To Ensure Enterprise Social Success, Start with a Purpose

Ann All
Slide Show

Six Collective Human Behaviors that Can Lead to Social Media Success

Enterprises that harness the power of collective behaviors will be the ultimate winners at adding enterprise value.

Last week I shared several tips from Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group's partner of Customer Strategy, and Sandy Carter, IBM's VP of Social Business and Collaboration Solutions, the two presenters in an excellent IBM webcast titled "Why Be Social?" One of my favorites was Carter's suggestion that organizations could lay the groundwork for external social initiatives by first using social technologies internally.


Sometimes such efforts spring forth more or less spontaneously. That seems to have been the experience of the American Automobile Association. As described in a New York Times article, "a small group of tech-savvy users" adopted microblogging tool Yammer to communicate and keep each other in the loop on projects. The tool really took off after AAA's chief operating officer gave it a shout-out at a town hall meeting, and now some 3,700 AAA employees use it.


The article mentions the streamlining of communications, which seems to be the primary benefit of internally-used social tools like Yammer:

... Some of those silos have broken down, and some of the more time-consuming committees have been dropped in favor of using Yammer, greatly speeding up the decision-making process in some areas.

Interestingly, one of Owyang's tips from the webcast involved the importance of sharing the right metrics with the right audience, with him noting that C-level executives care little for follower or fan numbers. Yet number of users is perhaps the most common cited metric for internal social initiatives. Perhaps that's because enhanced collaboration is often a key goal of those initiatives, and it's hard to derive much value from collaboration if no one is using the tools for it.


The article also contains some suggested best practices from AAA's social media strategist. One of them, which I've mentioned in some of my prior posts on social technologies, is to recruit super-users of tools and make them "active curators," making them responsible for guiding use of tools, ensuring conversations remain relevant and suggesting topics.


Oddly, another tip is to get the human resources, legal and IT departments on board with a tool before introducing it, something it doesn't sound like happened with the AAA's adoption of Yammer. This is important, in part, because random technology selection can create even more communications silos than existed before new tools were introduced.


Though many people seem to equate "social" with "spontaneous," (and spontaneous collaboration is a valid benefit of social technologies), I think organizations will derive more value from their social efforts if they use them to tackle business problems that benefit from enhanced collaboration, instead of just throwing them out there with no guidance.


Identifying such problems is the first of four key questions that must be addressed for internal social initiatives to succeed, writes Andy Jankowski on his Enterprise Strategies blog. The questions:

  • What business problems could be solved through improved collaboration?
  • Which business processes are involved in these problems?
  • How can you change the way management and employees execute processes to address the problems?
  • How will you educate and train management and employees on this new way of working?


About the training, Jankowski notes this doesn't mean simply teaching folks to perform a set of actions with a new tool. Instead, you must give users a concise understanding of problems. The tools are part of a framework for analyzing and solving those problems.


I suspect the use of tools like Yammer tend to become far less spontaneous as more employees adopt them. As proof, the final best practice mentioned by AAA's social media strategist in the New York Times article involves ensuring relevant information is stored and organized so users can locate it. AAA uses a rather unwieldy combination of monthly wrap-ups, newsletter overviews and summaries of Yammer conversations on the corporate intranet.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 9, 2011 5:10 AM Linda Bella O'Hara Linda Bella O'Hara  says:

Thanks for the interest integrating business with social collaboration. For departments within an enterprise or SMBs check out this free SaaS solution called Teambox, online collaboration tool.

Mar 9, 2011 9:54 AM Andy Jankowski Andy Jankowski  says:

Ann, Thank you for the kind mention. I also agree with Jeremiah regarding the importance of presenting the right metrics to management. I think this is an area where much improvement is needed and possible. In fact, tomorrow I will be attending, and blogging from, the Social Business Summit in Austin in hopes of getting some fresh ideas and new research in this area. On the topic of spontaneous vs. structured collaboration, you may also enjoy @EphraimJF 's post on Collaboration 1.0 being at the heart of Enterprise 2.0

Mar 11, 2011 1:42 AM EphraimJF EphraimJF  says: in response to Andy Jankowski

Thanks for the mention Andy!

Ann: I really dig your perspective here.

I like to make this related point: Many people suggest that collaboration and use of social tools is all organic. By "organic" people usually mean un-directed, spontaneous, without structure.

But nothing organic is actually chaotic like that. Organic matter has tremendous complex, intricate, structures.

The metaphor of organic use and growth of social, collaborative tools is useful, when it's understood clearly.

Perhaps the biggest shift in today's thinking is from seeing a business as a machine to seeing it as an organism or ecosystem. I interpret the Dachis Group's "Social Business Design" as being organized around that new metaphor.


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