The challenges of adopting Social Software
We deployed an enterprise social network last year, but no one is using it. It’s a virtual ghost town.
Implementing an enterprise social network (ESN) to allow employees to share knowledge and resources, collaborate across geographies, improve business processes and even communicate with clients is not just about buying the right tools. A major component of making any ESN implementation a success, is based on many different factors. Quite a few of which have nothing to do with the solution itself but the culture, support and willingness to embrace change of the organization.
So ESN software generally isn’t something that will become an instant success without some form of adoption program, most importantly as it often requires changes to existing processes of collaboration. The level and complexity of the adoption process required, differs greatly depending on the willingness but also the readiness of an organization to adopt such changes.
A common misconception is that adoption of an ESN can be treated as any other software adoption program. This is not the case.
First of all, an ESN is a means to enable value creation, organizational development and change by tapping into the organizational potential. This intrinsically means that much of its outcomes and results will not yet be known and defined at the outset. It is a process that requires a level of trust and creativity and therefore, can be quite daunting to organizations that rely on hierarchy and control.
Infrastructure versus tool
Secondly an ESN is not a tool, it is an infrastructure. In other words, it is not a single tool for a single purpose but an infrastructure of linked and interconnected features, applications and tools that allow users to find ways to better align and perform their work.
This means the adoption of an ESN needs to be considered with regard to the above mentioned points. Yes of course, implementing an ESN without basic training and instruction is deemed to fail. On the other hand though, ‘just’ looking at the practical side of making people understand how its features work without explaining and addressing the bigger picture of WHY the changes are being made and how they will impact the organization and the user’s role in it, will most likely also result in failure.
ESN’s are sometimes perceived as a threat to existing hierarchies and organizational boundaries. An organization that is not ready for the discussion might struggle with its adoption. If people don’t feel comfortable using it or feel it might hurt their position, they will ignore it.
Threats & Challenges to adoption of enterprise social software 
|Initial investments||The implementation of social software entails investments related to training, maintenance, administration, setting up compliance teams, etc. This makes it difficult for some companies, particularly SMEs, to adopt them.|
|Lack of integration with workflow/business applications||A presence of a large number of options (tools) present in the social software, sometimes leads to confusion as to what to use for specific tasks. In order to integrate social software with established business processes, it is desirable to have clarity as to which tools and systems are optional and which are mandatory.|
|Security and privacy concerns||Many organizations hesitate to use social platforms because of security and compliance concerns. They fear that employees may share too much or confidential information over the network. Sometimes, employees also hesitate to use the platform because they are unwilling to share information with senior management.|
|Threat to hierarchy||At some companies, the senior management considers such tools a threat to their position. They feel that engaging closely with employees may reduce their command and control over employees.|
|Lack of management buy-in||Companies that are reluctant to change existing processes or lack long-term vision, also hesitate to adopt social software.|
|Lack of awareness and training||Lack of training, unclear instructions, and software complexities could also make users reluctant to adopt the system.|
Practices to increase adoption
|Integration of related technologies across one social platform|
|Lead by example|
|Create community managers|
|Scenario based training|
|Go where your user is|
Stages of adoption & maturity
The process of adoption is ongoing. It knows several stages of maturity but can also decline if not maintained. Users need constant reminders of the value these strategies and work habits can bring to the organization. Similarly, strategies and goals can evolve, tools get updated and additional features and options are added regularly. It is therefore of utmost importance to keep vigilant of changing adoption needs in order to adapt in a timely manner.
Jane McConnell identifies three stages of maturity in digital adoption. Her report on the organization in the digital age can be applied to ESNs very well:
“Establish the why”
In this phase there is awareness of the transformation and often infrequent and ad hoc initiatives but there is no coordination yet and concepts like self-organizing communities are not yet prevalent.
“Reaching critical mass”
There are multiple initiatives, some coordination from the management level and the first elements are being rolled out organization wide. Senior management is taking notice and starting to get involved.
The ESN is embedded in work practices and reaches the full workforce. Most or all senior executives participate and are directly involved. Partners and external customers might also be involved and the ESN is considered a strategic asset to the organization.
Roadmap for adoption: areas and activities
Adoption of ESNs requires actions in many areas and often involvement of multiple departments like communication, IT, HR, etc. In general though there is a basic set of topics each organization should at least look into before starting on the road of ESN adoption. The below list is not exhaustive but could serve as such a basic checklist of topics to consider when planning and running adoption schemes.
- Understand user context and culture
- Identify existing tools and technologies, training approaches, adoption approaches, executive communication
Approaches and organizational layout
- Identify business goals, roles/stakeholders, the solution to be adopted, and so on
Strategy and promotion
- Create an adoption roadmap and align it to the organization’s developmental goals / change management
- Create a communication plan: Identify which messages need to be sent during the process and by whom
- Create an incentive plan: Identify ways in which to recognize and reward success. Define a usage scoring system and support and promote platform champions to serve as subject matter experts
- Create a priority list of important business processes where ESN might help
- Document “as-is” processes: Identify affected users and processes and understand the current approach
- Document “to-be” processes: Highlight how users can change the way they work by implementing collaboration tools
- Advertise wins by documenting and promoting process efficiencies
Training and resources
- Understand and evaluate existing training approaches
- Review how to use the tools and why they should be used
- Establish and reward platform champions from within the user population
- Conduct “ask-the-expert” training and roundtable discussions
Benchmarking and metrics
- Assess adoption progress and identify areas for improvement
- Identify and capture software metrics
- Assess customer satisfaction and productivity gains
- Publish executive dashboards to demonstrate progress
- Review usage patterns and ongoing customer satisfaction
- Continuously adjust each focus area as appropriate
 Enterprise- 2.0-Perspectives, Vlatkahlupic.com, March 2011; The state of social, Avanade.com, April 2013; Business opportunities: Social media, Ec.Europa.eu, July 2013
 The rise of enterprise social networks, Microsoft, accessed on June 15, 2016
 The Organization in the digital age – Jane McConnell 2015
 Enterprise Social Software: A Comprehensive Approach to Collaboration, Cisco 2012