Influencing Human Behaviour to Increase Enterprise Social Networking Adoption

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

In my previous post, I promised to elaborate on one of the three pillars of successful adoption – people. Changing people’s behaviour is hard, but not impossible. It just takes more thought than some blunt incentive scheme or gamification strategy. Successful adoption of an enterprise social platform means influencing human behaviour.

Humans behave in certain ways, sometimes illogical ways. This is the result of evolutionary processes, education, cultural norms and tools. For example, in the absence of better suited tools people have come to use email for everything from private communication, team collaboration to audit trails and task lists. Now many people automatically turn to email without giving it a second thought.
For an organization to grow and evolve with their social network, encouraging positive and discouraging negative behaviour is critical. We need to provide certain stimuli. These stimuli vary greatly and depend heavily on the desired behaviour, the audience, their current behaviour, tools, and culture.

Recently, gamification has moved into the limelight as part of a change management initiative. It describes the application of game mechanics in a non-game environment to nudge people to take certain actions. It is an interesting concept and can indeed be helpful in influencing behaviour in the short-term if applied correctly. However, as with everything there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you recently followed the #e2conf hashtag of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, you may have stumbled across the hashtag #badgeburnout. It reflects the view that too often gamification is reduced to handing out badges. That’s the ugly. The bad are tactics that incentivise the wrong behaviour. Companies create leaderboards of people that created the most content, have most comments, likes etc. But how meaningful is that? Have you ever thought about creating a leaderboard for people that wrote the most emails, received the most replies, cc’d the most people? Ask yourself, do you roll out a collaboration and communication platform to create as much content as possible or do you roll out your platform to solve business problems? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to have a good insight into the activity on your enterprise social network, but I think activity data only shows the health of your community. In the quest for showing value organisations turn to data that is easily available and unfortunately use it in the wrong context.

So, what’s the good? A good gamification strategy aims at business metrics and not just project metrics (e.g. engagement, number of visits, most active group and others). For example, if you want to improve the performance of your regional sales teams to increase leads or revenue why not make that kind of data visible? Why not rank them according to those metrics instead of competing based on how many discussions they created last month? In most cases companies have the data. It’s a matter of identifying the right data sets to influence certain behaviour and making it available where it matters.

Change Agents WorldWide

How to increase adoption from your enterprise social network

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

This week the McKinsey Global Institute published a report on unlocking the value and productivity through social technologies. While it was light on actionable recommendations, it provides a superb overview of how social technologies impact both the consumer and enterprise market. A great seal of approval!

Over the last decade more and more organizations have started looking into the use of social technology to solve business problems. We are now at the threshold going from experimentation to institutionalisation. But how do we take what we learned in pilot deployments to the next level and apply it across an entire organization? How do we get people comfortable with new technologies and the dynamics that come with them?

Three years ago I published three blog posts with the title: ‘Second-wave adopters are coming.  Are you prepared?’ The articles talked about the challenges organizations have to address to move beyond the early adopters championing a new technology to the rest of the organization. Much of what I wrote back then still rings true today.

No doubt, adoption is critical especially for social tools because of network effects. The more people use them (both actively and passively as lurkers) the greater value they can potentially generate. That is certainly one of the reasons why organisations seem to be chasing the Holy Grail of Adoption. However, it does beg the question: is adoption the new ROI of collaboration? Are you deploying an enterprise social platform to achieve high adoption? Does a high level of activity equals business value? I would argue no. It reflects first and foremost the health of a community, but you deploy enterprise social networking platforms to solve certain business problems.  Activity and hence adoption is a good project metric, but not a business metric. This observation has a big impact on your adoption tactics, the messages you send to employees and the (social experience) design of your technical solution.

In a recent presentation I talked about the three pillars of successful adoption for an enterprise social networking platform, which include technology, organization and people.

I focused on the people aspect in particular, as this is the most interesting and challenging part of introducing social tools.

In future blog posts I will look in more detail at how to influence people and encourage them to change particular habits to ultimately achieve a successful introduction to their social platform.

Alumni relations in a connected world

I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

Let me ask you a question: are you still in touch with a company where you worked previously?

I assume most of you are, but who you are in touch with: HR? External Communications? Probably not. In reality, you probably still have connections with someone from your team, colleagues that you shared an office with or others that you met through communities of interest (including social groups) while with the company. People connect with people and not with companies and their corporate functions.

This simple observation has a profound impact on the way companies go about their alumni relations. Unless you are McKinsey, most alumni programmes today look something like this:

When an employee leaves the company he is invited by HR to be part of the alumni network. Frequently they will send general news and updates about the company as an email and/or shiny magazine. Recently, companies have rolled out corporate alumni platforms or started to use Ning, LinkedIn or other social media channels to stay in touch with former employees and facilitate connections between them.

In all cases, the value for the company and for alumni is more than questionable. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that most alumni programmes suffer from poor engagement and low return-on-investment. The problem is that the approach to alumni relations is currently flawed. Try to answer the following questions:

  • Do alumni want to connect with HR?
  • Do alumni want to suddenly engage and network with people they don’t know?
  • Does this approach offer intimacy at scale and help build meaningful relationships?
  • Do alumni remember and want to go to yet-another website destination…to do what exactly?
  • What value does corporate news, job tips, discussion forum really offer to the alumni?
  • What value does it bring the company?

If I was put in charge of an alumni programme I would radically change the traditional approach. My alumni programme would:

  1. Enable employees to connect with anyone inside my company
  2. Encourage employees to connect with other employees outside my company
  3. Give ownership to alumni

Enable employees to connect with anyone inside my company

Often, alumni relations start once an employee leaves the firm. I would argue that this is too late. It is difficult to start building relationships once an employee is out of the door. Better to do it whilst he is still with the company, because alumni relations start the day an employee sets foot into the office.

Before the arrival of social tools, hallways, cafeterias, smoking corners and office parties were the few places to meet colleagues you did not directly work with. Unfortunately, these do not scale very well. These days, many organisations have piloted or perhaps implemented an enterprise networking solution. It allows employees to collaborate with each other beyond physical borders, discuss topics they are interested in and connect with like-minded people. That way employees can build their own network of respected and trusted colleagues. The stronger an employee’s network, the more likely she is to stay with the company.

That also means that organisations should not restrict the types of groups or communities of interest that employees would like to create, unless they violate company policy. If there is a group of people crazy about wines or football fanatics, why not provide them with the means to connect inside the company? The money saved for other initiatives to improve employees satisfaction, and thus retention, will make it even more worthwhile.

Encourage employees to connect with other employees outside my company

As sure as death and taxes, an employee will leave eventually. What is one of the first things she does, when she hands in his notice and leaves the company? She reaches out to everyone she knows in the company, says goodbye and leaves her contact details. If she hasn’t yet, she will also start connecting with colleagues on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. This can be a laborious undertaking, and in most cases employees will miss some of the people they met during their time at the company. But they are likely to stay in touch. People connect with people.

So, if I know that people leaving my company connect with my employees using external social media channels, why not encourage and facilitate this activity to begin with? As alumni programme manager, I would look for ways to lower the friction for employees to connect with each other on external networks, too. Easier said than done. I shall delve into details on how exactly this might look like in my next blog post.

Give ownership to alumni

Basically, I would ‘outsource’ parts of my alumni programme to the rest of the company. Nonetheless, even as someone leading such a programme for a company that has become a social business, I still need to be in touch with alumni. Alumni will pick up most of the relevant information or gossip from former colleagues. Thus, general company news or news about other alumni is a nice-to-have, but does not build much trust or engagement. I need to offer more than mere updates from the company: ideally, something that alumni feel proud of and passionate about even when they have left the firm. For example, it is said (http://www.corporate-alumni.info/survey_corporate_alumni_networks_summary_english.pdf) that Ben & Jerry’s donate a percentage of pre-tax profits to philanthropic causes, and invite their corporate alumni to decide where the money will go. I could not find confirmation of exactly how this works, but even if it is not entirely true, similar concepts are worthwhile to explore.

This calls for a radical change in the way we think about alumni relations. Alumni managers will depend on many other people in the organisation to make this change happen. Management needs to understand the different dynamics in a connected world, a formalised social media training programme needs to be implemented to enable employees to use external social networks, IT needs to put the technical foundation in place for employees to connect both inside and outside the firewall, and many other steps are also probably required.

If you are an alumni manager, I would like to ask you to challenge the status quo. Think beyond what every other company does today. Think of what could be. Think of alumni as employees that never really left, and then ask how you can create a genuine value exchange to strengthen the ecosystem that supports your firm.

The evolution of business

[ I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

The social business movement appears to be in full swing. Over the past weeks, I have read time and time again that 2012 will be the year of social business (Business Computing WorldSXSWWe are social). In terms of awareness, I totally agree; in terms of achieving our goals, perhaps that is too ambitious in such a short time period.

I believe that the notion of 2012 being the year of social business is rooted in a misunderstanding of what social business actually means. I do not intend to go down the slippery road of trying to create a definition.. Instead, some time ago I presented four concepts that highlighted the differences between traditional businesses using social media and social businesses. Judging by the comments it received it did a decent job at explaining what a social business is. Now, almost a year later though, I realise that it failed to show the evolutionary process required to move from a traditional business into a social business.

