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Why are so few internal social networks deemed a success?

02.26.2013
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Despite internal social networks gaining in popularity, few of them can be regarded as successes.  That is at least the finding of a new report by Information Week.  The report, called Rebooting the Antisocial Network found that just 13% of IT professionals believe their internal social networks have been a success.

The research reveals that whilst many companies employ social networking tools internally, the majority of users still seem to prefer using public tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn than their corporate network.  Of course the positive side of this is that at least users are using social tools, and thus training themselves in the methods and philosophies of social sharing.

“We have tried for over four years to push social networking in the enterprise,” says the senior IT director for a large technology company. “People just view it as one more place to have to look to get information.”

The report names user adoption as the single biggest management challenge in terms of social business.

What can you do to make your internal network fly?

Achieving critical mass is difficult for any community, be it an internal one or an external one.  If you follow some of these tips however you can go some way to ensuring your internal network achieves the results you want.

Define the purpose – As with any community you need to define a clear purpose for your community, and it needs to be a purpose that was generated by the whole organisation.  What do you hope to achieve with it?  What is the motivation for users to get involved?  It’s no good just buying off the shelf software and expecting people to use it.  The other nice thing about having a clear purpose is that it means you can clearly measure the success of your community by the number of times that purpose has been achieved.  If you’re going to achieve wider buy-in for this then showing clear ROI is crucial.

Keep it simple – As Gall’s Law states “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.”  So start things simple and once you’ve found something that works you can grow from there.

Make it easy to use – Web users are accustomed to having a simple and easy to use web experience.  If you’re going to achieve any kind of buy-in then replicating this ease of use is crucial.  Don’t for instance require a seperate login to other enterprise tools.  Added complexity does not help adoption.

Integrate with existing systems – As with the previous two examples, you’re trying to reduce barriers to usage.  Could you allow users to update via their Outlook account for instance?  Email is still the main corporate communication tool so connecting it with your enterprise network is a must.

Make the benefits easy to see – In addition to making the functionality easy to pick up, you also need to make the social adoption easy to understand.  How does using your community benefit the employee?

Ensure that you have organisation wide buy-in – Information Week found that many architects of the corporate network were no longer present, and without these champions activity floundered.  It’s inevitable that staff will move on so you need to ensure that this is an organisation wide project rather than the pet of a particular person or department.  You’ve already outlined the purpose of your efforts and the commercial implications of them.  Integrate these with your wider company goals and it will ensure that the network will be central to your strategy and will survive the loss of project champions.  This is a long-term project so it needs long-term support.

The business world has not had a shortage of seemingly great ideas that failed to gain critical mass.  Research such as that conducted by Information Week suggests that Enterprise 2.0 has a way to go before it can differentiate itself from previous failed paradigms.  Hopefully these tips will go some way to helping you achieve success with your own Enterprise 2.0 efforts.  Do please use the comments if you have any other tips that you’ve found effective.