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3 popular ways to screw up enterprise social

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Enterprise social networking may still be in its infancy when it comes to widespread adoption, but its popularity as a buzzword could hardly be hotter. What’s the result? A lot of folks with little experience of how to best use enterprise social tools rushing to introduce them. That’s not a recipe for a flawless roll out of new ways of working and sharing.

So what usually goes wrong? At Net:Work 2011 Podio CEO Tommy Ahlers suggested  companies often make things too complicated, complaining about “Swiss army knives” that try to solve every problem and end up failing users. When I spoke with Yammer CEO David Sacks a few weeks ago, he suggested that companies often go wrong by “trying to bolt that on to some existing tool, because if the tool isn’t built from the ground up to be social, it’s not going to have the level of usability that’s required.”

Now David Lavenda, VP of marketing at social email company, has gotten into the act, offering up common ways that well intentioned companies muck up the roll out of social tools and suggesting better ways to bring these tools to your team. “Simply throwing out social tools isn’t going to work,” he says, pointing to recent Forrester research that found widespread under-utilization of social tools. The study shows that even though companies have invested in an average of five or more tools, 64 percent realized few, if any, benefits from that investment. Only 8 percent actually use social collaboration software once a week.

So what should you do if you want your company or team’s move to social to go as poorly as some of the roll-outs documented by Forrester?

Imagine your team loves change. Some people like nothing better than to shake things up and try something new, but you can be pretty sure that’s not everyone on your team. So when you’re thinking about rolling out a tool to make your organization more social, keep in mind the howls of complaint that greet even the smallest changes to social networks in the consumer space.

“People are naturally reluctant to change,” says Lavenda. “Enterprise 2.0 author Andrew McAfee warns organizations to, ‘never underestimate the fondness of people and organizations for the status quo.’ When transitioning to a social model, it’s imperative to understand exactly how users work. Then, build a strategy and toolset that integrates with these practices in a way that makes sense with their current workflow, rather than asking users to make a dramatic change in their behavior.”

Rip and replace. If the wheel is turning along with just a bit of a creak or wobble, it’s not a good idea to try and entirely reinvent it. “People are often lured into thinking they need something entirely new to solve a problem. Instead of a D-Day approach that flips the switch on relatively unproven technologies like blogs, wikis and allied next-gen tools—essentially asking employees to immediately abandon existing tools like email and documents—plan for a gradual introduction that allows users to get up to speed with new functionality and capabilities at a comfortable pace,” recommends Lavenda, adding, “the idea is to improve productivity, not hinder it.”

The more the merrier. More may be better when it comes to chocolate cake or vacation days, but not when it comes to tools for the social enterprise. Rather than asking your team to log in to six different things, try to find solutions that allow them one go-to place for many needs. “An effective social strategy must start in a familiar environment and then aggregate all other pieces into the users’ base of operations. The goal is to eliminate steps, not add more. Bundling collaboration tools together in a common context and shared window drives faster, more widespread adoption and delivers the promised benefits of social enterprise integration much quicker,” says Lavenda.

Have you experienced any serious screw ups in the real of enterprise social that you’d like to warn others to avoid?

Image courtesy of Flickr user markomni.

6 Responses to “3 popular ways to screw up enterprise social”

  1. Shankar Saikia

    We use Yammer at our company and we love it because it enables us to replace e-mail with a better collaboration tool. We communicate project-related activity by using the group concept. It would be great if we could manage our entire project using one tool that has all of the following:
    – Collaboration (e.g., Yammer)
    – Storage (e.g., Dropbox)
    – Billing (e.g., Netsuite)

  2. Jessica, I couldn’t put it better myself. Social enterprise has so much potential, but, put in the wrong hands, things can go very wrong.
    While I can’t say I’ve dealt with any major screw ups, I can say that one of the biggest mistakes any manager or worker can make when going social is clinging to the rigidity of the antiquated workplace. Sticking to solid deadlines, annual performance reviews, and reserving goals for the executive level are sure-fire ways to destroy social enterprise.

  3. Good summary, and thanks for Podio mention, Jessica! Another mistake? Making it about being “social” vs. actually helping people get their jobs done. Too many social tools become yet another thing to do… first I have to actually get my work done, then I have to go somewhere else to “yammer” about it. Successful enterprise social implementations have a clearly defined business purpose. Its the difference between saying “This is the tool that’s going to help us put the right people on the right projects” vs. just “Here’s where we’re going to be social!” My take here: