7 steps to social business success

The first part of this series looked at the reasons why, despite all the potential benefits they can deliver, many social networking projects fail in their first six months. 

1. Gain mandate

As discussed in part one, the approach of letting social business adoption spread virally from the ground-up has been largely discredited. Yes, some organisations have succeeded in doing this, but many more have failed. The first – and most important -characteristic of a successful social business project is a mandate from senior management to apply social networking principles to real business issues. Without this mandate, employees will perceive participation as being optional, not part of their “real job”. And without this participation, the project will fail. A clear directive from the top removes any ambiguity as to whether this is a considered “real work”.

“Mandate” has a useful double meaning in this context. As a noun, it represents an authorisation, giving a social business team permission to proceed with a project. As a verb, it indicates a command from senior management. Both meanings are valid, as different organisations will require types of encouragement to push the project forward.

2. Plan strategy 

Once the project has a mandate to proceed, it’s time to consider how to achieve the defined objectives. Successful projects form a small steering committee to plan the strategy for delivering the rest of the project. This committee needs to be large enough to represent all interested parties in the project, but not so large that rapid decision-making becomes difficult. This step should also define acceptable usage guidelines, identify the communities to be established, and the community managers who own them.

3. Establish communities 

Only once the implementation strategy has been defined should the social network itself be set up. Too many projects start by setting up a network without a strategy in place, which leads to somewhat chaotic adoption. In this step, community managers should create the communities they will be using, and identify a “content taskforce” who they will work with for initial population of these communities.

4. Populate content 

Inviting people into an empty social network and hoping they will use it the way you intended is simply not realistic. With no model of best practices in place, it is inevitable that bad habits are formed right from the start. So, instead, the community managers should work with the content taskforce to create seed content that gives the wider audience a reason to join the network when invited, and provides an example of how the network should be used.

5. Encourage participation 

Now, at last, it’s time to invite the mass audience of the network. While it’s tempting to let everyone into the network much sooner in the project, it’s worth resisting this until the network is really ready. This provides new members with better insight into the objectives of the project and clearer justification for spending time to learn about the new environment. A network that has established a framework for performing real work is far harder for reluctant employees to opt out of.

6. Drive adoption 

However well prepared the social network was before inviting the mass audience, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to embrace it fully without some encouragement. This encouragement can take many forms; carrot, stick or a bit of both. 

In some organisations, repeated instruction from senior management will be sufficient to get other people engaged. But telling people what to do is rarely as effective as convincing them to want to do it. So while initiatives such as competitions and rewards in the social network may seem like gimmicks, they may well lead members to realise the benefits that participation offers.

7. Evaluate success

Measuring usage of the social network created is not something that should be left until the end – it needs to be performed on an on-going basis throughout the project. Setting absolute targets for network adoption is very hard, as every organisation is a little different, and different projects will set different objectives. 

Instead, it’s important to aim for continual improvement in levels of participation and engagement throughout the project. There are many different metrics that can be used, and probably the biggest challenge is identifying which are most relevant – this is something the steering committee should consider while planning the strategy.

Of course, following these steps is no guarantee of success. If the strategy is set wrongly at the start, success will be hard to achieve. Therefore it is advisable to organise the project into short cycles of typically two or three months, so corrective action can be taken before the principles of enterprise social networking become discredited by project failure. 

Don’t be discouraged by an initial lack of success; social networking for employees is a new concept for most organisations and it’s inevitable that many will not get it right first time. The benefits of social networking in business are increasingly well documented, but achieving them may take more than a little perseverance.

Richard Hughes is the director of product strategy at BroadVision.

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