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Breaking cultural barriers to enterprise social software adoption

The barriers to enterprise social software adoption are more cultural than technical. In this Q&A, Caleb Barlow, IBM director of UC, explains how UC pros can overcome them.

The barriers to enterprise social software adoption are far more cultural than technical. Internal social networking tools make for great demos, but unified communications (UC) pros often struggle to define what problem enterprise social software is trying to solve. They report that adoption tanks when users don't understand how or why to use enterprise social networking. Caleb Barlow, director of UC and collaboration at IBM, recently spoke with about how UC pros can overcome these cultural barriers to adoption.  

The use case for social networking tools in the contact center is pretty clear. What internal problems does enterprise social software address?

Caleb Barlow: Just about every vendor—including IBM, by the way—has got one or multiple offerings, and they all talk about the same use case: Sally's in charge of marketing for liquid Tide, and using these great new social tools, she can see what people are saying about liquid Tide on Twitter and Facebook and can track the sentiment and response. How many times have we seen that use case? IBM is probably one of the guiltiest parties in showing that, but I think that is just the tip of the iceberg. People like that use case because it really leverages the external social networks, but I actually think the enterprise case is much more relevant in the long haul.

[Let's say] Joe's in customer service and he's run into a problem. He doesn't have the expertise, so he needs to find somebody that knows about the flux capacitor. He goes into his social network and searches these terms and finds [an expert] in another location ... and he's able to immediately collaborate with them using tools like IM, voice, video, etc., or maybe he doesn't have to collaborate with anyone. Maybe because it's a social sphere and that person that has that expertise has their presentations online, has that social tagging out there, and all of that expertise that they have that people routinely ask for is well-presented in their own social network. Maybe that customer service rep doesn't even need to bother [the expert].

What's fascinating to me when we look at our own internal IM volume [at IBM], the most commonly pinged thing is,  and ‘Can you talk?’ and right behind that are requests for presentations or information someone has—people pinging you saying, ’Hey, can you send me the latest sales figures?’ We look at that and [ask] why do you even need to bother them? If you were using social tools, the minute you found me you'd find my content.

The barriers to adoption of enterprise social software seem to be more cultural than technical. How can those be overcome?

Barlow: It's not just the cultural issue of using the tools, but it's also the cultural issue of thinking in a different way.

We have our Sametime unified telephony product [deployed internally], which effectively allows you to have one number for your office phone, your cell phone, etc. When we first started deploying this thing, we said, ‘OK, here's your unified number. Have at it.’ Well, it was an augment—you wouldn't see the cost savings out of that and a lot of people wouldn't quite get it. But if we not only provision it but also give them a high-fidelity headset, then a little magic happens because when you give them a high-fidelity headset, now they have a better experience than with the [desk] phone.

Although the software gives them the cost savings and the reason why they want to buy it, it's the headset that changes the culture. If you look at more traditional social networking [software tools], certainly as you bring in the marketing awareness people can have and the ability to have the pulse [of] the customer, you get these similar values. But you've got to change the culture.

The other challenge on social ... is [UC pros] have to understand what problem or what use case they're trying to solve with social. There [are many] tools out there, but a lot of them are just chasing that one shiny object [contact center] use case versus focusing on the whole enterprise. And if you're just chasing that one use case, that's the only problem you're going to solve.

If managers and executives actively use enterprise social software, what impact does that have on adoption among rank-and-file knowledge workers?

Barlow: We have [IBM enterprise social software] Lotus Connections deployed internally and have had it for several years now. What has really made a difference is when people start to see senior executives using it. One of the bellwether moments for me was [IBM General Manager of Collaboration Solutions] Alistair Rennie post on his Connections page one day a letter that he was writing to a customer. It wasn't a good letter. It was a customer that was complaining about one of our products, and it was a well-known complaint that many of our customers had made—a common objection in the field relative to competition.

He decided to post [on Connections] the letter he was writing back. He removed the customer name, but he posted the letter on his page and 400,000 IBMers could openly read it. That was incredibly powerful. It was obviously a well-written, well-vetted letter, and it had all the key talking points. But now everyone in the corporation had this [directive from] the top of how to position this problem, and this thing spread like wildfire because what ended up happening was that anytime somebody ran into this objection, they could refer back to this letter as the recipe for how to deal with it. That's just one example, but as you start to see senior executives [adopt enterprise social software] more and more, just like a consumer social network gives you ability to connect people across boundaries, so too does an internal one where that corporate executive can reach out directly to the resources in the field, versus having to have that message translated and regurgitated.

Why couldn't he have emailed that letter to everyone? What value does enterprise social networking add?

Barlow: If you emailed it, all 400,000 people don't need it, so that would be spam. I get a lot of those emails today—the corporate newsletters of what this group or that group is working on today, and they're out of control. The first thing is that by posting on his wall, the access is open to everyone ... so that you find it when you need it but it's not being forced upon you, frankly, in the form of spam. The second thing is when you go find this in social, what you've got in addition to the content is you've also got the supporting materials. 

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, Senior News Writer.

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