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When Should Management Push Enterprise 2.0 Adoption?

After the Boston edition of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, IBM’s Rawn Shah wrote a great follow-up post outlining ten observations from the event. A couple points that I found myself agreeing with wholeheartedly were:

Adoption is about transforming human behaviors at work – More folks are starting to recognize that it is not trivial to bring communities and other social environments to life.

‘Let’s get beyond “adoption”’ – This was another sentiment I heard several times, but I attribute it to short-attention span. The general statement was ‘adoption’ was last-year’s thing, and we needed a new ‘thing’.

The underlying philosophy of his post contrasts with that of Paula Thornton, who finds talk of driving adoption to be antithetical to the true nature of Enterprise 2.0. As she described in a post from several months ago:

If you have to “drive adoption” you’ve failed at 2.0 design and implementation. The fundamentals of 2.0 are based on design that is organic — meets the individual where they are and adapts based on feedback — it emerges. The ‘adoption’ comes from rigorous ‘adaptation’ — it continuously morphs based on involvement from the ‘masses’. If done right, you can’t keep them away…because you’ve brought the scratch for their itch.

While I empathize with her design-driven perspective, I personally find there to be more to people’s adoption patterns. Sometimes the superior design does not win. Existing network effects may prove a high barrier to adoption of something new. Embedded history makes the current approach valuable. And other reasons intrude.

In considering adoption, we have the push strategy (by management), and the pull strategy (viral, organically spreads). Both are viable approaches. The key factor is to determine when each needs to be employed.

A Decision Framework for Pushing Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

The graphic below outlines a basis for determining when Enterprise 2.0 adoption must be pushed, and when to let adoption be pulled:

The two key factors in the framework are user-centric and organization-centric.

The X-axis highlights a key reality. If a current approach/technology is working well enough for users, there is an inertia to making a switch of any kind. This principle is nicely captured in the “9x problem”, an explanation by Harvard professor John Gourville that was highlighted by Andrew McAfee. The 9x problem is this:

Users will overvalue existing products/solutions by 3 times, and undervalue the benefits of a new products/solutions by 3 times.

We’re for the most part risk-averse (e.g. technology adoption lifecycle is back-end loaded), and giving up existing ways presents a level of uncertainty. It’s the devil we know versus the devil we don’t. We place a value on the certainty of current methods, even if flawed.

The other part of the 9x equation is that users will place an uncertainty discount against new products/solutions enumerated benefits. Yes, it’s true. We don’t always buy everything we’re told.

The Y-axis speaks to the value of E2.0 to organizations. Certainly there will be use cases that can drive high value for the organization. And just as certainly, there will be those use cases that contribute little to organizational value.

Let’s run through the different approaches mapped on the graph, clockwise from top right.

Requires a Top-Down Push

Situation:

  • Existing ways are ‘good enough’ for employees
  • Executives see great potential for value from adoption

What might this be? Imagine management has seen too many examples of people missing key information and connecting the dots well with others are working on. An enlightened C-level type knows there is an opportunity to pick it up a level.

So some sort of social software – e.g. wiki, collaboration groups, etc. – is selected to make this a reality. But guess what? People keep emailing to one another and saving docs to the LAN.

Why? Because those are the tools they know, there is no learning curve and everyone operates on a shared set of processes and assumptions. Things work “as is”.

This is where management needs to wield its power, and come up with ways to influence employees to alter their entrenched behaviors that work “good enough”.

Mix a Push-Pull Strategy

Situation:

  • Existing ways are actually not “good enough”
  • There is high value in large-scale adoption

This is the home run of initiatives. Solves a “what’s in it for me” need of individuals, while also presenting a great chance to advance the value of the organization.

An innovation platform is a good example here. A place for individuals to express those ideas that fire them up or just plain solve annoyances. Which get lost in the email inbox.

But the opportunity for new ideas that deliver to the bottom line gets management’s attention.

Pull works here, as word spreads about the initiative. But management has an interest in making sure everyone is aware of the initiative, as soon as possible. Push tactics are good supplements.

