Social business adoption in the workplace

What does becoming a social business actually entail? A practitioner in the trenches shares his top strategies and techniques for driving engagement with social tools.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

As I look to examine what we've learned about enterprise social media over the last few years, I'll be hosting some guest posts about those who have been working hands-on in the space and examine what they've learned. Please reach me via the ZDNet contact form if you have a similar practitioner story to share.

The following is a guest post by Kieran Kelly, an enterprise collaboration consultant who has worked with leading orgnizations to realize better ways of working through social business strategy, user adoption tactics, measurement frameworks, and use case design. His background in government sector systems integration has led, in more recent years, to involvement with social technology initiatives and a deep interest in the principles of social business.


Motivating people to adopt social technology in the workplace isn't always easy. Even highly resourced efforts can take years before true adoption takes place and the promised value has been unlocked. We need to dispense with dreams of effortless collaboration and fabulous emergent effects, and instead focus on understanding the needs of our ecosystem, so that we can design strategic use cases that catalyze value through better, social ways of working.

The path to social business maturity often involves many experiments, false starts, reluctant users and sometimes even outright rejection. If you can accept these likelihoods, embrace the apparent failures and continually renew your approach then your efforts will, in time, be rewarded. There are three aspects of social business strategy that, in my experience, are essential for success.

1. Clarity of Vision

The social business journey has been underway in the workplace for quite some time, but progress for the most part has been limited. Very often a social platform has been stood up and pointed to in the hope that employees will spontaneously change the way they work, or else tools like Yammer have appeared unofficially and attracted small but loyal groups of users. In both scenarios the efforts tend not to be aligned with the goals of the business and are not guided by a well-informed and unified strategy.

To realise deeper social business value from your existing toolset you will need to design use cases that address specific business needs. But before this can happen, a clear understanding of your current ecosystem is needed in order to show what you can realistically achieve, the steps you will need to take and the barriers you must overcome. Once you have a clear picture of the true situation on the ground you can be strategic about where to focus your efforts. The aim will be to identify a small number of use cases - just 2 or 3 at first - that are highly focussed and manageable and which can demonstrate the value of the initiative to the wider community. Use case design will be addressed in the next section but for now we will concentrate on where you are.

Key Elements of Social Business Adoption: Vision, Use Cases, and Measurement

During this process of discovery you will need to engage with stakeholders and users to learn about several aspects of your business. Here are some of the main areas I have explored with clients:

Business Goals - To prove the ongoing value of your use cases you will need to align them closely with the goals of the business. If all you can do is demonstrate a busy environment and plentiful content, but cannot show how it is helping the business meet its goals, then you will find it difficult to secure deeper buy-in and elevate the organisation to the next level of social business maturity. Ask the business what its objectives and KPIs are over the next few years, and focus your efforts around these.

Technical Landscape - What systems are already in place? How do they conflict with or complement each other? Are there different groups in your organisation using different systems to do the same kind of work? Where is the potential for integration? By answering these questions you will build an understanding of how well your use cases can be met by the current infrastructure, where the conflicts are and what capabilities are missing.

Leadership - The stance of leaders can make or break your initiative. Be sure to inform them of what you are trying to accomplish and take account of their suggestions and concerns. Ask them what they would like to achieve through new ways of working. If you do not attract the buy-in and support of leaders early on they are unlikely to adopt social working practices and lead the rest of the organisation by example.

User Groups - Map out the different user groups in your organisation. What do they do, and where are the lines of collaboration? Between which groups is there need for better visibility, sharing, and interaction? By building up a picture of user groups in this way, you will be in far better position to identify high-value use cases and understand how they’re likely to impact the surrounding ecosystem.

Pain Points - Talk to users to find out their pain points and frustrations, and ask what they need in place to solve their own work problems. What systems, processes and working practices are falling short of their needs? Don’t assume that a soup of social functionality will relieve all of their pains.

