5 Ways to Drive Adoption for
Your Enterprise Social Network

There is often an assumption that simply building an internal Enterprise Social Network (ESN) will alone be enough to ensure user adoption and therefore business value. But as the old saying goes: “... you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”  The horse needs to be thirsty - needs to understand the value it will derive that cannot be found elsewhere.  

employee adoption communicationThe old adage is partly unhelpful because one of the key success factors in user adoption of ESNs is Leadership. Social Business projects, like any software-driven change within a business, requires Executive Sponsorship. Without it, to mix metaphors, most employees will struggle to find time to change their spots unless given the correct incentives and training.

Many surveys find that user adoption of ESNs is low - variously between 20 and 30 per cent, and as a result the growth of the ESNs sector is held back by perceptions of slow return on investment. Besides for potential product shortcomings, this is often the result of poor deployment strategy. Conversely, the grassroots and viral penetration characteristics of free products such as Yammer (before its acquisition by Microsoft) lulled organisations into the false security that ESNs spread like wildfire.  Generally speaking, however, a lack of Executive buy-in has meant that they haven’t become embedded into the company fabric deep enough and their use has begun to decline over time as the formal processes undermine them.

Evidence of the potential Return on Investment (ROI)  from ESNs - both quantitatively and qualitatively - is very compelling. For instance McKinsey estimates that the entire global economy for ESNs is between $900 Billion and $1.3 Trillion in business value.

In terms of employee productivity, the leading management consulting firm predicts on average 20-25 per cent improvement. So the rewards are clearly there for both employer and employee alike.

But to unlock this potential, organisations need to at least put some basic best-practices in place to ensure their ESN deployment success. At the highest level, we at Mumba Cloud often find they boil down to:

1. Executive Sponsorship - people need to understand that there is a strong expectation that they will engage in the new system, in which the company has invested a lot of money and from which the company expects to derive significant value. Ideally, the ESN strategy needs to be transparent and all inclusive to ensure various business units may participate effectively.

2. Process Transition - Sales leaders, line managers and team leaders need to mandate certain processes that will only be conducted within the ESN.  Rather than being arbitrary, this should begin with the kind of processes and functions at which ESNs excel - for instance real time discussion and question-answering during open discussion forums, broadcasting and access to critical health and safety information, as well as training and onboarding participation.  Ultimately, ESN success is ensured by moving less productive processes to the social and collaborative environment where the business can both see and feel the improvements as adoption evolves.

3. Incentives - gamification (such as a Bunchball solution used by Pearson) is a proven way to ensure adoption, particularly if made suitably competitive by prizes or “badges”.  ESNs are very good at not only tracking usage but ranking it and so monthly awards can be given for the most comments, likes or shares on the company ESN.

4. Training - one of the most important and often overlooked aspects to driving adoption is employee training and demonstrations. Budget and time should be invested in training users before, during and after deployment to ensure they have been given sufficient access to - and guidance in - the product.  In most cases, ESNs mirror more popular Social Networks like LinkedIn and Google+ and so traction should follow quickly from initial hands-on introduction.

5. Culture - it is always easier to go with the grain of company culture rather than against it.  Company culture should be analysed and incorporated into the rollout plan and strategies should be designed to adapt the ESN to the culture rather than the other way around.  Selecting certain activities that define the culture and migrating them into the ESN will mean that the new platform becomes a familiar environment for workers rather than an alien one.  (For more on this, see our article on the Cultural Colluision of Enterprise Social Networks).

If your deployment has been successful, what practices worked best for you?  Or, if you haven’t deployed an ESN, what barriers do you see in adoption? Please share in the comments section below.

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