I recently read that intranets (think also online workspaces, online communities etc…) are like cocktail parties. You arrive and case the room to see who else is there and where the action is. You decide pretty quickly whether you’ll be staying awhile, and will be in for a great night. Or, if it’s a quiet affair – missing the big personalities, the ambience and the buzz – you’ll stay for just a drink or two before heading off to find the action elsewhere.
This analogy worked for me. These days you need only look at an intranet homepage to decide if it’s the ‘stick around and enjoy’ version of the cocktail party. Or not. Is there a home page activity stream full of comments from a wide range of people on what matters most? Can the activity stream be personalised, to feature what matters most to you? Are the news articles, event listings, and communities fresh and brimming with comments, ‘likes’ and other signs of strong participation? Is there a people directory, where a quick search will unveil expertise, past projects and current clients of colleagues across the entire organisation?
The Must-Attend Cocktail Party (or Intranet)
To make your social intranet the must-attend cocktail party of the season, you’ll need some key ingredients, and strong participation from users – which should be immediately and always evident from the home page and beyond – is ingredient number one. As well as designing upfront for a highly interactive and immersive experience, you’ll need to tackle the change effort with unflagging zeal. This includes knowing how to respond to objections from hesitant spectators or resident cynics. Here’s a list of common adoption barriers for the social intranet, and some ideas on how to get them on the (social intranet) dance floor:
1. With all my existing subscriptions, feeds and activity steams to track, an internal network is just yet another channel to monitor. Too much!
Social inside the organisation is really about finding different – and better – ways to work. Not about weighing you down with an additional channel to monitor. Your company’s own social channel should really replace many of the ‘all-staff-but-mostly irrelevant’ emails, aggregate or integrate other channels of communication, and allow you to set your own filters – what matter most to you. With the right filters in place, your homepage intranet activity stream should evolve into your best activity stream, providing you with the most relevant and important insights more effectively than ever.
2. My boss just doesn’t get social networking inside the organisation. She thinks it’s all a self-indulgent waste of time. How can I drive adoption if I don’t have management support?
Try to get to the heart of her concern. Is it fear, uncertainty, doubt, or something else altogether? Maybe there’s a fear of being left behind if she’s unfamiliar with how the technology works. Maybe it’s uncertainty about whether this type of initiative could actually take hold across the enterprise, and truly achieve all that promised good stuff like knowledge sharing and innovation. Maybe there’s doubt that there’s any real ROI associated with the networking activity. If you can hone in on the root cause, you’ll be much more effective in helping her to ‘get it’. And if it is indeed the scepticism over ROI, you might find my Show Me the (Social) Money to be worth a read.
Still no breakthrough with the boss? Find other seniors within your organisation who can champion the cause. There’s sure to be a visionary out there somewhere who ‘gets it’. It might be a highly regarded manager who will influence contribution via their own network or team, and will happily share their win stories in a way that will whet the appetites (or competitive juices) of senior peers. Who doesn’t like a party attended by A-list personalities?
3. What if this social channel exposes dissent or negativity? What if people air their grievances online, instead of discretely with their manager, with an approved escalation process?
You can bet staff grievances have almost certainly hit the airwaves already in some form or another anyway, via the water cooler conversations or the private emails. What’s best – to spot the small fires and act quickly to put them out, or to wait until they gather momentum and become a raging blazing? Let’s hope you have a management team, or are part of a management team, who understand the benefits of giving everyone a voice, listening and providing an authentic, timely response. This open and collegiate approach will far outweigh the odd negative sentiment that will drift into the conversation from time to time. A great manager will want great ideas to be infectious, but equally, will want to address the negative sentiments promptly and efficiently.
4. What? Advertise my skills on my profile page of the People Directory? I’ve already got too many people wanting my help – I actually don’t want others to find me.
Having a rich personal profile doesn’t mean your colleagues will all seek personal counselling from you. Many of us like to follow the advice, learning or reading habits of people who inspire us – without needing to send them an email. Your colleagues can follow you in the background, look at content you’ve contributed, content you’ve rated highly, or read articles you’ve recommended – all via the social networking capability. If you’re already an established trusted advisor, you might just find it pleasing to see how many followers you rack up, and how many colleagues you’ve actually inspired once a brighter spotlight is shone on your knowledge and expertise. After all, knowledge is currency – it only achieves true value by being shared. Indeed, someday, you might just want broader support for an initiative you’re trying to get off the ground, so expanding your influence across the organisation by raising your profile this way might just help you win more hearts and minds when you need them most.
5. If I put myself ‘out there’ online by asking a question, or responding to a post, I just might expose gaps in my expertise. What if I say something foolish whilst the world (my colleagues and my boss) is watching?
There’s no one in your organisation who knows everything about every aspect of your business. By posing a question, or soliciting further opinions, you show a desire to ‘sharpen the saw’ (as Stephen Covey calls it) even further. Have the courage to reach out to others by posting your questions and challenges online, and you just might find your expertise gaps start to close through the shared, collective learnings from like-minded peers.
6. OK, so what if I pour my most insightful thoughts into a blog, and no one reads it? Or what if no one comments on my posts? Aren’t I just wasting my time?
Ah – surely all but the most confident of bloggers have experienced this fear. You know, sometimes the greatest benefit comes not from the number or readers, likes or retweets, but from the self-reflection exercise. I read once that the very best way you can spend your last 10 minutes of the day is reflecting on what worked well, what didn’t, and what learnings you can bring to the very next day. Well writing a blog is a bit like that – the very act of writing it forces you to take stock: develop an opinion or a commit to an action that you might not have otherwise done had you not have had this ‘luxury’ of blogging time and reflection. (Or so I keep telling myself as I write this post!). So think self-actualisation, rather than fans, and you may find that audience may eventually materialise.
7. I’ve been part of committees and special interest groups before, and I usually end up feeling that I carry the load – capturing the discussions, the ideas and the actions, and having to constantly rally the troops to show up and contribute. Why is this any different?
OK so let’s not overlook that behind the success of most thriving communities there is a passionate community manager, and online communities are usually no different. However, the emergence of social technology means you can reach out to parts of the enterprise you may have never encountered before. You just might find those passionate evangelists in unexpected places. Rather than reluctant conscription by their boss into a committee, they have chosen to participate out of genuine interest and enthusiasm for the topic. Communities can take on a very different buzz when interested members self-elect participation, and share a sense of responsibility for community success. In fact, your community may just serendipitously reach new heights via the evangelists who would have otherwise remained undiscovered at the edges.
Back to the Cocktail Party Analogy…
You can’t really tell your guests to ‘go be the life of the party’, ‘start dancing at 10pm’ or ‘tell lots of funny stories’. (Or maybe that’s just me?). Just as you can’t really tell your users to ‘start collaborating now’, ‘write fascinating blog posts every second day’. But you can set yourself up for party success by choosing the right music, orchestrating the right ambience, and inviting the most fun party-goers along. So do the same for your social initiative: work on removing the barriers and making participation just so enticing and rewarding for the individuals within your organisation, setting yourself up for success by tapping into just what it is that drives them.
Want to learn more about the psyche of social business participation? I found Euan Semple’s ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do’ to be an excellent read – a refreshing departure from technology appraisal, but rather, an expose of personal and cultural drivers for getting on board with social. Enjoy!