to speak freely to large audiences, especially outside the organization. The reality is that this freedom is already available to all of us to begin with. No one stops us from sending an email outside the organization to others filled with confidential data, but employees don’t because there is a negative consequence to the personal brand and long term success by acting irresponsibly.  Policies regarding social computing can tend to be very punitive in nature, rather than encouraging.  Instead, consider the following message for the welcome screen before the user enters a social stage: “You’re about to become a powerful voice for our company on a public stage with a global audience.  Please proceed carefully.”  This gives the user a sense of empowerment and responsibility rather than a sense of fear. 

5.   Ensure Mobile Access to Social Software. Facebook is used twice as much by those that use it via mobile devices over those that don’t. This isn’t pure coincidence! Social computing has a lot of capabilities that require partial attention, with continuous connectivity. If you allow participation in your social computing and collaboration environment via mobile devices, there is a much higher likelihood that people will adopt it on a broader scale, with far greater frequency.

6.   Use email as a client to social computing. Technology innovation is often positioned as zero-sum-game. Will PCs replace mainframes? Will paper be obsolete? Will Microsoft be able to survive Google’s innovation engine? Will Apple own the mobile advertising market? Will email be replaced by Web 2.0 technologies? While there’s this tendency to talk in hyperbolic terms about technology, history has shown us that innovation is often additive, and for better or worse, incumbent technology and practices have a long tail.

Email is here to stay. It won’t be used in all the ways it is today, but there will also be new ways that email gets used in the future. My guess is that more people have email accounts than own a computer. So why not use email as a client for social computing? A great example is how blogs accept posts directly from an email. You simply email your post to an address, and the subject line becomes the title of the blog, and the email text becomes the body of the post. It’s a great way to enable contribution via a mechanism that people already know how to use.

Don’t try to get rid of email. (In certain instances, that will happen naturally.) Instead, try to extend the use of email to make your social experience richer. And see how that impacts adoption when a user doesn’t feel they have to learn something new to do something that is pretty NEW! 

7.   Reward transparent behavior. At a very basic level, most individuals aren’t necessarily incentivized to share knowledge. In fact, they are typically, and unintentionally, incentivized not to share information for their personal survival and growth. This is possibly the largest cultural shift that the older generation will find counter-intuitive.  An organization taking extra steps such as ensuring that those that share knowledge openly with others are given public recognition, or consistent contribution by the early adopters are given a small financial incentive or an ability to win a trip or a contest makes it fun and exciting to work in an open environment.  It isn’t about giving out a lot of money, as much as it is embracing the behavior by public recognition that goes a long way.  The most visited blogger of the month being given the opportunity to have lunch with the CEO might be another way to incentivize employees to work transparently.  It allows employees an accelerated vehicle to contribute high value and get rewarded by notoriety and recognition while bypassing bureaucracy at a different level than was possible in the past. 

8.   Don’t overemphasize productivity. Place greater emphasis on “group-think.” Productivity is only one of the by-products of social computing. It isn’t just what you can do faster that gets people excited. It is what people couldn’t even think of doing in the past that they can now do in an almost effortless way, that holds the greatest potential. One area that can truly motivate people to use social tools is engaging with a group to collectively think. This might yield to higher productivity, or it might not. But what it definitely leads to is better ideas and faster time to innovation. Any users who are in the front line developing products, engaging with customers in marketing activity, etc., will inherently find social tools appealing if they are shown how this sort of group think can occur as a result of such capabilities.

These are some of the ways that adoption can strategically be accelerated in a sustained way, where thinking socially becomes the common operating procedure. It isn’t just about temporarily spiking adoption. The key is to consistently grow usage, and sustain the growth.

I have also come across a great whitepaper written on the same topic by Michael Indinopulos at Socialtext (www.socialtext.com) titled “6 Steps to Drive Social Software Adoption” which is worth a read for anyone keen on learning more about the topic. 

Good luck and stay tuned for more!!

Explore posts in the same categories: Enterprise and Social Implications

10 Comments on “8 Ways to Garner Adoption for Social Computing in Your Company”

  1. Sue Benson Says:


    Great blog! Keep ’em coming!


  2. 8 Ways to Garner Adoption for Social Computing in Your Company…

    This article has been submitted, Thank You – Trackback from IntranetLounge…

  3. Avery Otto Says:

    Thank you Jeetu. Your post is very clear and has good instructional directives. Going from adoption to collaboration is a transition from a base level of communication to a higher functioning organization.

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