Let It Grow Organically

Situation:

  • Existing ways are actually not “good enough”
  • There is low value in large-scale adoption

This is a tough one. Clearly the “Enterprise 2.0 way” can solve a problem for employees, but its adoption cannot be seen to lead to high impact on company value. An example here? Hmm…tough one. Enterprise bookmarking might be one area. Solves the, “how do I find things?” conundrum, for me personally and for others. But hard to see just how it will increase firm value. At least on a standalone basis.

Best to let these initiatives grow of their own accord. Let their value emerge, often with stories.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Situation:

  • Existing ways are ‘good enough’ for employees
  • There is low value in large-scale adoption

Suffice to say, this one should be killed before it ever starts.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 010110

From the home office in the future, where I’m currently reviewing all these 2010 predictions with a skeptical eye…

#1: How Companies Increase Innovation – WSJ.com #innovation http://post.ly/GubP

#2: RT @chuckfrey Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on two ways to approach customer-focused innovation: http://ow.ly/QIbl #innovation #strategy

#3: RT @briansolis Ideas Connect Us More than Relationships (video interview) http://bit.ly/8wPTzf

#4: Outstanding, detailed post on Enterprise 2.0 adoption from @ITSinsider & the @20adoption council: http://bit.ly/516Cv4 #e20

#5: Designing For Social Traction by Joshua Porter #design http://post.ly/GoE6

#6: Intellipedia anyone? “Preventing the Terrorist Attack: Massive Failure in Collaboration” http://bit.ly/6AQgPV #e20 #gov20

#7: 2010 Predictions from @jkuramot of Oracle AppsLab: http://bit.ly/7ainDr “Reputation will be all the rage in 2010.” > Agree

#8: RT @matthewemay Six years ago this USAToday essay by Jim Collins changed my entire view of the world. http://is.gd/5HPPu

#9: RT @davewiner: Anil Dash, an upper-caste Twitterer, explains to low-life scum like you and I, what it’s like up there. :-) http://r2.ly/yxbt

#10: My 5 1/2 y.o. son on why he didn’t see a friend’s kindergarten girl from the sister school in his coed class: “All the girls look alike.”

Early Peek at Speaker Submissions for Enterprise 2.0 Boston 2010

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference Boston Call for Papers has been open for a little over a week now. While the final number of speaker proposals will number in the hundreds (450+ for SF 2009), the initial 29 submissions are a rich vein of current thinking about Enterprise 2.0.

As you can see in the tag cloud from the site, the top tags so far for the proposed sessions are:

  1. technology adoption
  2. social media
  3. best practices
  4. knowledge management
  5. getting started
  6. learning
  7. business case

Technology is the top tag. There’s no denying that technology enables Enterprise 2.0. Adoption is running strong so far. Which is a pretty fair characterization of a key issue in the field. Social media comes on strong. There are plenty of conferences devoted to that topic, and here even a conference primarily addressing to internal collaboration has its share.

A Few of the Proposals

Based on page views, here are the five most popular submissions early on:

Three Keys to a Successful SharePoint Deployment (Rich Blank):

There are 3 keys to deploying SharePoint successfully for a large enterprise: Platform, Governance, and Marketing. The first part involves a stable, available, easily accessible, secure, well performing global technology platform. If users can’t access the environment, they won’t trust it or won’t use it. Next is governance – all things related to the overall project as well as the operational and support involved. Finally there is marketing — you need to market the application to end users, provide quick introductions to get them started, best practices, conduct demos that demonstrate business value, create proof of concepts, and show people what’s possible. You shouldn’t have to provide formal training if you market the application right. Each of these 3 are not mutually exclusive — you can’t have marketing without the platform and good governance.

Driving Adoption is anti-2.0 (Paula Thornton):

There’s way too much 1.0-thinking being applied to the 2.0 era. “Driving adoption” is the antithesis of the fundamental premises of 2.0. Starting with 2.0 axioms is critical to guide any 2.0 initiative.

Connecting the Dots to Competitive Advantage (Jon Ingham):

Enterprise 2.0 can increase efficiencies and help meet business objectives but it can also generate competitive advantage.  To create higher levels of value, the use of social technologies needs to be linked to other organizational enablers, eg HR practices, OD interventions, facilities design etc.  This session will show how.

