Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

8 Reasons Your Social Initiative Will Fail

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 users:  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 objectives:  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 time.
  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 approach:  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 post 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]