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Summary:

While millions of people interact daily in public-facing social media channels, there are a growing number of internal social media solutions for the enterprise, becoming modern-day intranets. But do these systems work? And why might trying to bring social tools inside your gated corporate walls fail?

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While millions of people interact daily in public-facing social media channels, there are a growing number of internal social media solutions for the enterprise, becoming modern-day intranets of sorts. But do these systems work? And why might trying to bring social tools inside your gated corporate walls fail? Here are just a few reasons for corporate social networking failure — and ways to avoid them.

  1. Lack of a social culture. Mandating the use of social media tools such as social network-style collaboration and sharing applications like SocialText or Twitter-style messaging such as Yammer won’t create social interaction. Your company needs to start with a fundamentally communicative culture, one where open sharing and collaborating is encouraged. Just plugging in a new collaborations or communications tool won’t change the culture of your company. If people are hesitant — or even afraid — to draw attention to themselves within your company, they won’t welcome tools that force them into being more visible. While social tools can help expand and reinforce an open and collaborative environment, without mass adoption, they could potentially create deeper and darker silos within an organization. Examine your corporate culture first and create a more receptive environment for internal social tools.
  2. Lack of public participation If your team members aren’t already comfortable with using social media tools in their non-work life, chances are they won’t gravitate eagerly to the new social tools you’ve set up for inter-company inter-relating. The flip side of this is that you may see more immediate adoption from team members who are already social media enthusiasts. Identify team members who use s social tools to communicate outside of work and enlist them to help kickstart the use of the new tools. They will often be more comfortable with adopting such tools, and can help champion them to their colleagues.
  3. Lack of training. You may have some early adopters to champion your new internal company social media tools, but what about the rest of your team? Without proper training, those who aren’t as familiar with social networking and tweeting may feel left out or even overwhelmed. Even those who take to these tools like the proverbial fish to water will need some guidance as to how, when and why to use the tools in ways that fit into your company’s work processes. Before you install the software, re-examine how your team works, how they communicate and how to appropriately use the new social tools to enhance work and communications, not distract or hinder it. Provide written guidelines and training across the board, regardless of social media skills, to ensure everyone knows what is expected of them, in addition to how to use the tools properly.
  4. Lack of access. Has your firewall blocked team access to public social networks? You’re sending mixed messages if you are asking everyone to be more social, to share, to collaborate, to communicate more frequently internally and yet shut off access to public social tools. Before you open the floodgates, however, develop your internal “rules of the road” for interacting in public social media spaces.
  5. Lack of willingness. Not everyone will understand the benefit of using social tools internally, particularly for the workers who prefer to remain low-profile, nose-to-the-grindstone, and are content not being noticed. Using team-based social tools within a company can be taxing and can push some people beyond their comfort levels. Make sure the parameters you set up for internal use of social media tools are based on encouraging professional exchanges, expanding internal knowledge bases, increasing collaboration, and helping to improve communications. Be respectful of individuals who may not want to be so personal in a professional setting. Don’t force team members to share their personal interests, for example — make those features optional. While there is something to be said about knowing a little more about someone’s hobbies or interests to engender more human connections within an organization, it may be extremely off-putting to some.

What challenges do you foresee or are you working to overcome as you implement social media tools into your internal company processes?

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  1. You’re absolutely right about the social culture. If you’re not used to sharing everything with your team, how would you want to share something with total strangers?

    A good start for many companies would be to use a tool like Flowdock (http://www.flowdock.com/) to get the teams share everything between themselves. Then there’s only a small step to sharing something useful with the whole organization.

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  2. I think you missed a vital element which is a lack of leadership. It’s through courage & leadership that you can paint the vision of the future that will get people excited for the possibilities.

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    1. Good point although that is what #1 was meant to convey – if you don’t as a leader instill the right corporate culture for social, it won’t happen easily. It starts with the top or the gatekeepers. Open doors, don’t build walls.

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  3. The key point is: “Make sure the parameters you set up for internal use of social media tools are based on encouraging professional exchanges, expanding internal knowledge bases, increasing collaboration, and helping to improve communications.”

    Social media will work if it helps people work more effectively on group tasks. Furthermore-if people can more easily discover what is going on in their workplace that is relevant to them but hitherto had been hidden in silos then social media will be seen as successful because of the valve added.

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  4. Item 0 in the list should be “lack of leadership.”

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  5. In an effort to be totally transparent and give a shout out to my Twitterfriends, I wanted to say that as I was finishing this post, I tweeted out this question to make sure I wasn’t missing anything critical:

    “Why might social media tools INSIDE a company fail? I think lack of: understanding, training, motivation. Other?”

    Several of my Twitterfriends responded. I’ve pasted their tweets below to make sure that they get kudos & credit for responding. Note that I deliberately chose not to add much of their input (the tweet from @littlebirdiecom about access expanded my perspective) in hopes that I could entice them to come here and add their two cents. ;)

    @SEOBridges Erick Pettersen
    Using the wrong social media platform just because of popularity can be like trying to hit a home run with a tennis racket.

    @littlebirdiecom Dana Sheehan
    Access to social media sites (blocked websites & firewall work arounds make it hard for employees new to SM).

    @CathyBrooks Cathy Brooks
    Failure to listen and/or inability to take what you’ve heard and execute measurable action :)

    @Mannaz Nigel Brunsdon
    how about lack of computing ability in staff

    @eileenb Eileen Brown
    lack of time, knowledge, commitment etc. its also not on their objectives either :-)

    @littlebirdiecom Dana Sheehan
    Another big one: fear.

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  6. This is interesting and I’d agree with them all.

