Getting Users Engaged with Social Technologies Not Always Easy Task

Ann All

With almost any enterprise application, consultants and other experts advise incremental implementations rather than a "big bang" approach. Incremental implementations make it easier to assess risks, troubleshoot problems and refine solutions. With social computing efforts, however, author and researcher Andrew McAfee believes companies should forgo small-scale pilot projects and make their efforts as broad as possible.


In my comments on McAfee's post, I questioned whether all, or even most, companies would be ready to take this kind of an approach to social technologies. Rightly or wrongly, there's a perception that uptight senior managers aren't comfortable in shifting so much control from themselves to users. While there is some truth to this (more at some companies than others), I think it's a cop-out to blame managers without acknowledging that users play a huge role in adoption. Anxious or apathetic users are just as damaging to social efforts as unsupportive management. Even if the desire to tackle a big social implementation is there, the will may be lacking.


In March I wrote about the reluctance of many staffers here at IT Business Edge to use our company wiki. The big takeaway: Many people will need a nudge (some a firmer nudge than others) to use social technologies at work. That point is reiterated in a CMS Watch post by Brice Dunwoodie in which he shares the experiences of folks from several big companies that are trying to incorporate social technologies into their intranets.


The companies cited by Dunwoodie aren't alone. As I wrote last year, a growing number of companies are adding 2.0 features to their intranets in an effort to make the sites more useful to their employees.


Anyway, I thought Dunwoodie's post had some terrific tips, from intranet managers at British Telecom, candy giant MARS and telecom provider KPN. Several of their points echo Andrew McAfee's advice. Namely:

  • Make sure tools are simple and enjoyable to use. Make sure they fill a need.
  • Don't go overboard on security policies, or other rules that might constrain usage.
  • Collect positive examples to demonstrate success and create momentum for future initiatives.


Here are some other useful tips from Dunwoodie's post:

  • Be realistic with your expectations, realizing many employees will not be active participants in social projects. Make sure managers understand this as well, so projects with limited participation won't be judged failures. Remember that even companies like Microsoft and SAP are still trying to figure out how to convert passive members of their online communities into more active ones.
  • In a related point, choose your projects wisely, beginning with projects that won't require a huge amount of employee participation to be considered a success.
  • Consider open source software, as it may allow you to conduct small-scale experiments and abandon them with little expense if they don't work out.
  • Incorporate RSS as it facilitates self-service and personalized options.
  • And, perhaps most important, provide content that is relevant to employees. This is why members of the IT Business Edge production team are the biggest users of our wiki, as it contains documentation and other content mostly content relevant to them.


The more relevant the content, the less nudging that should be required. In one of my previous posts containingtips on increasing intranet usage,I found a reference that suggested making the company intranet the default site on employees' browsers. Yet the sources in Dunwoodie's post came out in favor of using carrots rather than sticks to boost employee engagement.


Dunwoodie mentioned that one large organization (not clear if it's one of the three featured) found average intranet visit duration dropped to 4 seconds, or roughly the amount of time it took for the browser to open and the employee to hit the stop button, when it made the intranet the default site on browsers. He wrote:

If you have to force engagement, you're failing. If you focus on relevance and accessibility (among a few other things) engagement will occur in a more natural manner.

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