Graph-0.3

Picture credit goes to my colleague Giulio Martinelli

In my view, pure disconnected and social businesses represent the extremes of a continuum. To date they only exist in theory. In between you can plot any business on this planet. As the continuum suggests there is no such thing as ‘THE’ social business. It is not black and white but offers shades of grey. As time goes by we will see more organisations moving closer towards adopting characteristics of a social business and thus changing the way business is done in a connected world.

Traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset

In the past years organisations started to experiment with social tools inside and/or outside their firewall. Many of them created corporate presences on social networks adding these channels to their more traditional communication channels without changing their business attitude. Success? None! The failure was / is devastating and a true shock to the system. Nonetheless, most organisations can still be found in this category – traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset. No matter which channels and tools these organisations use, let them be social or not, these companies haven’t freed themselves from 20th century thinking yet.

Traditional businesses with a social business mindset

Forward-thinking and agile organisations have learned that in a connected world, business-as-usual is no more. They understand they need to listen to, engage and connect with the marketplace. That is why we now see HR departments connecting with potential talent on Facebook, Customer Service departments helping clients on Twitter or Business Development departments putting out thought-leadership pieces on the company blog. I call these organisations traditional businesses with a social business mindset. These are not social businesses.

I assume and would hope that this comes as surprise to many. Let there be no doubt: arriving at this level is for most organisations a huge challenge and already an amazing achievement. The way to here is long and thorny, but the rewards are plenty. However, compared to what could be these rewards might be rather small. The main problem is that at this level corporate functions still own the connections. This simply does not scale.

social_spectrum_4Picture credit goes to my colleague James Bray

Social Business

A social business is a truly connected business. It connects its employees with each other and them with the marketplace. Corporate functions are now part of the networks rather than owning and controlling the relationships. In my view, a social business creates intimacy at scale by democratising roles and responsibilities and encouraging employees to build their own brand (no, this is not a definition).

Intimacy at scale
How many connections can a HR department have with graduates, experienced hires or alumni? Do you think the HR department can ever have as many or more close relationships with their network than employees have with theirs? How well do social business efforts of a HR department scale compared to the company’s employees?

What can be said for the HR department is also true for other corporate functions like Marketing or Business Development and even R&D. Using your employees’ networks rather than relying on just your corporate functions will have a much greater impact on your business. This has fundamental impact on organisations’ social business strategy and programme!

Democratising role & responsibilities
To achieve intimacy at scale, corporate functions need to forego some of their control. (Did someone say ‘trust is cheaper than control’?) It is inevitable. We have already seen it in some pockets of organisations. For example, some companies have implemented new collaboration and communication tools. Users do not have to go through IT anymore to set up a group or community: they simply create a group and invite others. Open innovation approaches have been adopted by some companies saving the central R&D department considerable amounts of money. Some managers have adopted an open leadership style openly discussing decisions and gathering feedback from employees. Experience shows that this does not end in anarchy. IT, R&D, Management and so on provide the boundaries within employees and others can engage. However, corporate functions that have traditionally been outward-facing have shied away from the idea of democratising their role and responsibilities. In a social business, this will change.

Encouraging employees to build their own brand
This may be true only for certain industries such as professional services. In this industry especially, people are the most significant asset: the industry is about people, their knowledge and relationships. If you want your employees to participate in social media, do not make it about the company, make it about them. People are selfish. Help them understand how they can use social media to build their own brand under the company’s umbrella. If they have the means to build their own networks and enjoy working for you, they will help to show the human face of your company, will be willing to amplify corporate messages and even give it a relevant spin for their connections and networks. After all, your employees should be your greatest advocates. As companies evolve, we are beginning to see organisations not only encouraging their employees to engage on social networks, but expecting them to do so. (see Grant Thornton UK Social Media Policy Video [Disclaimer: Grant Thornton UK is a Dachis Group client. The video was created by Grant Thornton UK, not Dachis Group]).

When we look at the characteristics of a social business, we will need to answer new questions. Do companies need to incentivise or even reward employees for engaging in social channels? If every employee is expected to become a customer service agent, how do companies organise for this scenario? Do job descriptions for roles in a social business need to be altered? Can employees with large networks ask for a higher salary? Do employees indeed identify with their company and are they true brand advocates? These and many other questions will need to be answered, as organisations move to become true social businesses.

Starting to adopt a social business mindset and engaging with the marketplace is a first step in the right direction. However, it’s not the end of the journey! As businesses evolve, we will see true transformation supported by organisational design, change management and process reengineering expertise. If you are heading up a company or corporate function and are seeking to create (social) business strategies, ask yourself or your consultancy, whether they scale. If they don’t, you may be missing a trick.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz