5 Myths of Social Software – Myth #4 Adoption

This myth I have the most fun with. People spend a lot of time worrying that people won’t use a social platform. A lot of the worry comes down to whether or not they will want to spend time sharing their knowledge and expertise in order to help other people. People are busy enough and don’t have time for yet another IT system. Some think of well intentioned but ultimately dangerous ways to encourage or promote sharing, setting targets of a number of blog posts or status updates per week – or putting levels of contribution into performance assessments.

This doesn’t work and is almost immediately gamed. I hope that statute of limitations has passed but when I was previously employed at IBM in 2001 we had targets (with a bonus payment) of posting 5 items to a teamroom in a quarter that got rated 7/10 or above by two colleagues. I got together with two other colleagues and funnily enough the three of us always made this target.

Rather than try to encourage people to share for the greater good we should instead accept that people are, in fact, lazy and selfish. If we expect people to use a social system we should only expect them to do so if there is a direct benefit to them. For example, I use social bookmarking within Connections so that I can find sites that are important to me, quickly. The fact it also helps other individuals is a happy accident to me. I use wikis when I am asked to coordinate complex customer responses between groups of 10-15 people because it eliminates a huge amount of work in terms of synthesising “reply-all” email chains, which I usually only have time to do out of office hours.

So I use social tools because I am lazy and selfish and don’t like working weekends.

I post questions using my status update because it draws the people most likely to help in, rather than requiring me to think about who the best person is to ask a question. It also happens to put the question into the public domain, so that a ‘knowledge accident’ might happen and it could help someone else next week, next month or next year, but that isn’t why I do it.

My motivation to use social tools comes from my own individual productivity. It just so happens that the software then shares any benefits with my social network and beyond. Many people within IBM share because they don’t want their time wasted by people coming up to them and asking for “that really useful document”. There is an individual within IBM who posted the video to “The Man Who Should Have Used Connections“. This has been downloaded over 16,000 times. That’s 16,000 times he hasn’t been asked to send it to someone.

Finally, “Adoption” is the one thing you shouldn’t worry about. How are you going to measure? Number of comments? Number of blog posts? What about the time someone accidentally finds a subject matter expert on your system and then communicates via the phone or face to face in the future? That would register as one hit in your server log but could have significant business outcomes. Instead, we should help people realise that using social software benefits them, saves them time, and measure business outcomes instead. How long does it take us now to bring a new product to market or respond to a sales enquiry? How effective were we at answering customer queries before and after we implemented social tools? This should be the true measure of success, rather than adoption targets.

Flickr credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/69902372

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4 Responses to 5 Myths of Social Software – Myth #4 Adoption

  1. luis benitez says:

    Great stuff as always Jon! I like your take on positioning the benefits *for the individual*. I fully agree. As you know, we’ve had social tools internally for like 13 years and I was constantly bombarded with presentations as to why I should use these tools for the benefit of the organization.

    It wasn’t until 2006 when I saw a presentation from Luis Suarez that positioned the value of the tools for the individual. That definitely caught my interest. However, I think there’s another piece to the equation that made me use the tools. I could certainly see the value of the tools for me, but what also was a big driver for me was the accessibility of the tool. In other words, accessing the power of the tools directly from my mobile device, email client, instant messaging client, etc. The more the tool is integrated into my day-to-day tasks, the easier it is for me to use it and continue to get value from it.

    Love the series.. keep it coming!

  2. Simon Carswell says:

    Amen, Jon. Great post!

  3. Jon Mell says:

    Simon! Long time no speak!

  4. Simon Carswell says:

    Indeed. Would be good to catch up sometime. In the meantime there’s the blogosphere!

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