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Angela Ashenden is Principal Analyst at MWD Advisors and leads the Collaboration practice, specialising in Social Collaboration. With 13 years’ experience as an industry analyst, Angela is a highly accomplished writer and public speaker, with expertise in many areas around Collaboration and Information Management. Angela regularly presents at conferences and seminars on Collaboration technology, markets and adoption best practice, as well as writing for journals and trade publications on various topics. Angela is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 29 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Fanning the fire: using evangelists to fuel your adoption strategy

12.19.2013
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I’ve blogged before about the need to take a structured, organised approach to driving adoption of social collaboration technologies and practices, rather than relying on a viral adoption strategy (see If you build it, will they really come?). In this post, I want to highlight one of the most effective tools in driving adoption based on my conversations with early adopters of these technologies – the evangelist network.

Getting people to change their behaviour is hard; we take the path of least resistance, and unless we see undisputable reasons to veer off that path, we tend to ignore any suggestions to do so. It’s not surprising, then, that it’s not enough to send an email out to employees about the need to be more collaborative (or even to send multiple emails). People need to understand what’s in it for them, and what is meant by “being more collaborative” in their own day-to-day situations. The problem is that most social collaboration initiatives only have (at most) a handful of people to spread the message and drive adoption, and they are simply unable to reach the vast majority of employees in a face-to-face way.

A network of evangelists – or “advocates”, “ambassadors” or “champions” if you prefer – can have a hugely positive impact not only on your chances of success with your social collaboration initiative, but also on the speed with which you can drive adoption and change. These are people who are enthusiastic about your initiative, and who can talk on a peer-to-peer basis with their colleagues to help spread your message and show people the advantages of using social collaboration practices and technologies in their specific roles or context. Being spread right across the organisation, they provide the additional reach and regional context to ensure that your message is relevant and understood, and that it addresses the needs of each part of the business. What’s more, this network is not just about pushing the message out; it also provides you with an invaluable source of feedback, an ear to the ground to find out what the response is to your approach and messaging. What is resonating, and what is causing resistance? By maintaining a two-way channel, you can use this information to adapt and refocus your strategy on an on-going basis.

So who should your evangelists be? The most obvious candidates will be people who are already using social or collaborative technologies within your company, or who are active on social media in their personal lives, for example. In most cases, these people will become apparent very quickly, either through their expressing early interest in your initiative, or through a little gentle investigation on your part (for example checking if there is an existing Yammer network or LinkedIn group for your organisation). The key is that these people need to be enthusiastic and relatively comfortable using new technologies; while it is important to ensure you provide them with a good level of training and support (with regards to both the technology and the messaging behind your strategy), it’s great for them to be able to get up and running quickly, especially if you want their input and feedback on the technology before launch. Ideally, you want to include people from across the different departments and regions of your business; in this way you can gain their input to ensure your messaging makes sense in each different context, and maximise your reach within the organisation. Over time, you’ll find your network grows more organically, with new enthusiasts emerging as adoption grows. The key here is to see your network not as a short-term launch programme, but as a long-term strategy which goes hand-in-hand with your broader business and cultural change programme. In a large organisation, it will take several years for the shift to take place on an enterprise-wide scale, with different people adopting at different rates, and your evangelist network can help to sustain momentum and awareness throughout the process.

Finally, I’ve mentioned already about the need to make this a two-way street, and the same applies to recognising and rewarding your evangelists for their support. While many evangelists enjoy the kudos associated with the role, it’s vital that you make sure they are recognised for their input in their annual appraisals or reviews, and that their managers see the value in their contribution to the initiative. Some organisations also operate regular or ad hoc reward programmes for the top evangelist to recognise their commitment; this can, of course, also work as another way to reinforce awareness of the initiative across the company.

You can check out the various case studies we’ve published on our website; in particular I’d highlight Avanade’s story, where the evangelist network was critical in getting adoption of its 17,000 employees for its new social intranet, and DSB, which used a network of 80 Ambassadors to support its social gamification initiative.

Do you have a social collaboration success story to share? Get in touch at angela@mwdadvisors.com or on Twitter at @aashenden.

Published at DZone with permission of Angela Ashenden, author and DZone MVB.

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