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.

Organizational readiness

A common misconception is that adoption of an ESN can be treated as any other software adoption program. This is not the case.

Value creation

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 investmentsThe 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 applicationsA 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 concernsMany 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 hierarchyAt 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-inCompanies that are reluctant to change existing processes or lack long-term vision, also hesitate to adopt social software.
Lack of awareness and trainingLack of training, unclear instructions, and software complexities could also make users reluctant to adopt the system.
Source: 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

Practices to increase adoption

Use incentivesOrganizations can launch recognition programs to encourage employees to use and contribute to their enterprise social networks. Under these programs, they may assign scores and reward people for connecting and communicating on the platform (for instance through gamification). Accenture adopted a scoring system to persuade employees to complete their profile. This drove the adoption rate to nearly 60% within a few months. However, also be aware of the downside of gamification. As Eli Goldratt once said:
“Tell me how you measure me and I will tell you how I will behave.”
Gaming of the gamification tool is a real threat if for instance, repercussions or financial incentives are involved.
Integration of related technologies across one social platformThe integration of employees’ day-to-day work activities, projects and processes to the social platform can also increase its adoption. With such an integration, employees need not launch a separate application to access the platform. Having multiple interfaces utilizing the ESN (for instance plugins in mail & productivity tools) can really help drive adoption.
Lead by exampleA lead by example approach that involves inviting senior executives, management and other leading figures in the organization to share updates, exchange ideas and comment on posts by employees, can also encourage employees to use the platform. It will also show them that it is ‘safe’ to use and that initiatives are rewarded.
Create community managersCompanies could assign early adopters of the system or even employees to serve as community managers to encourage further adoption. These managers can be encouraged to start conversations, lead campaigns, facilitate knowledge sharing, and familiarize others with new features and pick workable solutions from conversations. Keep in mind the importance of enabling people to do this, for instance by allotting them time or even including it in their job description. This ensures commitment and a feeling of recognition for the importance of the new platform.
Scenario based trainingBy communicating relevant and organization specific examples, use cases and scenarios of the tool, users start to see the benefits and are able to adopt the innovations sooner and more easily.
‘Champion programs’Where individual users who excel or otherwise show dedication toward using the new platform in order to create value for the organization, are stimulated to do so by providing additional training, information and support as well as rewards/recognition for their good work. Appointing key users or champions within organizational divisions or departments and supporting them, for instance through a “Train the trainer” program, which can help people feel less threatened by the introduction of new strategies and options.
Go where your user isProvide multiple ways for your users to interact with the system, for instance through portals, widget integration with other applications and by supporting multiple platforms. A good example and absolutely imperative for the current globally connected worker, is mobile access.
Source: The rise of enterprise social networks, Microsoft, accessed on June 15, 2016

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.

“Sustaining momentum”
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.
Source: The Organization in the digital age – Jane McConnell 2015

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

Source: Enterprise Social Software: A Comprehensive Approach to Collaboration, Cisco 2012