Lessons from Religion about Evangelizing Enterprise 2.0 (Gil Yehuda):

The E2.0 marketplace has evangelists, non-believers, and faith-based ROI models. But the workplace is modeled after the hierarchy of government and the meritocracy of the marketplace. Wherein lies community? As it turns out, religion can teach us about the nature of community in context of preparing the workplace for E2.0.

Moving Beyond Email — Barriers to Knowledge Management (James Rosen):

Email is fast, free, and easy to use, but it has many limitations, especially in an enterprise context. Yet many employees, especially baby-boomers, rely on it nearly exclusively. This talk examines the use cases for which email is the wrong tool, and how to move to better ones.

That’s just a few of them, check ‘em all out. And be ready to vote come January 2010.

Social Software 2.0: Enterprise Process Ubiquity

In the beginning, there were forums, blogs and wikis. And it was good.

In talking with people about the Enterprise 2.0 industry, I like to insert yet another versioning number scheme:

  • Social Software 1.0
  • Social Software 2.0

Social Software 1.0 was the era of actually creating these open, collaborative applications. The approach of these tools was groundbreaking. Apps for managing knowledge that are open, persistent, easy to create and accepting  contributions from many? This was groundbreaking. The tools of Social Software 1.0 are: blogs, wikis, forums, microblogging, activity streams, tags, social connections.

Social Software 1.0 is the “Tools Era”. Put these collaboration and information sharing tools in place, then let the benefits flow. And the benefits do flow.

But are they flowing fast enough? Will they assume core operational infrastructure status within enterprises? This is the crux of Dennis Howlett’s post, Enterprise 2.0 – the non-debate. It’s a fair question. Dennis notes this in his post:

I’ve also argued that I’ve never heard anyone ask for some Enterprise 2.0 though I’ve heard plenty ask for ERP, CRM etc.

Let’s examine that particular quote for a moment, on two fronts. First is the important point that CRM, ERP and other existing enterprise software address core company activities. Sales? No sales, no company. ERP? You can apply a thousand clerical workers for all the little things needed to manage resources, or organize information systematically to great benefit.

Second is the fact that markets demand these apps. Let’s take a ride in the time machine back to 2001. In the article, CRM Adoption Continues at an Aggressive Pace, this market growth was noted:

Spending on customer relationship management (CRM) applications will grow to $10.4 billion by the end of 2001, a 167 percent increase from the $3.9 billion spent in 2000, according to a report by eMarketer.

An industry on fire, with sales in the billions, that was started sometime in the mid-1990s, and Siebel Systems was started in 1993. So in the course of just a few years, CRM was a bona fide hit inside businesses. Enterprise 2.0 is at an earlier stage in its industry life cycle, but isn’t currently on track to be the size of the CRM market in the next few years.

This isn’t to say Enterprise 2.0 isn’t finding its footing with its tools focus. As Dion Hinchcliffe writes, there has been a significant pickup in corporations’ implementation of these applications: “Just as importantly, we are also starting to see customers implementing Enterprise 2.0 in scale. These typically include enterprise social networking, wikis, and social CRM.”

Look closely at the three types of implementations: wikis, social networking, and social CRM.

Social CRM?

That’s not part of the Social Software 1.0 canon. Rather social CRM is an example of the next generation of social software. Social Software 2.0.

Social Software 2.0: Addressing Existing Enterprise Workflows

Here’s how I define Social Software 2.0:

The integration of collaboration, increased findability, social networking and crowdsourcing into core enterprise activities requiring defined workflows, specific user sign-offs, results measurement and role-based access.

I’ll admit that comes across as a tall order. But it’s a worthy goal. Check out Ray Wang’s ten elements that define the next generation of enterprise business software solutions for a deeper look at these requirements.

The challenge is figuring out where social benefits traditional processes and systems. In Susan Scrupski’s great presentation, Enterprise 2.0 Demystified, there’s this slide:

Susan Scrupski - E2.0 Demystified

Credit: Susan Scrupski, SoCo Partners

There’s an aspirational component to the graphic. “Social ERP” includes a number of nuts-n-bolts activities that all of us can understand: order tracking, purchase orders, inventory management.

