Overcoming Challenges of Implementing Internal Social Communities

Many companies and large enterprises are exploring using Social Collaboration in the form of internal social networks or communities for the first time.  In some cases, it’s replacing an enterprise-wide internal portal and sometimes it’s for a smaller, targeted group like a sales team.  Social Collaboration can be used for knowledge management, internal corporate communications, project management, delivery collaboration, or sales pursuit organization (i.e. a “deal room”).

Whatever the purpose of the internal community, the challenges in implementation are often the same.  Here are a few of those common challenges along with mitigation tactics to consider along the way.

Usage and adoption rates. Often times when a new technology is introduced into a business environment on a mass scale, people use it for a few weeks, and then fall back into old habits (e.g. using e-mail to store and share documents or walking over to someone’s desk to get an answer to a question). The tendency to rely on the old ways of doing things could be for several reasons – the new technology is too complicated to understand or maybe they’re not seeing any real benefit of using the new tool, and they find their old stand-by easier and simpler. Although these are viable reasons to revert back, you’ve probably made a significant investment in the new technology for a good, strategic reason, and therefore it’s important for the company to use it. There are a few things you can do to encourage the sustained use of the new technology.

  1. Hold checkpoints to get feedback and provide resources and support for the people using the tool. If you can, leverage online collaboration tools to hold these virtual checkpoints so that others can see the discussions.
  2. Create metrics to monitor adoption to help anticipate a decline in usage.  Analyzing the data can help identify the root cause of the decline and take focused action to fi it.  Ask questions about the users (Who is using the tool most? Least? Does this group have leadership support? What is their role in the company) and the timing of the decline (Where is the trend? does it coincide with sales cycle or a project/delivery cycle?)
  3. Establish a pilot team of people who are passionate about the new technology. Support them and give them resources to help develop and easily share the best practices and benefits of using the tool with the rest of the organization.
  4. Find a healthy mix of different user-types for the community to keep content and conversation fresh and relevant: content creators, critics, spectators, and requesters.
  5. Effectively use a “carrot and a stick” approach, giving people good reasons to use the technology as opposed to enforcing the use just because they’re told to use it.
  6. Set expectations and goals for using the new tool so that everyone understands the vision and strategic reasons for introducing new technology.

Product viability and fit/gap with organizational needs. Generally speaking, “disruptive” technology is synonymous with “cutting edge” technology. Consider vendor viability and its fit with your organization’s needs as part of the equation.

  1. There are places for new/niche players to contribute, but applications that are core to competitive advantage should be based on products that are sure to exist years after you purchase.
  2. Also consider where you are in a maturity model for technology: If your organization is not quite ready for a jump to cutting edge technology, consider an approach that allows you to introduce new concepts and features incrementally – look at slowly introducing new functionality by implementing small features, modules or add-ons to the existing platform.
  3. Continually evaluate the user experience the tool is providing, the new features may have been released by the vendor and look for opportunities to improve that experience as users become accustom to application functionality.  Give thought to both the internal tool as well as what users may be experiencing outside the company (e.g. access via mobile device, user interface and design).  Consider making regular improvements and updates to keep users engaged and delighted by the platform.

Compliance and security. As with implementing any type of technology within an enterprise there need to be considerations for IT security and compliance.

  1. Prior to suggesting or introducing a new technology, anticipate the IT department’s needs and do a bit of research on how the technology could be compatible with current standards. Coming prepared with that information (and perhaps even solutions) can go a long way to getting a new technology introduced and deployed across the organization.
  2. If you encounter some resistance for some specific use cases (i.e. with storing documents or sensitive data outside the firewall), that shouldn’t put the kibosh on the whole project.  Suggest a way to implement that use cases with a work-around that will ensure compliance with the IT policy without making it too complex or onerous for the users to perform that use cases.  That should buy time for IT to learn more about and become comfortable with the application, as well as gives the vendor time to innovate new ways of being IT compliant that you may be able to leverage.

End-user commitment and availability. Introducing a new technology often means that people have to make time in their already busy day to learn how to use and apply the new technology to their job responsibilities. Since we can’t create more hours in a day, here are a few other avenues you can take to help end-users be more efficient with their time in adopting new technology.

  1. Help end-users prioritize the time they spend learning and applying the tool as well as completing their normal job responsibilities. If in the long run your company will benefit from the new technology, it’s worth the hours spent up front learning and becoming comfortable with the tool
  2. Provide an orientation or training as well as resources and support to help them learn and apply the tool to their job
  3. Provide real use cases and benefits that they can get from the technology. If you can specify those benefits to job functions, that’s even better
  4. Make it explicit as to why using the tool will make their job easier and the company more successful. With that sort of understanding, they’ll likely have more patience and desire to learn how to use the tool
  5. Consider the different job functions within your company and how each position would use the tool differently

Corporate culture. Every organization has its own corporate culture that impacts how individuals use and adopt new technology. Often there are several characteristics and factors that contribute to the forming of corporate culture. If you’re savvy to these when introducing a new technology, you can create a prepared approach to rolling it out and anticipate certain challenges that you may encounter.

  1. Consider how different users may want to interact with the community and content contained within.  Proactively managed to those needs and prepare a community management strategy to get users engaged based on how they want to be engaged.  For example, if your colleagues are more of self-help types (as opposed to sitting in meetings and on webinar training), set up some documents and reference materials for people to explore on their own time. Or maybe most end-users aren’t super tech savvy; a phased roll-out would allow time to learn new features in increments and reduce how overwhelmed people feel in using and applying the tool.
  2. Lack of executive support and role models are probably the single biggest challenge an enterprise can experience.  Depending on the corporate culture, introducing a concept as progressive as social networking internally can require some heavy change management.  Employees need to know that it’s OK (and beneficial to the organization) to do the things common to social networking in the work place and not be punished or have fear of being judged negatively by their superior or peers.  It’s not uncommon for executives who don’t yet see the benefit of an internal community to judge it as a waste of time or unproductive.  Take the time to get these skeptics on-board and the trickle-down effect will be worth the effort.

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