User Motivations - Different individuals and groups are motivated in different ways. Use cases that play to these motivations will be more readily adopted. For example, a sales team may be driven by financial incentives whereas a team of software developers may be more driven by recognition and reuse of their solutions. By discovering different motivators you will be able to design use cases that help users get what they really want. A sales use case might involve leaderboards and other game mechanics to drive competition among the team, whereas a use case for software developers might make new software components visible to others and notify authors each time they’re reused.

Current Ways of Working - Users have preferred ways of getting things done. Even if new tools offer greater ease and efficiency, habitual ways of working tend to reassert themselves time and time again. By understanding how people currently work, you can design use cases that either integrate with existing workflows or else incorporate measures that help change habits such as training, incentives, relocation of resources, and scaling back of old systems.

These are just some of things I have taken into account of when helping clients build a picture of where they are where social business can take them. As your investigation progresses along these lines there are bound to be other considerations, unique to your organisation, that suggest themselves - be sure to include them in your analysis. Once you are clear on where you are, you can set a course for where you want to be.

Related: Does technology improve employee engagement?

2. Preparing robust social business use cases

If you have:

• Engaged with users and stakeholders;

• Identified business goals and pain points;

• Analysed user motivations and ways of working; and

• Rationalised your existing technical landscape;

Then you (cont'd)

are in a good position to choose and develop a small number of use cases that will add high value and demonstrate the possibilities of social business to your whole organisation.

Selecting Use Cases

In the course of your investigations, you are likely to have identified dozens of work process that might benefit from social tools and ways of working. To assist the process of selection, it may help to categorise use case possibilities to see where patterns emerge. The following categories are provided as examples, there may well be others that better suit your business:

  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Process Improvement
  • Product Enhancement
  • Expertise Location
  • Innovation
  • Project Management & Support
  • Employee Engagement & Networking
  • Customer Engagement
  • Sales Support
  • Issue Resolution
  • Idea Management

As you continue to categorise potential use cases in this way, you may begin to see how several work streams can come together under a single use case. The next step will be to select just 2 or 3 use cases to be developed into value-focussed, engaging, measurable propositions that will serve to underpin your wider efforts and inspire other workstream owners. When working with clients, I recommend several criteria for selecting use cases for development:

  • Value - Will the use case help the business attain its goals? Does the use case align with existing KPIs?
  • Key Users - Does the use case address the needs and motivations of user groups who are key to your company’s success?
  • Leadership - To what extent are leaders and other key influencers interested in the success of this use case? How willing are they to participate?
  • Visibility - How visible will the activities and results of the use case be to the wider community?
  • Reach - Does the use case span several divisions or is it confined to a single group?
  • Boldness - Will the use case have a high impact? To what extent will people sit up and listen?
  • Pain Relief - To what extent will the use case diminish existing pain and frustrations within your company?
  • Technical Viability - Can the current technical infrastructure cope with the demands of the use case?
  • Manageability - Does the current social business team have enough capacity to do justice to the use case?
  • Scope - Is the scope of the use case clearly defined? How specific are its goals?

These are just some of the criteria that will help you select outstanding use cases. What other considerations apply specifically to your circumstances?

Designing Use Cases

Use cases for social business need to be clearly defined before they can be properly implemented within your organisation. One of the major shortfalls of use cases I have encountered is lack of specificity. For instance, ‘knowledge sharing’ is not a use case by itself, but a broad activity - the questions to ask are ‘what do I want to achieve through better knowledge sharing?’ and ‘how will I achieve it?’ The following framework to help you bring out the required level of detail in your use cases:

  • Business Purpose - What is the purpose of the use case? Define compelling objectives that bring direct benefits to both users and the business as a whole.
  • Identify Users - Firstly, identify which user groups will take part; secondly, name names - who needs to engage?
  • Identify Activities - What exactly will identified users do to achieve your stated objectives?
  • Identify Tools & Practices - Describe how users will carry out the required activities using social tools and ways of working. This is a critical stage in the design of any use case, as you will be mapping real needs and workflows to your toolset.
  • Identify Motivations - How will the use case play to the motivations of target users? What are the incentives?
  • Governance - What roles and responsibilities are required to support the use case activities? Clearly define what is and what is not desirable activity in the context of the use case.
  • User Experience - Plot the journey each user type will take through the use case. Ensure that the experience leaves users in no doubt as to: the purpose of the use case; what they need to do; how they will do it; and their motivation for doing it.
  • Measurement - Define the use case’s criteria for success, both quantitative outcomes and qualitative indications of user satisfaction and perceived benefits.