What we don’t yet understand is how social gets in there and improves these processes. But Nenshad Bardoliwalla starts us down that path in his post, Is Enterprise 2.0 a Savior or a Charlatan? In the graphic below, he fills in the white spaces of process flows with instances of social software applications (+ email/IM):

Nenshad - social software fills in process white spaces

The graphic starts to describe the way social software could integrate into existing activities of organizations. But it still leaves some questions. For instance, see that wiki in the Contact Center row, to the right of Campaign Management? It’s linked below to the Sales and Quotation Analysis process.

In Social Software 1.0, that’s a standalone wiki. I’m a fan of the notion that collaboration needs to occur in-the-flow of work. And having a separate wiki for collaborating on a customer quotation analysis makes it tougher to get usage.

In Social Software 2.0, that’s a collaborative space integrated into a sales force automation application. The customer quotation analysis occurs right where all the “action” occurs in the effort to win new business.

Some Examples of Social Software 2.0

With the luxury of a blank blog page, I’ve got the freedom to suggest a few examples where collaboration and crowdsourcing can be more integrated directly into corporate activities.

B2B Sales: The process of pulling together a proposal in the B2B market generally requires involvement of several parties. This is a process screaming for collaboration, visibility, searchability and persistence. It also has deadlines, and sign-offs by executives. Generally, tapping an existing database of customer information is required too. Embedding a wiki-like experience in CRM, along with the deep database access and project dimensions would be valuable.

Procurement: Enterprises buy mountains of things. Inevitably, some of it doesn’t work out as well as expected. As employees order and request items, allow them to rate and comment on existing contracts. By sharing their experiences, employees provide procurement managers with insight into the quality of suppliers. And employees can describe evolving needs. The workflow aspect of this occurs when the crowdsourced rating falls below some threshold, triggering a required review by the procurement manager.

Product Management: If you’ve ever done product management, you know that you’ll receive plenty of individual ideas on what’s needed. Business units, sales, marketing, engineering, customer service…all have strong opinions on what should be included. Putting all these internal constituencies together on a common platform to identify ideas and get crowdsourced input on the most pressing features would be a tremendously helpful. The process would need to include analytics to filter through them, and workflow to flesh out features and get sign-offs. Example: Spigit innovation management.

There are myriad corporate systems and processes where some elements of social can be leveraged to improve operations.

Sameer Patel, in his post Why Process Barfs on Social, includes this tweet by (now former) SAP EVP Zia Yusuf:

@dahowlett blog and wikis will not drive value alone, I think the trick here is to connect “crowd insight” directly into specific bizprocess

And Helpstream CEO Bob Warfield adds this thought:

What we’re lacking is simply a harmonious marriage of these two.  Social should be integrated into specific business processes, perhaps many if not most specific business processes.

What we’re seeing is the natural maturation of an industry. Tools were needed to establish the Enterprise 2.0 field in the first place. Now it’s time to apply these tools, and social computing concepts, to the mainstay activities that drive businesses.

What Form Will Social Software 2.0 Take?

The maturation of the social software industry beyond tools to deeper integration into existing business processes will have parallel development paths:

  • Established enterprise applications will add social elements to their offerings
  • General purpose collaboration and social network providers will develop features addressing specific types of traditional activities
  • Social software platforms focused on delivering value in a specific core business activity

Like most enterprise software markets, there will be room for all three types of offerings. I think it will be hard to dislodge best-of-breed for the biggest systems: ERP and CRM. Those vendors will add social elements as time allows, and nimble small companies will offer plug-ins that supplement their offerings. Most other systems in the enterprise will be up for grabs if there’s a better way.

I’ll close with another quote from Bob Warfield with regard to how the Social Software 2.0 landscape will play out:

No touchy feely stuff allowed.  You can’t just be about making things “better” or “empowering people.”  Passion is great, but call your shot, and if the ball doesn’t go into that pocket, you’ve scratched and forfeit the game.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 111309

From the home office in my watery swimming pool on the moon…

#1: RT @innovate: The 50 Best Inventions of 2009 http://ow.ly/BVB0 #innovation I like #40 Edible Race Car. #9 Tweeting by thinking?

