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Social Intranet Adoption – 8 things that work

5 min read

Social Intranet Adoption – 8 things that work

Despite Gartner’s dire statistics, social intranets can have huge adoption and positive impact - even if you aren’t Zappos. Here's what really works.

The oft-cited Gartner stat claims that 90% of enterprise social media initiatives will fail, and that on average, only 10-15% of employees participate regularly in employee social networks. So do you have to be Zappos to be successful? Do you have to be a “social business” before you can begin? Do you even have to believe that’s the goal?

No. The restaurant chains, construction companies, tech firms, manufacturing, healthcare and educational institutions we work with are not (necessarily) pursuing “social business” or “holocracy.” They just want things to work better and suck less. They want their organizations to feel pulled together. They want internal communications and collaboration tools that help them feel and operate like a team of teams. They want their work to be meaningful, efficient and always improving.

There’s only one way to get that - to activate your workforce by getting it connected with both peers and leadership. Companies look to intranets and employee social networks to help. But in the last five years or so, few of these initiatives have truly worked. They have not been widely adopted nor come close to achieving the intended impact.

I have personally engaged with over 100 customers using various technologies, and it is clear that there are some things that actually do build participation and community.

8 secrets of social intranet adoption.

1. Coercion.

This is nobody’s favorite ploy. But it works – but only once or twice. It WILL get people in to log in a couple of times before they search for a workaround. Put some information there that everyone needs but cannot get anywhere else.

Email them the link and make sure their job depends on that information. It works very well - but not for long. If you want to keep them coming back and sustain participation for more than just access to the coercive bait, you’ll need at least some of these other things going for you as well.

2. Executive participation.

People always want to stand next to the CXO. They want to know what leadership thinks. They would like to be noticed. Many people never get the chance. Get your senior execs in there, using it for whatever its supposed to be used for (collaboration, updates, news, events, a particular project or plan, recognizing great work, sharing successes, sharing challenges, asking questions), and like magic, everyone else will show up like there’s pizza in the break room.

The exec will get a ton of engagement, and that will keep her there too.

3. Promotion

Tell people about it. Well before they get the “your account has been created” email. Tell them why it matters. Tell them when to expect it. And show them how incredibly great and easy it is to use – even on their phones (Don’t have that? Stop. Rethink the whole thing). Have a party. Get excited. Show your sense of humor and be creative. (One of my favorite examples is this launch video Focus Financial made. Its at the end of this blog post. We laughed out loud. Rolling on the floor.)

4. A reason

Intranets and employee social networks are used for lots of different reasons. So first – make sure you have a reason that you can actually articulate. Not just “culture” not just “collaboration” but specific challenges in these areas that you can identify and discuss, and that all parties involved can understand.

The most common problems organizations come to us with is that they have 3 or 30 or 300 offices, and there is no sharing or coordination among them, and that people in the field are completely out of the loop.

We hear “I have people in different offices working on the same project and the email trails lose both people and information”.

We hear “ 80% of our people are in the field, and the only way we can communicate with them is with a note in their paycheck.”

We hear - “we aren’t learning fast enough from project to project because the construction managers can’t get meaningful feedback or dialog with the original architects and engineers who are in a different city.”

We hear “some of our retail outlets are vibrant and thriving and others are toxic - how do we build consistently positive workplaces and great customer experiences?”

Make the purpose real. People can tell.

5. Content.

If you want your intranet to be used, you need to make sure the content is fresh, relevant to its diverse readers and users, and that they can find what they need without trying too hard.

If it is meant to be the go-to place for news and information, make sure it is current, updated frequently and clearly relevant to the audience. Its nice if people know that your CEO was interviewed in a business magazine. Not so nice if the same article is in the same spot for three months.. Its great to make sure people know about the company picnic, but if its only for people at the head office, reading about it just irritates people at the other sites. If it’s all about sales results, your customer care team will soon stop ... caring.

A small, organized effort can generate surprisingly rich, sustainable, relevant content.

6. Usability

There is an inviolable law of software adoption. People will use a tool when it is easier to use than not to. That is to say, if email is easier to use, people will use email. If I need a week of training to figure it out, I’m going to try hard to avoid using it.

You cannot win with a product people do not like. Even if it was the product option that has that one feature that you decided was super critical. Usability trumps EVERYTHING. If you do not have it, do not even try. So either hire a usability expert (or beware the consequences) and plan to spend a year building a UX out of SharePoint, or buy something else.

7. Ergonomics

Does the software fit me or do I need to change myself to fit it? Sure – we’re willing to make some changes - if it’s easy and it has immediate value to me. If I have to change all of my habits, my entire organizational culture, and the way I understand work and organizations before I will be successful with this tool, then just forget it. Software must mold to me and my needs, not the other way around. If it gradually enables us to shift toward a theoretical utopian future workplace, then that’s a bonus. Meet me where I am.

If you do not understand your employees and leadership needs and habits you’ll have a very hard time. (and if you ever have deployed a failed intranetyour insight here will be particularly keen).

8. Repeat and reinforce

Every time someone asks you for something in an email, reply with a link or invitation into the intranet discussion or place. Keep sending out the link. Keep referring to it. Keep on keeping on. Every time someone emails you something interesting, suggest they post it. Every time someone asks a good question, post it - and give credit to the person. Acknowledge the good and clever things people do. People like that.

The horizon looks good.

A few years ago an employee social network or social intranet needed at least a full year to take become a meaningful part of the daily lives of employees. I’m now seeing customers do it in under six months. That’s impressive. Executive buy-in, rollout programs, and IT are all more sophisticated now, even as more traditional companies come on board. Increasingly, however, the brouhaha over culture vs tech is fading as we realize that tech has needed to advance even ahead of any culture change. It is happening.

The best is yet to come.

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Deb Lavoy

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