The Big Failure of Enterprise 2.0 Social Business

This isn’t a “shock & awe” title to merely draw you in.  This also isn’t a blanket claim from an “expert” who has never been in the trenches that “social business is dead”.   Enterprise 2.0 (aka social business) is not dead. Significant progress continues to be made.  More and more enterprises have social business strategies and efforts for both marketing & internal collaboration. However, enterprises with several years of Enterprise 2.0 efforts under their belt have failed to reach the tipping point and cross into mainstream adoption of social collaboration . Coincidentally, Dion Hinchcliffe recently noted in The Path to Co-Creating a Social Business, the existence of the fissure with older collaborative channels on one side and the option to voluntarily engage socially on the other.   I believe this is a sign post that we must pay attention to and make adjustments or social business could fall deeply into the rabbit hole where knowledge management (KM) efforts of past, already reside.   

A little over a year ago I left my role managing the internal social collaboration efforts for a large global enterprise.  After two and a half years of efforts to evolve how a corporation gets work done, connects employees and communicates, I needed a serious break.  I felt we had reached the maximum adoption we could achieve under the circumstances we were working within.  So I returned back to my roots in social media marketing.  I left the Enterprise 2.0 program not because I lost passion for social collaboration, but because I realized that the effort had plateaued.  The initiative has achieved quite a bit, but my vision & strategy still hasn’t been fully reached. We didn’t cross the chasm – even after almost three years post deployment. Social collaboration is still voluntary and optional.  Based upon discussions around conference “water coolers”, I have discovered that our situation isn’t unique.   I have been doing a lot of reflection to nail down the underlying reason our efforts (collective across the industry) aren’t creating an evolution-yet.  So, here is my stake in the ground on what is the big failure of Enterprise 2.0 social business:

The big failure of social business is a lack of integration of social tools into the collaborative workflow.  

This is not a newly identified problem.  Those of us working on social collaboration efforts for a while recognized that integration is imperative from the beginning.  At the beginning, I clearly outlined integration as one of three foundational pillars for our strategy.  Unfortunately, various forces created challenges in this space. Social collaboration applications have been immature in this area for years (even after fierce calls for faster integration- i.e. CMS). Enterprises faced fork lift integration efforts to knit applications together.  Fork lift efforts get the budget axe when push comes to shove.  We managed to do the normal IT deployment model – the very model I fiercely advocated for us not to do.  We deployed just another tool amongst a minefield of other collaborative tools – without integration.   To make it even harder, we underinvested in transition change management.

Are you surprised that I didn’t say lack of overt executive support & leadership for culture change (ala John Chambers mantra at Cisco)?  Believe me, tops down support & culture change are two of the largest hurdles social business must conquer for long-term success.  IBM, who has been on the bleeding edge for ten years is (finally) recently starting to cross the chasm.   As evidenced by the IBM journey, I believe it will be rare that culture change will be one of the first things accomplished or changed in a short period of time.  Culture will change as a result of the pervasive use of social tools.  Lack of cultural change is not social business’s biggest failure.  The biggest failure is the lack of workflow integration to drive culture change.

The picture became blatantly clear looking from the outside in.   First, there is evidence that IT resources are shifting to other technology priorities. A Gartner CIO survey in 2010  had Web 2.0 ranked as the third highest priority for CIO’s.  In 2011, it fell to the bottom – number 10.  Second, except for email, employees aren’t using most internal collaboration tool robustly.  I did my own internal research to verify adoption. This trend was established before social tools.   I have witnessed teams that cannot even spell video conferencing, who use team meeting & collaboration sites only as document warehouses and engage in collaboration via email ping pong.    Third, for teams that “get” social media and are heavily engaged, much of their workflow is within external social tools – Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or multiple tools so they can extend collaboration outside the firewall.  They robustly engage with each other where critical mass of collaboration & their network resides- i.e. private Google+ circles or Facebook groups.  They have only occasional collaboration leveraging internal tools.  When asked why they don’t use the internal platform, one responder stated,“Bottom line, we’ve had a social community internally (for a while) and it doesn’t feel natural.”  Translation: It isn’t in their workflow. I personally have struggled with pervasive use of Google+ even thought I really like the product.  Why?  It is outside of how I get my work done ; my peeps aren’t 100% present and it isn’t integrated into social aggregation tools, such as Tweetdeck.  The foundation for which enterprises are building their social collaborative house is cracked.  If you add more layers, the fissures widen. If you don’t provide the “easy button” with integrated tools that are “just there” in your workflow, adoption will not cross the chasm.  Culture will not change.  Enterprise 2.0 social business becomes the bad sequel to Knowledge Management.

So how do we swing the pendulum?  I am not advocating that companies abandon their internal social platforms and move to an external service.  I fully recognize all the information security, privacy, regulatory challenges with that model.  Also, social collaboration tools are finally starting to round the corner with email & content management integration. I also don’t believe that the only answer is“integrating” into underutilized & complicated legacy collaborative tools.  We must get back to the basics.  The effort to robustly use social tools needs to be a natural act.  We also need to focus on items that are within our control and can be done now. Following are my getting back to basics recommendations:

  • Face reality that email is not going away.  It has 100% utilization for employee collaboration & communication.   It becomes an epicenter for collaboration. The ability to post social content, receive notifications, receive activity digests must tie into email and SMS.  If your activity stream could fit into an Outlook window – even better.
  • Recognize that collaboration doesn’t just happen inside your company’s walls.  Collaboration crosses many boundaries from time, distance and corporate firewalls.  Employees are using multiple tools and multiple networks both outside & inside.  Adding one more tool to the mix doesn’t make life easier. Consider deploying a content/collaboration aggregator to simplify employee’s ability to manage various content flows & networks both inside & outside the firewall (Example: Xobni Enterprise)
  • Collaboration is now form factor agnostic: No longer is one device utilized.  Content & collaboration needs to flow across whatever mobile, tablet, desktop, laptop- eventually smart TV device – that an employee utilizes.
  • Ubiquitous collaboration needs equal opportunity.  For example, If employees can get email, internet access, Facebook, Twitter on their mobile devices but only access social collaboration on their laptop- then those most available will be the top collaborative tools.  Your internal social platform needs equal access, otherwise it will continue to be Cinderella locked in the attic during the royal ball.
  • Your intranet should be one in the same with your social platform.  If an official portal is the place to get news, updates & find information – your social platform must seamlessly be an integral part of that experience.  Don’t ship off your employees to a separate site to socially engage & collaborate. The intranet should become the personalized collaborative workspace for employees “one stop shopping.”
  • Rid yourself of multiple employee profiles.  One employee = one integrated profile.  Do you enjoy managing different profiles across various consumerized tools today?  Heck No!  That is why the ability to log in with your social ID is widely used on consumer sites.  Your internal social profile should be your one corporate profile with the ability for others inside the company to see who you are, what you do and easily discover knowledge you hold along with people you are connected with across the company (and even outside, if appropriate).  The social employee profile is critical to enable the Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye that Andrew McAfee began advocating for in 2007.

Technology has matured dramatically over the last five years.  Enterprises are getting into the game. My back to basic recommendations don’t take super human development cycles or an extended period of time to deploy.  Focus on what you can control.  Focus on creating a natural collaborative experience.  Focus on providing an easy & intuitive user experience.  Focus on dissolving collaborative islands- don’t create more with social tools. These steps can keep you from falling down the rabbit hole and staying steady on the road to realizing robust social enterprise success while you continue to tackle other longer-term challenges.   I believe if we focus more robustly on the basics, we can push this baby over the chasm.