#2: RT @lindegaard: Tough Questions and Great Answers: General Mills Steps Up to the Open Innovation Plate: http://bit.ly/2nEXSv

#3: Microsoft Bing team gets kudos for #innovation. First tweet search, now Wolfram|Alpha integration http://ow.ly/BrHC

#4: Is Twitter Trying to Lure You Back to Twitter.com? http://ow.ly/AfcU by @robdiana > Maybe a way to drive page views for ads?

#5: Regarding new Twitter retweet function, @stoweboyd has some good points about it http://ow.ly/AIl7 Inability to add text is a miss

#6: October was a slow traffic month for the social networks, in a detailed look by @louisgray http://ow.ly/BCgU Facebook still growing

#7: UK Guardian discusses how to deal when your boss is on Twitter (& links to my #cisco fatty blog post f/ March) http://ow.ly/Bkrf

#8: Check out: Driving Adoption is anti-2.0 http://bit.ly/1ksZAr #e2conf > Leave it to @rotkapchen!

#9: Do we create the world just by looking at it? http://bit.ly/1kdTOs “Human body is a just barely adequate measuring device” #quantumphysics

#10: Commentator on NPR this AM criticizes Californians for social liberal/fiscal conservative & not wanting taxes. Western libertarian strain!

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 071709

From the home office in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.

#1: Reading: Your Idea Sucks, Now Go Do It Anyway http://bit.ly/10Dwi0 Most important thing is to get started, not be right #innovation

#2: Love this quote: “Disruptive innovation has been held up as the Olympics of innovation sport.” http://bit.ly/15ypw6

#3: Google and Apple “are accidental competitors. They just don’t seem to know it yet.” http://bit.ly/4xjXCJ

#4: Reading: Adoption stories http://bit.ly/6hNJr by @panklam on The AppGap #e20 #e2adoption

#5: Social Computing Journal picks up my post – Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does http://bit.ly/eTA43 #e20

#6: P&G’s @JoeSchueller has a nice comment on Google Wave’s potential in the enterprise on Socialtext’s blog: http://bit.ly/xRkGj

#7: I like @fredwilson‘s take on customers. Active transactors vs. active users. http://bit.ly/WrHQ2

#8: RT @markivey Why BusinessWeek Matters (from a former BW writer) http://bit.ly/fe9GC Really GREAT post, why we *need* our news institutions

#9: An entrepreneur who has built companies in both Silicon Valley and NYC describes the issues w/NYC for startups: http://bit.ly/G2Hss

#10: I ♥ wikis

Enterprise 2.0: Culture Is as Culture Does

We get frustrated when we hear “motherhood and apple-pie” lessons about E2.0. I would have screamed had I heard one more speaker or seen one more tweet telling me “it’s not about the tools, you know. It’s about culture.” Yes, we heard. We agree. But we are past this. Let’s now talk about the nature of effective culture change. Let’s get some Org-behaviorists in the community to help us. Not the ones who just tell us “it’s about culture” – the geeky ones with real data, real insight, and specific advice we can take to understand what culture change really means.

Gil Yehuda, Post #e2conf thoughts – installment 1

If only I had a nickel for every time an Enterprise 2.0 stakeholder used the word “culture”. The industry uses the word “culture” constantly in terms of describing when an organization is ready to implement social software. It has become something of a shibboleth, as Gil wryly notes above.

At a high level, it is indeed about culture. As in, if management has an attitude of “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”, they’re culturally not ready for social software. But the vast majority of companies are beyond that attitude, with nearly all embracing the concept of employees as their most important asset.

So in that context, what exactly does “culture” mean? There are degrees of readiness, to be sure. Do employees horde information to maintain a career advantage? Is the workplace style competitive, not collaborative?

The question of what exactly is meant by “Culture” got me to thinking about my own experiences thus far in the Enterprise 2.0 field. I’m by no means an organizational behaviorist, and I somewhat question what they can really overcome in terms of entrenched company cultures.

I put together the graphic below as a framework for thinking about things like culture and adoption. It’s a process flow for pilot deployments of social software, based on some of my experiences. There are actually several different points included in it.

