7 ways to get employees to adopt your enterprise social media initiative

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Awhile ago I wrote that that the biggest value delivered by social media technologies will be the internal use of these ideas  instead of the external marketing application we usually think about.  In fact, I forecast that this would become a very important trend … and it is.

There are many software providers getting into this space and some of the best-known product names include Yammer (Microsoft), Chatter (Salesforce), Connections (IBM), and Jive.

I’ve been lucky to be able to help people with consulting services in this space and I am particularly interested in the challenge of getting people to use it. After all, we can get technology to do anything we want. But people? That’s a little more difficult … and that’s the opportunity I love!

If you’re considering an enterprise social initiative for your company, here are seven aspects of employee adoption that you’ll need to think about upfront.

1. Role clarity versus role flexibility

In every company I study, people report the most value from these programs is coming from the spontaneous association (a term coined by Tony Martins) created by people organizing around problems. Doesn’t that sound like an ideal work environment? People learning about issues wherever they may be in your company and then volunteering to help?

Well, it’s ideal until your boss asks you why you’re late on your project deadline because you’re helping an employee in India solve a problem instead.

This is a key idea. For these programs to really work, there must be some understanding, some balance between role clarity and role flexibility in this new environment.  This is a new way to organize, a new way to think. Don’t overlook it.

2. Local sponsorship and involvement

This leads to idea number two.  People work on the things that are rewarded by their bosses. Don’t dismiss the critical importance of obtaining the buy-in and understanding of leaders and supervisors.

Here is the single-most effective way to get employees to adopt a new technology — have their supervisors ask a question about it in every staff meeting.

3. Allow for some “wasted space”

One company I have been working with was worried about the time that might be wasted on irrelevant topics and posts.

There is going to be some of that, but my advice is to let it go. Most non-project topics die off quickly. Let people know it is a safe space to experiment and even try something silly every now and then. Allowing for a little fun can spur interest and adoption.

4. Re-considering traditional forms of measurement

This is such a hard one. I’m a numbers guy. A measurement freak. But I also recognize that when most of the value of these programs comes from new connections and faster problem resolution you can go crazy trying to measure the ROI of something like “improved collaboration.”

Here’s what I mean. Last week an employee was struggling with a difficult software problem all morning. When he posted it on the company network, he had a solution offered from an employee he had not known of before in 10 minutes. Now, in this simple example, there were some legitimate business  benefits:

  • Value of the employee’s time
  • Speed of problem resolution
  • Benefits to everyone who is suffering from the software problem
  • Increase in pride and employee morale of those involved in finding a quick solution (this is often cited by employees as a benefit).

If you are the administrator of an enterprise social platform, how do you measure that value created? How do you determine the financial value of “time saved” in a way that won’t make your boss call it a “fluffy number?”  How do you even find out that the success story even occurred in the first place?

You begin to see the problem and the problem is exacerbated when the people funding the project are several layers away.

I think there is something to be learned from the many case studies that determine benefits through employee surveys and write up successes as stories (qualitative benefit) instead of pie charts (quantitative measure).

5. Rewards, levels and leader boards

Nearly all the leading software systems have some sort of reward system based on merit badges and leaderboards. Don’t overlook this!  It might seem frivolous but in fact many studies show that employees respond to this type of recognition over monetary reward.

6. Build small wins into the program

You need to continually “market” the program internally by highlighting and celebrating small wins along the way. This is so important that I recommend actually building in some small, achievable milestones upfront so you have a reason to celebrate as the program first launches. This provides the “social proof” of success and makes people feel good about associating with a project that is clearly a winner.

7. Priming the Pump

Have you ever walked into an empty restaurant at prime dinner hour?  I’l bet you wondered what was wrong or if you made a mistake.

The same thing will happen if your new users log-in to an empty space. If you “prime the pump” with a few discussions, users, and content, it will make people more comfortable and encouraged to participate.

Well, those are a few high level ideas and a good place to end it in a short blog post. Which of these resonate with you? What did I miss?

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  • Hey Mark, very informative and relevant article. As I mentioned in a previous comment, my day job is as in social media and online marketing. I work for a small company (about 80 employees) but am lucky enough to have an MD that appreciates the importance on this field for marketing and client engagement.

    One challenge I have is social interaction internally (in terms of a system). Pretty much every employee is on one social site or another and understands the principles of collaboration and interaction, getting the right system for everyone is the main challenge. Some like Facebook, some (like myself) believe Google+ is the future of social.

    Getting a ‘one system fits all’ is my main challenge, I don’t believe this is even possible as yet and so finding a strategy to overcome this should be considered.

    I ran a focus group by inviting employees not only from different areas of the business, but who use different social sites, this way I could assess the pros and cons of each and try to accommodate these as best I can.

    Work in progress……………………….. 🙂

  • Have you looked at some of the systems I mentioned? Pretty intuitive. Quite Facebook-like (without the ads of course!). Will be interested in following your progress. Thanks for the comment!

  • Seriously need to discuss gamification with you some day mark lol

  • Hey Mark, I did look at a couple of them yes. I initially designed a BuddyPress site as I had flexibility in theme and plugin functionality, and have experience using the platform.
    It is likely that the business will push for Sharepoint as they want to integrate the business documents and processes as well as Social elements.

    Will keep you updated 🙂

  • Kat Krieger

    Love reading this post after participating in your FB comment/thread about it a few weeks ago. Really solid tips and ones I will bring up to help with our own adoption of Chatter. 🙂

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Great post, yet again Mark! I agree with all seven points mentioned here, but it assumes one aspect not mentioned (surely you assume this as well): C-level buy-in. As much as we want to implement social initiatives within enterprises, if senior management is not committed to see this through, your point #4 is the one that will inevitably become the bone of contention, that is how do we measure ROI for this.

    Also, when it comes from the top, it can percolate to various levels of direction, ensuring everyone is on-board, perhaps with regular meetings to follow-up and tweak aspects of the program. I have not yet had the pleasure to implement any of these software (Yammer, Chatter, etc.) with clients, but this post will be useful to demonstrate the why and how of implementation.

    Cheers from Quebec City,

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  • A good choice. They are integrating with Yammer soon I think

  • yes, you do. : )

  • Awesome. Glad it helped Kat!

  • That is definitely job number one! I should have included it in the post. Thanks for the addition!

  • Did I send you a copy of my book?

  • I don’t believe so.

  • Check your twitter dm 🙂

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  • Maria Nordwind

    Hi Mark, hope you are well? Interesting article, we are actually working at the moment on that topic, very good tips! Thank you! 😉

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