Enterprise social media: Don't forget, users are people too

It is great to 'want to collaborate', but for an implementation to really succeed and in order to get the highest level of adoption, what ails you has to be very clearly defined.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

* Jennifer Leggio is on vacation

Guest editorial by Scott Schnaars

I regularly have an interesting conversation with Socialtext CEO, Eugene Lee, about who uses our platform and what are they doing with it.  Here, I'll give you a test in two questions. Question One: When implementing a new system, any new system, for your community, how do you refer to the end users?  What if you are implementing social media for your company? Who is going to use the system? Users? Employees?

What about people (maybe the title of the post gave that one away)?

Far too often, I meet with people that that simply think of the end users as users.  Sometimes with a capital 'U', but always users.  Heck, even the lawyers are in on it with EULA.  Simple lesson: users use word processing systems. Users use spreadsheets and complex, dated, home-grown systems that helps allocate customer service resources. Employees take up space and use electricity. Employees are a number.

People, on the other hand, have names. People share ideas and information.  People form communities. People, are the backbone of your organization and their ideas, especially in a crumbling economy, are the ones that will make or break your company. People, not employees and certainly not users.

There are many important components to a successful enterprise social media strategy, tools, goals, design, roll out strategy and many others, but few are as important as who is going to use the system and what they are going to use it for. Who is going to use the system, as described above, are the people who form communities of photographers and a network of REST Ninjas. They are the people who are developing your new ad campaign and the people who are driving revenue and the people who play Ultimate on Wednesday afternoons.  People save the day.

Next: How will they use the system? -->

Question Two: What are they going to use the system for?

If you said collaboration, that is a serious FAIL.  Of course you are going to use social media to collaborate.  That is like buying a fax machine for faxing or a word processor to process words.  But what are you going to collaborate on?  Please, don't say documents and spreadsheets.

Listen, you don't go to the doctor because you are sick. Sickness is the by-product of something deeper, something more concise. You go to the doctor because you have a headache or a stomach ache or numbness in your left arm.  If you just show up at your doctor and say your sick, but can't describe any symptoms, you'll be given a sugar tab and sent on your way. If you have a more specific problem, you can diagnose it with a very specific solution.

Your enterprise social media strategy needs a similar level of specificity in order for it to succeed.  It is great to 'want to collaborate', but for an implementation to really succeed and in order to get the highest level of adoption, what ails you has to be very clearly defined.  Case in point, I spoke with a firm last week whose collaboration strategy on weekly sales reports was for the VP of Sales to send an emailed report to her 30 reps.  Each rep had a specific window in which they had to fill out the report and mail it back to her.  At the end of the week, she would compile the report and roll it up to her CEO.  The process took each rep about an hour to do and was more complex than what could be completed in a traditional SFA. The VP of Sales was spending a measurable part of her week on this report.

Not only was this a very well defined problem, it was a problem that had serious revenue implications.  Not investing in social media to fix this is akin to not taking your medicine that the doctor prescribes to you for high blood pressure.

Baseline Magazine just named Enterprise Social Networking as one of the top IT trends for 2009.  If you've made it this far, enterprise social media is undoubtedly on your radar.  As you develop your strategy, early identification of the people who will be using this system and a laser defined purpose will ultimately ensure the highest level of adoption.

Scott Schnaars is a 15 year enterprise collaboration sales veteranwith a penchant for writing.  He is currently a sales executive with Socialtext, the leading provider of enterprise social networking services.  He also blogs at Knuckle Sandwich, periodically does a sales video blog at Beyond Snake Oiland can be found on Twitter under his moniker: Schnaars.

(Scott Schnaars image by Zack Sheppard, CC 2.0)

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