8 Reasons Your Social Initiative Will Fail

The social software market is booming as companies rush to deploy software that help workers share information and communicate with colleagues, customers, and suppliers. But it’s tricker to implement than you might think. Here are 8 things you need to avoid to get it right the first time.


Social is one of the hottest trends in enterprise software, and many
companies are considering rolling out products and services that make it easier
for employees to share information with each other and communicate with
customers and suppliers.

Social software covers a lot of ground, but in general,
products in this field enable people to share ideas and documents, find
expertise and connect with colleagues, and communicate interactively with others. Gartner reports that “social software technologies as a whole are among the most hyped in the
industry at the moment,” but is quick to warn companies that different social software technologies are “at different
levels of maturity.” Meanwhile, Forrester predicts that social software will grow to a $6.4 billion industry by 2016. There is
definitely something going on here.

The reason so many companies
are looking at social initiatives is simple: When people work together, they accomplish much
more, without reinventing the wheel or duplicating work efforts. But social initiatives are expensive and are
potentially disruptive to the business. 


So it behooves smart executives to avoid the pitfalls uniquely inherent
in social initiatives. Here are eight
missteps that can sink more than your social initiative. While these points
relate primarily to internal, employee-facing social initiatives, many of them
are equally relevant to customer-facing initiatives as well. 

  1. No interest from key
      Analysts estimate that approximately a third of workers will download
    and share new technology, with or without corporate approval. Suppressing or ignoring these folks and
    heading straight for IT creates unnecessary and often insurmountable resistance.
    In fact, ignoring them squanders your biggest advantage. Reach out to technology
    seekers and embrace them; they are your greatest allies.
  2. Too many tools:  Technology
    silos are a reality, but you need a road map for creating a single collaboration
    platform. We are in the midst of an adoption cycle that mirrors that of email
    in the early ’90s. Then, it took time before disparate corporate emails
    systems worked together. But could you
    imagine working with two email systems today, one to communicate with internal
    colleagues and one for external contacts? The same will be true for
    collaboration tools going forward.
  3. Unclear business
      Technology-driven projects are a sure recipe for failure.
  4. Not paying attention to
    key stakeholders:
      If your project
    manager is a bulldozer type who tells key stakeholders that he “knows better” because he has already done five such projects, you’re headed for trouble, big
  5. IT and the business are
    at loggerheads:  
    With the advent of SaaS (software as a service) solutions,
    business units now have viable alternatives to central IT. Smart IT organizations realize they have to
    support the business to make initiatives, such as social business work. IT’s alternative is the (slow) decline of
    budgets and eventual demise.
  6. No culture of technology
    grassroots adoption:  
    Collaboration and social initiatives must have eager
    champions at the business-user level. A top-down approach to a social initiative
    makes it difficult to pump up worker’s interest in being part of the project.
    It is much easier to leverage the excitement of existing users by getting them
    to be social at departmental or division levels, first. 
  7. Project is not aligned
    with other business initiatives:
      A social initiative without business
    goals will die on the vine. Business users need to understand why being active
    in a social initiative brings value to their everyday work responsibilities.
  8. Taking the wrong
      Introducing “rip and replace” technology that ignores daily work habits is probably the biggest failure factor in the list. The fact
    that people are change-averse is
    well-documented. A recent blog
    talks more about why “rip and replace” doesn’t work.

If you have experienced a failed (or failing) initiative,
weigh in with your own reasons in the comments.

Email author David Lavenda or follow him on Twitter @dlavenda.


[Image: Flickr user hans.gerwitz]


About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.