Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Software Alone Won't Make You Social

I hear about many organizations that struggle with taking advantage of the power of social media. The first problem is of course buying into the idea that social media isn’t a waste of time. The second, far larger problem, is to get users to actually use the software and become social with their colleagues.  Yes indeed, deploying social software alone will not make you social. The ultimate goal must be to use the technology to raise employee productivity by increasing the level of social collaboration across the enterprise.

Many organizations, however, do not have an inherently social DNA. Sometimes, it is the focus on individual accomplishments that has created an individualistic culture. Other times, the nature of the business has historically not stimulated collaboration across teams. And sometimes, organizations that have gone through years of tough times, develop a culture where employees compete with each other and their primary instinct isn’t to share and collaborate but to horde information to make themselves indispensable. Such survivalist behavior is at odds with the openness and team spirit that social software can stimulate.

There is often a big difference between various functions and groups in the organization. Typically, particular groups embrace social media quickly while others remain in denial. This is where the organization needs to focus on adoption. There are various approaches that an organization can apply to stimulate the adoption. For example, the organization should suck into the social software as much already existing profile data as possible from other applications. Employees should be encouraged to post their pictures. Or, the pictures should be automatically imported from the employee badge database. Nothing makes veterans update their profiles faster than when they find out that their 10 year old badge picture is visible to all of their colleagues.

These tricks are based on a simple realization. Unlike in the consumer space, the enterprise social media knows all of its users already. They are the company’s employees and their user accounts already exist. We don’t need to convince them to join in - we can make them part of the application automatically since we know who they are. As a result, the early adopters of the social software can mention anybody in the enterprise by their user name - which then sends the mentioned user an alert. And when people see that they are being spoken about on a social site, they will come to check it out.

The adoption of social media in the enterprise has a few advantages over the public social media. It does not happen automatically though, particularly not in organizations that are historically not very social. In the end, however, the greatest driver is the corporate culture. If the culture hasn’t been very social, the management really needs to take this issue on and work towards a change. The best place to start is leading by example: when management starts communicating via social media, employees follow.


  1. I agree Lubor. New tools give you new opportunities, but changing behaviour, especially at work, can be really tough. I think there are a lot of little tricks to encourage people to post or update their pictures and other profile information in campaigns (I recently made a video as part of a profile picture campaign in OpenText:, and good social tools will tell people what they are missing (such as a new follower as you mention).

  2. Thanks for another great topic to discuss. I believe, the best technology and the best example will be nothing without a change in corporate culture. Such a culture should have an open communication regardless of hierarchies / geographies, it should make sharing information a habit of everybody in the company, it should make come togethers an exchange rather than a power point battle and it should empower everybody to contribute ideas and pursue them.

    I like Martin's notion of "good social tools". They should be fun to use, they should have familiar user interfaces and they should be easy to be put into one's working behavior.

  3. Outstanding points. We've seen very similar responses to social media. If the underlying culture exhibits the right level of curiousity and open collaboration, the social technologies take hold.

    When people aren't comfortable with the more open communications, things seem to remain fairly silent. Breaking those barriers has much more to do with social dynamics than anything that can be immediately accomplished through technology alone.