Learn to Walk Before You Run

November 2, 2008

Social Media

Image courtesy of Flickr user karen.j.ybanez

“Why aren’t people using it?”

That’s the question I was recently asked by a colleague working on a project where they had just deployed an internal wiki.  They identified a need to bring people people together in a collaborative environment.  They knew they didn’t have the capability in-house.  They researched the latest collaborative software.  They read an article on Intellipedia.  They said, “that’s what we want!”  They installed a wiki.  They created links to user guides.  They issued memos to their users telling them that this collaborative tool that they’ve all been clamoring for is now available.  Then they waited.  And they waited…

They soon discovered that their users weren’t actually, you know, using the wiki.  They were baffled – they had given their users the capability that they were asking for; they gave them directions for how to use it; they even had their leadership send out messages to the user telling them to use this tool.

“Why aren’t people using it?”

What they didn’t take into account was the fact that a majority of their users were of the Silent or Baby Boomer generation, they were academic researchers who were rewarded for individual published works, and they were very aware of copyright and intellectual property rights.  The problem wasn’t that the users didn’t know how to use the wiki; the problem was that the users didn’t know how to collaborate.  Everything in their nature told them that individual contribution was of the utmost importance.  Everything they’ve ever learned was about protecting and publishing their intellectual property.  Asking this group of users to go from this to using a wiki was a gigantic step that they weren’t ready to take.

Before rolling out ANY type of social media application, whether it’s blogs, or a wiki, or microblogging, make sure that you do an assessment of your user culture first.  Are they rewarded or punished for collaborating?  What collaborative tools, if any, do they already use?  Is risk-taking rewarded?  How do leaders react when their strategy is questioned?  How is the organization more hierarchical or flat?  These questions need to be asked before rolling out any type of social media application.  The answers to these types of questions will help inform what tools will help you achieve your goals.  You have to figure out what your end goal is and then determine the tools and processes will help you get there.  Not every user base is ready to just jump right in and use a wiki.  They need to first learn how to walk.

That’s why I love a tool like Yammer.  Yammer is a microblogging application similar to Twitter, only it’s focused on businesses.  Think of it like an IM platform where every IM you send is open to everyone else in the network.  Instant Messaging has become so ubiquitous that almost everybody is, at a minimum, familiar with the tool and how it’s used.  Moving this basic concept to an open platform is a much smaller step for most people than collaboratively editing a document on a wiki.  Sending a message using Yammer is a combination of sending IMs and sending questions to email distribution lists.  It’s a much more manageable concept, especially for organizations who aren’t prone to collaboration.  Whether your organization ends up using something like Yammer for the long term isn’t all that important at this point – the most important thing is that people are learning how and when to collaborate with others.

If your goal is to create a truly collaborative environment across your organization, remember that a community like Intellipedia just doesn’t grow overnight.  It takes years to move that many users down that road.  Start small and start with something that’s familiar to your user community.  Teach them to walk down the road of collaboration before you expect them to run.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Associate Director of Public Relations at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

View all posts by sradick
  • Adam R.

    Steve, you make some great points. As I often say, the “tools” are the last (and, usually, the easiest) thing to implement as part of a knowledge management strategy. And as I know you’re a fan of saying that any communications strategy needs to factor in way more than just the tools or even just “social media.”

    A similar post on IT Business Edge mentioned specific tactics a social media team can take to improve adoption and use of a new tool set. Coming up with a way to identify how (or, perhaps, if) social media is right for a particular organization or audience is essential before resources are wasted.

  • Adam R.

    Steve, you make some great points. As I often say, the “tools” are the last (and, usually, the easiest) thing to implement as part of a knowledge management strategy. And as I know you’re a fan of saying that any communications strategy needs to factor in way more than just the tools or even just “social media.”

    A similar post on IT Business Edge mentioned specific tactics a social media team can take to improve adoption and use of a new tool set. Coming up with a way to identify how (or, perhaps, if) social media is right for a particular organization or audience is essential before resources are wasted.

  • JE

    This is exactly the point I’ve been making in my management class. Too often organizatons are implementing SM apps without evaluating the need or strategies. What we end up with is organizations who have websites that are littered with outdated or inactive 2.0 apps. I would say these are generally the kinds of organizations with the communication problems that could be remedied by a properly integrated SM app. These organizations need people, like you, who see the benefit and have the motivation to make it work.