This is the level of focus and detail required in social business use cases before they can be properly run and monitored. This is not to say you will get it perfect first time - there may be unknown factors and user reactions that compel you adapt your approach, this is ok - but answering these questions upfront and thinking carefully before you jump, will bring out the essence of what you want to achieve and greatly increase your chances of success.

3. Measurement

Why measure?

There are four broad (cont'd)

reasons for measuring the outcomes of your social business


  1. Feedback - You may have carefully researched and planned your use cases but no plan is perfect. Effective feedback mechanisms will allow you to adapt your use cases to the reality on the ground.
  2. Proving Value and ROI - Any investment in time and cash needs to prove its worth. By aligning your use cases with business goals and defining success criteria, you will have made a good start in this direction, but you will still need to work out the details of how to gather and represent this information.
  3. Inspiring Others - In part, you can think of your initiative as an internal marketing exercise. By sharing positive outcomes and success stories, especially those that would not have been possible without social technology, you can inspire others to adopt your approach.
  4. Increasing User Adoption - Social business is all about the people who use the tools and perform the work. User experience may not be perfect at first, but if users can see that you are listening to and acting upon their needs, they will be far happier to cooperate and follow you over any bumps in the road.

What to measure?

It is by no means straightforward to measure social business value convincingly. Different stakeholders are looking for different things, so it is good to measure outcomes on multiple levels to build a rich and compelling picture that can be tailored for different audiences.

In my experience, it is good to measure five different aspects:

  1. Value Created - This aspect shows how your use cases are contributing to the business' KPIs and bottom line. Your efforts will be greatly assisted if you can benchmark current performance and show a before and after comparison. For instance, if you can show faster outcomes, less expenditure, fewer reworks and higher customer satisfaction resulting from your use cases you are in a good position to calculate an attractive ROI.
  2. Community Vitality - If people are not getting involved in your use cases then clearly something is amiss. Usage statistics are important for demonstrating community vitality, but it should be remembered that they cannot demonstrate business value by themselves. For example, contrasting the number of new content items per week, with the number of views and comments will show how well your content pipeline is sustaining engagement. The further challenge will be to show how these interactions are contributing to business outcomes.
  3. New Ways of Working - Social business entails new tools and more open and collaborative ways of working. These measurements track movements away from old ways of working. For example, reductions in email usage and distance travelled for meetings in favor of new practices, such as open, shared conversations and long distance meetings online.
  4. User Satisfaction - Users are the customers of your initiative, so it is important to measure how satisfied they are with your services. Simple measurements like the Net Promoter Score (NPS) provide you with an unambiguous number that quantifies the value your initiative provides to your most important audience, your users. Low scores allow you to follow up and take remedial action, while high ones show where the initiative is excelling.
  5. Success Stories - Sometimes nothing is more persuasive than a story. As social technologies are used in your organization, there are bound to be many positive outcomes, large and small, planned and unplanned - do not let these fade away. If you chronicle success stories as they occur, you can draw on suitable examples whenever called to justify or defend the initiative. Success stories provide impressive backup to otherwise dry facts and figures.

Having measured outcomes in these five areas, you can present a compelling case to any given stakeholder. For instance, C-level executives might be primarily concerned with value metrics and KPIs, whereas project managers might be more influenced by the success stories of their peers. In all cases, a mix of measurements will produce a more convincing picture.

Playing the long game

Realizing social business within the enterprise will require a significant shift in the way companies think, work and organize themselves. For the majority, this change will be slow to arrive, but by understanding your ecosystem, defining high-value use cases, and measuring for success, social business stands a good chance of taking root in your organization. Setbacks and frustrations are guaranteed, but by continually renewing your approach, progress can and will be made.


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