    I would probably put 1 and 5 in a different way: Everything you say about a lack of willingness (#5) seems to derive from a lack of clear purpose, of the individual, of the team or the organization. A lack of clearly articulated and bought-in-to purpose or strategy, leads to people not knowing how the tools they use enable or inhibit that purpose, leads to mis-managed relationships (#1) because they more likely mis-use, over-use or under-use the media (email, phone, blog, any media). This teases out your phrase key phrase: “how to appropriately use the new social tools to enhance work and communications.”

    My friend Christian Briggs at SociaLens has really helped me see this “Digital Fluency” as being an outcome of a balance between purpose & tools & people (see here http://bit.ly/hjZrMy and http://bit.ly/h7CDls and in other posts).

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    1. Great point about the lack of clear purpose.

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  7. Good post! Agree with all of them. Another one (or modification of nr 3) is: People need to be trained. True. However this is not only training them to use/understand the new social tool. But also to understand the tool related to the tools they already are using, like email. What type of information/communication process will social tools support and what will be support by other tools or interactions?
    And another issue is: too high expectations of social media. “Social media will instantly change our culture or way of working/communicating.” Not true. Social media need to be cultivated, participation doesn’t grow by itself (usually).

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  8. Lack of vision (which brings us back to the leadership issue).

    If no one-one explains clearly why we are using these tools, how it aligns with the corporate strategy and which problems these tools aim to address then there won’t be any miracle.

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  9. Good stuff.

    Simon highlights the biggest issue here – lack of collaborative intent.
    Social tools are often a solution looking for a problem to solve. Unlike CRM for instance, social software doesn’t bring process IP out of the box.
    Social tools, as facilitators of solving existing performance issues is where this will get the attention of those in charge of executing critical elements of the business.
    Whilst every issue you highlight are absolutely important, its amazing how people ‘get it’ when you show them how this improves the work they signed up to do.

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  10. There’s another reason they fail, before they are deployed, and that is the lack of ‘fit for purpose’ when talking about security and compliance.

    We’re picking up leads from companies that have used ‘well known brand’ platforms for a pilot but they’ve fallen over when HR and IT security tag their requirements onto the spec.

    We take the same approach to IM and microblogging as we do email, that is the need for security (content control and URL/malware filtering) and compliance (archiving & discovery) as well as end user features.

    Ticking these boxes gives you real enterprise capability rather than just providing SSL and LDAP.

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  11. Is this post based on first-hand observations and research? I don’t see any factual data referenced or specific companies and their teams quoted to support the reasons stated for failure. Who said they were failing? These companies are reporting strong demand and customer success.

    Is there an expert in the house on this subject? For example, there are really bright researchers in this field who have decades of experience studying social systems and technology integration. Why not ask them? MIT’s Tom Malone, Tom Allen and Ed Schein are just a few of the experts who study this very subject for a living. I’d be interested to hear if they have current studies on the effectiveness of the new solutions like SocialText, Jive, Cisco Quad and other hybrid communication/collaboration platforms.

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    1. Hi Scott, Maybe you should Google the commenters before you comment. There are bright researchers and practioners in the list of commenters.
      Relating to my comment: it’s based on my experience and research. I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I have considerable experience in this field and belong to communities consisting of experts that echo the statements made in this post.

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  12. My comments are about the article, not about the commentators in this thread who no doubt have experience in the field. I’m just asking, where is the research or a recent study that points to failure of adoption? Point me to the data or the study because the vendors like SocialText indicate success based on research of their customers as do other vendors like Cisco. I’m looking for data.

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  13. “Lack of social culture”…this is a chicken and egg thing, http://www.headshift.com/our-blog/2009/08/07/balancing-technology-and-cultu/ sometimes social tools can help that along, otherwise when will you ever be ready. It’s more a point of, if there is no prior social culture, then this is gonna be a hard battle. You need little wins where groups are enhancing performance, and putting ease on painpoints…spreading these stories are key…this is where I’m at http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2010/10/06/focus-attention-on-creating-magnets/

    I said in another post that sharing, learning, emergence is all good and a way of the world now (can you imagine moving back to email rather than facebook)…but in the enterprise we need to concentrate equally on solving pain points…how will social tools allow the CEO to sleep better at night…once we do this, we have buy-in and we can then start promoting emergence, serendipity, innovation, etc…

    Yep, “leadership” is key – it comes across as serious, role models http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/3082971699
    …but if you don’t have this we need to, as I mentioned before, get some small wins, so we can spread these stories…this way we can showcase real examples.

    Agree with lack of willingness – publishing/posting in the open is not for everyone…but it’s slowly becoming the norm, so you get those people in round 2.

    In this post I mentioned a few points about how social computing practitioners need to be educated…it’s not just another IT deployment
    http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/3083201605

    Using social tools for team work is one thing, but if you are at the further stage of swarm teams, and people helping others out, then you have organisational design against you, as who is going to pay for you to help others out…is this recognised…does not hoarding give you an edge in the current organisational structures…yes and no.

    I think I need to post a checklist on the mindfulness of the social computing landscape

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  14. Thats good input. But How should you use your companies/product facebook page if you don’t have time to be active but you “feel it’s right” to be in on the social media – that your product really could benefit being there ?

    I don’t know if what i did for me page is right but i used this app called iq link, http://www.facebook.com/iqlink for my page, so i can get all the likes i would like – and just to convert the facebook users to my website ? Am i wrong about this – do i really need to be more active on the facebook ? what do you say ?

    BR DL.

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  15. [...] of esprit de corp that support real employee engagement can be nurtured using these tools.  Some companies have failed when rolling out enterprise social media, but seeing their failures will help you successfully roll [...]

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