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How to engage users and build business social software adoption rates

Despite the benefits of business social software, many employers and workers are dubious. Learn how to fast-track internal social software adoption by educating and engaging users.

It's become obvious that business social software is changing how work gets done. While many of these social software tools have been available for years, we're still in early days as far as enterprise adoption and usage of these tools. As I mentioned in my previous article, "Taking the social out of enterprise social software," the number of companies actually deploying and using internal social software is very small, despite the many benefits that these tools provide.

How can companies increase user adoption of internal social software solutions that help workers find needed resources and expertise and better collaborate with colleagues? The key is to focus on the users rather than the technology.

What's in it for the business?

Both businesses and individual end users need to understand the value business social software provides. Social software tools help workers collaborate and interact with colleagues, partners and customers, and find the right expertise and resources to get needed information in order to do their jobs. There are lots of ROI metrics out there for Web 2.0 and social software tools, but what's important to acknowledge is that business social software isn't just the latest cool toy -- it's a serious business tool that provides companies with a competitive advantage, whether it's speeding up the time to develop products, answer customers' inquiries or solve customers' problems. The idea here is to focus on the business value that internal social software provides to your organization, which will vary from business to business based on your strategy, goals and objectives. Here are some tips to engage users and build enterprise-wide adoption of business social software.

What's in it for me?

Workers may view business social software as a time waster and work disrupter, so it's important to be clear about how to use the internal social software tools and how the tools can help the individual worker be more productive and do their jobs better. Try to manage risks and concerns that workers may have -- whether they're about privacy, time management and so on -- and ensure that people understand the purpose of business social software and the expected goals and objectives.

Engage the users

Initially, a small portion of your workers will be the ones utilizing social software, but usage will spread as these workers become evangelists for it. While I've been emphasizing the business value of internal social software, it can also be fun for people to use. If it's easy, intuitive and fun, people are more likely to use the tools and become engaged.

Find the business social software evangelists

This should be obvious, but it's worth highlighting the fact that active participation from senior management will help rally the troops and get others on board. If workers see their managers and their managers' managers using the social tools, they'll be more inclined to also use them. In addition, start with specific workers or groups that are more likely to benefit from social media. Once they've started attaining the benefits, they can tell others about it, and usage will steadily spread.

It's not all about the technology

Rather than focusing on the technology of business social software, focus on the human issues and how these new social software tools will impact the corporate culture. Many workers, regardless of their age, may be reluctant to embrace internal social software tools and change the way they do their jobs. It's important to provide adequate training and help workers feel comfortable not only with the technical aspects of these solutions, but the cultural implications as well. Clear policies should be set so that workers know what is and isn't appropriate usage of the social software tools. This will help alleviate concerns workers may have about what to share and how to avoid potential problems.

Tie it into the business

Similar to unified communications (UC) and communication-enabled business processes (CEBP), by integrating social software tools into UC applications, business processes and workflows, social software will become part of how people do their jobs, and not yet another separate capability that they have to think about.

The more people there are within the organization who use business social software tools, the more value these tools provide. If workers don't utilize the tools provided, the less useful the tools are. Increasing user adoption of internal social software can be as simple as leading by example and demonstrating how the collaborative aspects of social software can help workers be more productive and effective at their jobs. Then sit back and watch it go viral.

Blair Pleasant, President and Principal Analyst, COMMfusion LLCAbout the author: Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC, and co-founder of UCStrategies.com, provides consulting and market research analysis on voice/data convergence markets and technologies aimed at helping end-user and vendor clients both strategically and tactically. Prior to COMMfusion, she was director of communications analysis for The PELORUS Group, a market research and consulting firm, and president of Lower Falls Consulting.

This was last published in October 2011

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