E20 pilot deployment flow

I’ll start with this observation: unlike societies, culture inside companies can be changed in a relatively quick way. Senior executive mandates, the need for a paycheck and the fact that employees’ work, where they put their personal skills on the line, is rated, provide powerful levers to alter practices in the workplace.

I won’t say that it’s right to consistently rely on these measures. But I don’t think relying exclusively on emergent, viral adoption is right either. Employees’ activities can be re-directed for the right reasons.

The use case

In the process flow, notice the opening decision: “Defined use case?” Answering this question is a vital part of determining the impact of culture on the uptake of Enterprise 2.0. If the software has a place in helping specific tactical tasks, the cultural issue is less of a hurdle.

Take wikis for example. If a wiki has to compete against a portal, SharePoint, a shared drive, and/or email, and no one has defined a use case, it will likely fail. For a pilot deployment, a use case might be a specific project involving multiple people that will be executed exclusively through the wiki. It gets people using the wiki, and they know why. Then they can start to understand the benefits.

The goal is for a use case that’s “real”, not some made-up activity for the sake of testing the software.

Company cultures are going to be more open to social software when there are defined use cases. Of course, that’s not always the case. I’ve had experience with experimental deployments. They are harder, and are much more likely to run into “cultural issues”.

Who inside the companies cares about this deployment?

The answer to this question varies by the use case scenario. Where there is a well-defined use case, someone inside the company has signed off on using the software. Generally a manager at a more senior level. This means the deployment gets attention, and benefits from a greater range of resources. Its visibility is higher. The boss is tracking this.

In the experimental deployment, it takes a cadre of evangelists to push things forward. These are the early adopters, who see the opportunities of the social software. They are enthusiastic, and are the ambassadors for the pilot inside the company. What they lack in management attention they make up for in words and actions.

How does word spread?

When a deployment has senior management attention, the internal communications infrastructure becomes available. This is incredibly valuable. Announcements come through via email, and on the intranet. Posters go up, videos get made. Managers hold meetings. Contests are set up. It’s a thing of beauty when the organizational infrastructure roars to life.

In the experimental deployments, without specific in-the-flow use cases, awareness is a bit tougher to come by. Often, there is a pilot group of employees that are designated to participate. The project lead and her fellow evangelists hold meetings, and send around their own emails announcing it. They may leverage tricks from the consumer web, such as exclusive invitations to drive up demand for participation. There is precedent for viral adoption strategies to work. Here’s a case noted by Rachel Happe:

I heard two interesting use cases – one was that a company I spoke with introduced Yammer under the radar and had seen significant adoption (thousands of people)

Is culture a barrier?

So word is spreading, employees are trying out the new software. Are they sticking with it? Are they using it to help them with their jobs?

If they are, move on the evaluation tasks.

But culture as an impediment is too high level a reason. I wonder how much of “culture” is really a case of people continuing to use the same software and processes they always have. Why would they change? I like the way Microsoft’s John Westworth put it in a LinkedIn discussion:

I have to ask where the motivation is. People use things like Facebook because there’s an intrinsic motivation to do so. People go to work because there’s an extrinsic motivation. Altruism doesn’t pay the mortgage.

John puts his finger on it. Employees need a compelling reason to switch from their current habits.

Tactics for overcoming culture

When culture is proving to be an impediment, there are various tactics one can use to try to overcome it. The tactics vary for experimental deployments versus those with defined use cases. Their effectiveness is also quite different.

If the deployment has a defined use case and senior management sponsorship, the tactics available are quite wide and diverse. I’ve included a few of them in the process flow:

Remove alternatives: This is a heavy-handed, quite effective way to approach the culture issue. Banish the old applications and processes that employees have been using. Force them to work with the social software. Sameer Patel wrote about just such a case. A chip company forced its workers to use the company wiki by setting a policy of deleting all emails after 45 days. Want to keep that information? Put it on the wiki.

Storytelling: Senior executives outline their vision for what the workplace of tomorrow will be. They talk of efficiencies, growth, and new opportunities for career paths. In a recent Wharton knowledge article, BP’s Fiona MacLeod said:

“Develop your killer slide to make your business case whenever you give a presentation. It’s not only why you’re changing, but what it’s going to look like when you’re done. People need to have a sense of what the future looks like, so be very clear on that.”