  • JE

    This is exactly the point I’ve been making in my management class. Too often organizatons are implementing SM apps without evaluating the need or strategies. What we end up with is organizations who have websites that are littered with outdated or inactive 2.0 apps. I would say these are generally the kinds of organizations with the communication problems that could be remedied by a properly integrated SM app. These organizations need people, like you, who see the benefit and have the motivation to make it work.

  • DB

    Any statistics on adoption rates and times for internal social networking? Something like the Standish Report on Enterprise software failure rates?

    Enjoy the conference!

  • DB

    Any statistics on adoption rates and times for internal social networking? Something like the Standish Report on Enterprise software failure rates?

    Enjoy the conference!

  • Kelcy

    The only thing I have to question is the statement that they weren’t using the wiki because they were in older generations and had never learned to collaborate. If you look at the stats on contributing to Wikipedia you find that there are a very high percentage of older editors. Most of the younger editors tend to consume. So it’s never a good thing to assume that a particular technology is the best one for the type of collaboration that an organization is hoping for.

    The Intellipedia success story was not about delivering the technology and hoping they would use it. There was a whole lot of coaching, facilitating, evangelizing and probably some begging going on. Everyone keeps forgetting the value of those who act as the coaches or facilitators. These are the folks who are not only working through problems with the technology but helping build collaborative networks both at the user level and the superuser level (the coaching/facilitating network who oversees what is going on). Without them as part of the change strategy, it won’t happen.

  • Kelcy

    The only thing I have to question is the statement that they weren’t using the wiki because they were in older generations and had never learned to collaborate. If you look at the stats on contributing to Wikipedia you find that there are a very high percentage of older editors. Most of the younger editors tend to consume. So it’s never a good thing to assume that a particular technology is the best one for the type of collaboration that an organization is hoping for.

    The Intellipedia success story was not about delivering the technology and hoping they would use it. There was a whole lot of coaching, facilitating, evangelizing and probably some begging going on. Everyone keeps forgetting the value of those who act as the coaches or facilitators. These are the folks who are not only working through problems with the technology but helping build collaborative networks both at the user level and the superuser level (the coaching/facilitating network who oversees what is going on). Without them as part of the change strategy, it won’t happen.

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    @Kelcy – Oh, I completely agree with you about the generational thing. I can’t stand when people say, “I’m old – that stuff is for young kids!” No, it’s not because you’re old – it’s because you don’t want to learn something new. I’m not saying that they didn’t use the wiki because they were old – I was just stating that the fact that they were older wasn’t even considered.

    You’re right on about Intellipedia though – I know there are quite a few people who spent countless hours coaching/facilitating/educating any and everyone. That’s why it’s succeeded, because they didn’t use the “hey – here’s a wiki so everyone come and use it” approach. The reason it’s been successful is due in large part, to the reasons you mention above. And why? Because you’re not focusing on the technology, you’re focusing on what the technology enables.

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    @Kelcy – Oh, I completely agree with you about the generational thing. I can’t stand when people say, “I’m old – that stuff is for young kids!” No, it’s not because you’re old – it’s because you don’t want to learn something new. I’m not saying that they didn’t use the wiki because they were old – I was just stating that the fact that they were older wasn’t even considered.

    You’re right on about Intellipedia though – I know there are quite a few people who spent countless hours coaching/facilitating/educating any and everyone. That’s why it’s succeeded, because they didn’t use the “hey – here’s a wiki so everyone come and use it” approach. The reason it’s been successful is due in large part, to the reasons you mention above. And why? Because you’re not focusing on the technology, you’re focusing on what the technology enables.

  • http://www.steveradick.com/ sradick

    @DB – I don’t know if anything like this exists, or even it would be helpful if it did exist. What would count as a good adoption rate? How do you define success? These are very specific to the organization, and what’s considered success at one would be considered failure at another. For example, isn’t it something like 90% of the edits on Wikipedia are from 5% of the users (don’t quote me on those exact numbers, but it’s close). Would you aim for those percentages on an internal wiki? Why or why not?

    I just don’t know how you would gather this information in a meaningful way that would apply to another organization.

  • http://www.steveradick.com sradick

    @DB – I don’t know if anything like this exists, or even it would be helpful if it did exist. What would count as a good adoption rate? How do you define success? These are very specific to the organization, and what’s considered success at one would be considered failure at another. For example, isn’t it something like 90% of the edits on Wikipedia are from 5% of the users (don’t quote me on those exact numbers, but it’s close). Would you aim for those percentages on an internal wiki? Why or why not?

    I just don’t know how you would gather this information in a meaningful way that would apply to another organization.

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