Companies Will Move at Different Speeds on Social Technologies

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When I interviewed several folks for a story on enterprise prediction markets, one of the most consistently mentioned pieces of advice I heard was to involve as many people in the markets as possible to yield more opinions and generate better results. The same premise of greater numbers producing greater returns is what drives the whole idea of crowdsourcing.


Why then do most companies try to launch their Enterprise 2.0 initiatives with small pilot projects? That's the question Andrew McAfee tries to address on his blog. Obviously companies like to roll new technologies out in stages, the better to assess risk and troubleshoot problems. But it just won't work with social technologies, McAfee opines. He writes:


The more I learn about and think about the value of emergent social software platforms, the more I suspect that the deep meta-benefit they provide is technology-enabled serendipity, defined as good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries.' Serendipity is possible when we're collaborating with our close colleagues on a well-defined project, but that's probably when it occurs least often. It's much more likely during wide forays and broad searches, the kind that are so easy to do with current technologies.


Companies should forget small pilots and make social efforts as broad as possible, advises McAfee. His six-step plan:

  • Deploy tools that deliver an entirely new capability, instead of just replacing an existing one.
  • Make sure the tools are simple and enjoyable to use.
  • Give them to everyone "with just enough policy-setting to satisfy the people who concern themselves with compliance, risk, and security." (This is the step that will stop many companies in their tracks.)
  • Recruit power-users to "sell" the tools to others.
  • Monitor usage and make any needed tweaks.
  • Collect positive examples to demonstrate success and create momentum for future initiatives.


I like McAfee's advice, I really do. But I'm not sure it will work for every organization right out of the gate. A company's existing culture will influence how it introduces social technologies, at least to some degree.


Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang writes about five organizational models of social business, each with distinct styles of collaboration. There is no one right model. Companies will have to assess which is right for them, based on their size, their industry, their corporate culture and their goals for social technologies, among other factors.


He advises companies to identify their current model and the model to which they aspire. Owyang's final piece of smart advice: "Don't expect these changes to happen quickly or without change management programs."


Companies will take these steps at different paces. In the meantime, there will be endless rounds of discussions about which companies "get it" and which don't -- with little consideration of the very real challenges that companies must tackle.