Incentives: Drive usage of the social software by directing employee motivations with recognition and rewards. Maintain a leaderboard of top contributors. Celebrate breakthroughs that were expected to occur via the social software. Braden Kelley’s review of The Carrot Principle includes explains the value of incentives in effecting change. Or companies could take it even further, following Andrew McAfee’s suggestion that social software participation be baked into performance reviews.

Executive reminders: Timely, forceful reminders from managers are also effective. They are the mechanisms by which culture does indeed change. If employee usage is not at the desired level, executives make sure it’s known what is expected. Anyone who has worked in large companies knows about these missives. Sometimes you’ve got to crack some skulls.

For the experimental deployments, employee inertia is harder to overcome. The internal levers to drive changes in behavior are not available. I’ve been in this situation with a previous job. Here are some tactics for overcoming culture in experimental deployments:

Model behavior: Project leaders and evangelists model the behavior they want to see. Need to send information to others? Write it in the wiki, and email the wiki page link. People want to reach you via IM? Turn your IM off and communicate via Yammer. In some ways, this is the bottom-up version of “Remove alternatives” described above. But it’s a persuasion approach, because that’s all that’s available.

New use cases: The experimental deployments don’t start with a crisp, in-the-flow “real” business case. That doesn’t mean there aren’t use cases. It just may take some hustle to figure out some, and they are likely tangential to the needs of employees. For one experimental deployment at a previous company, I came up with 10 separate ways to use the platform. At the launch of the deployment, a software vendor and the internal advocates will come up with these use cases. Reminding people of these and creating new ones are tactics for overcoming culture.

Senior sponsor: After the launch, the pilot team attracts the interest of a senior manager. Someone who did not push actively for adoption initially. This person sees something “there”, and decides to promote it. This does not open up the panoply of all organizational levers. But it does provide a boost in awareness and increase motivations for adoption.

Get the results

After the employees have (or have not) used the social software, it’s time to look at the results. Again, there is a fork in the road for this activity.

The great thing about a defined use case is that you have a framework for evaluating the results. There was a specific job the software was hired to do. How’d it perform? Even better, the defined use case likely replaced some other process and (maybe) applications. So there will be results from the regular process against which to benchmark the deployment.

For the experimental deployments, collecting the wins is how results are measured. These are the stories of how the software helped someone. The information someone found that helped get a task completed. The turnaround time that was much faster than expected. The connections made with someone previously unknown in the organization. These anecdotes are the building blocks of an ROI.

What do employees think?

If the results are positive – either compared against the use case or via anecdotes – then getting employee perceptions of the software is next. If the results are negative, this is a step that’s relay not needed.

Employees are asked their opinions of:

  • The user experience
  • What they liked about the software
  • The software’s general usefulness
  • Their interest in using the software in the future
  • The vendor
  • What could be improved?

This feedback is valuable from a cultural perspective. What’s the main opinion of employees?

From all of this, the decision about whether to go with the software is made.

Culture is self-selecting

At a high level, culture is a self-selecting determinant of whether a company even pilots social software. If a company has a heavy command-and-control, execution-oriented culture, they aren’t trialing social software. In that sense, it is all about culture.

But if a company feels it’s ready to give social software a try, the culture-as-impediment argument loses steam. More likely, failure is a case of no defined use cases for the software. Stop laying the blame on culture.

Or as Yoda said in Star Wars: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Tactics for overcoming culture

When culture is proving to be an impediment, there are various tactics one can use to try to overcome it. The tactics vary for experimental deployments versus those with defined use cases. Their effectiveness is also quite different.

If the deployment has a defined use case and senior management sponsorship, the tactics available are quite wide and diverse. I’ve included a few of them in the process flow:

Remove alternatives: This is a heavy-handed, quite effective way to approach the culture issue. Banish the old applications and processes that employees have been using. Force them to work with the social software. Sameer Patel wrote about just such a case. A chip company forced its workers to use the company wiki by setting a policy of deleting all emails after 45 days. Want to keep that information? Put it on the wiki.

