Navigating a social workplace

Tapping the collective talent of an organisation is the first step in building a platform for innovation. But making social work requires planning and a solid strategy.

Social workplaces are transformative.  When implemented well, they bring energy, drive enthusiasm and encourage collaboration. They empower people by tapping into the collective talent of the organisation and providing a platform for innovation. To make social work however, requires planning and a solid strategy.

The first rule for the success of any social initiative in the workplace is that social relies on integration to daily work.  If the social activities are not part of the natural information or workflow, they will inevitably fail. 
The second rule for success is that when you introduce social technologies, they must focus on work.  If the technologies and their application don't demonstrate business value, you should be questioning why you are considering going down this path.
In addition, social deployments work best when based on a social adoption framework.  Unlike traditional change models, which are typically linear, the social framework is far more humanistic and therefore calls for a journey rather than simply working towards a go live deadline.  The ideal framework is made up of three components – people engagement, business alignment and technology enablement.
People engagement

For people to use social tools, they must be engaged. This is where strategies are required to motivate and encourage participation.  The strategies must be mindful of company culture, and should address the need for community management, education, recognition and campaigns to drive adoption. 
If you want to make your social initiative more than a three day wonder and if you are to truly embed your social tools in the daily workflow, the process of people engagement will be never-ending. It should start with onboarding and span the life of your social workplace initiative. 
One engagement tactic that has proven very successful in numerous organisations is the concept of an “ambassador network”.  With training and judicious use of rewards, “ambassadors” or power users can help to spread the social word, defuse resisters, and build trust across the organisation. Networks of ambassadors empower advocates and tap into the natural energy of emergent leaders who are passionate about the potential for social in the workplace.  
Business Alignment 

The second component of a social adoption framework is business alignment.  Business alignment activities are usually structured around understanding organisational context. This requires creating easy to understand statements around vision, mission and values, and then tying those statements to the key strategic intent across the business.  One of the earliest indicators of success – top level leadership support for the project – should be visible at this point. (It is worth noting that few social initiatives will succeed without the interest and participation of senior management and other major stakeholders.) 
Business alignment also involves governance to address IT or other potential risks, and the development of socially enabled processes. Because social is such a different way of working, the business should consider a change management strategy.
All of these steps are essential because they allow the business to achieve value from their social initiatives faster and, as already stated, this is one of the foundation rules for social success. 
Technology enablement 

The final component of the social framework is the technology, which should be focused on creating human centric experiences. Considerations include optimising the architecture and landscape of the technology, design and the user experience, mobility and ultimately, deployment.
Integration with key business applications and appropriate other third party systems will be crucial if employees are to get real work done in this new environment.  However, it's important to give careful consideration to which applications should be integrated, given the ever-present need to demonstrate business value. 
Measuring value 

In the early days, businesses looked at adoption as an indication of value.  These days, the measurements are a little more involved. 
Enrolment is key to obtaining the necessary volume of activity, so adoption remains important.  Beyond that however, it is important to look at how and when people are using social.  To gauge project effectiveness, it helps to identify:

* The number of people joining the system while the ambassador networks were making their initial pitch for participation, 

* Peaks in activity on the days when ambassador events or workshops were held, 

* The frequency and type of subsequent use, 

* The amount of social interaction being driven by business leaders and ambassadors, compared to that which is attributable to the general workforce, 

An exercise regime

So there you have it:  the two truths of social initiatives and the three foundations of an adoption framework.   It would be nice to say that armed with this information, every organisation should in their social projects, but as research from Gartner recently showed, an estimated 80 percent of social initiatives fail to achieve the required result.  
The main pitfall to beware of is a failure to continually engage the users.  Adoption and engagement strategies should be viewed in a similar light to an exercise regime: You have to put in the hard work every day.  Don't let the system stagnate. Your ambassadors will need to continue to promote and your support programs must constantly motivate and drive participation. Social activities should be monitored, engagement activities refreshed and the overall environment assessed for value on at least a half year basis.  
A social workplace can provide considerable competitive advantage but, just like any other IT investment, it is essential to get the strategy and the deployment right.

Cunyt Uysal is the Asia Pacific director of business development at NewsGator. 

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