Storytelling: Senior executives outline their vision for what the workplace of tomorrow will be. They talk of efficiencies, growth, and new opportunities for career paths. In a recent Harvard Business Publishing blog, […]

Incentives: Drive usage of the social software by directing employee motivations with recognition and rewards. Maintain a leaderboard of top contributors. Celebrate breakthroughs that were expected to occur via the social software. Braden Kelly talked with […]. Or companies could take it even further, following Andrew McAfee’s suggestion that social software participation be baked into performance reviews.

Executive reminders: Timely, forceful reminders from managers are also effective. They are the mechanisms by which culture does indeed change. If employee usage is not at the desired level, executives make sure it’s known what is expected. Anyone who has worked in large companies knows about these missives. Sometimes you’ve got to crack some skulls.

For the experimental deployments, employee inertia is harder to overcome. The internal levers to drive changes in behavior are not available. I’ve been in this situation with a previous job. Here are some tactics for overcoming culture in experimental deployments:

Model behavior: Project leaders and evangelists model the behavior they want to see. Need to send information to others? Write it in the wiki, and email the wiki page link. People want to reach you via IM? Turn your IM off and communicate via Yammer. In some ways, this is the bottom-up version of “Remove alternatives” described above. But it’s a persuasion approach, because that’s all that’s available.

New use cases: The experimental deployments don’t start with a crisp, in-the-flow “real” business case. That doesn’t mean there aren’t use cases. It just may take some hustle to figure out some, and they are likely tangential to the needs of employees. For one experimental deployment at a previous company, I came up with 10 separate ways to use the platform. At the launch of the deployment, a software vendor and the internal advocates will come up with these use cases. Reminding people of these and creating new ones are tactics for overcoming culture.

Senior sponsor: After the launch, the pilot team attracts the interest of a senior manager. Someone who did not push actively for adoption initially. This person sees something “there”, and decides to promote it. This does not open up the panoply of all organizational levers. But it does provide a boost in awareness and increase motivations for adoption.

Get the results

After the employees have (or have not) used the social software, it’s time to look at the results. Again, there is a fork in the road for this activity.

The great thing about a defined use case is that you have a framework for evaluating the results. There was a specific job the software was hired to do. How’d it perform? Even better, the defined use case likely replaced some other process and (maybe) applications. So there will be results from the regular process against which to benchmark the deployment.

For the experimental deployments, collecting the wins is how results are measured. These are the stories of how the software helped someone. The information someone found that helped get a task completed. The turnaround time that was much faster than expected. The connections made with someone previously unknown in the organization. These anecdotes are the building blocks of an ROI.

What do employees think?

If the results are positive – either compared against the use case or via anecdotes – then getting employee perceptions of the software is next. If the results are negative, this is a step that’s relay not needed.

Employees are asked their opinions of:

· The user experience

· What they liked about the software

· The software’s general usefulness

· Their interest in using the software in the future

· The vendor

· What could be improved?

This feedback is valuable from a cultural perspective. What’s the main opinion of employees?

From all of this, the decision about whether to go with the software is made.

Culture is self-selecting

At a high level, culture is a self-selecting determinant of whether a company even pilots social software. If a company has a heavy command-and-control, execution-oriented culture, they aren’t trialing social software. In that sense, it is all about culture.

But if a company feels it’s ready to give social software a try, the culture-as-impediment argument loses steam. More likely, failure is a case of no defined use cases for the software. Stop laying the blame on culture.

Or as Yoda said in Star Wars: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 070309

From the home office in Wasilla, Alaska…

#1: This tweet about some guy that didn’t get picked for some winery’s social media job is getting a lot of Digg interest: http://bit.ly/1vhvWM

#2: “#1 factor preventing full adoption of social media is the lack of executive trust in employees” http://bit.ly/2FbMQY by @CarolineDangson

#3: New Spigit blog post: Is Enterprise 2.0 Just for Knowledge Workers? http://bit.ly/3pwQVF #e20

#4: Reading: Are You Encouraging Innovation? http://bit.ly/Hh5U5 by EMC’s @LenDevanna #innovation

#5: “Generating great ideas to the wrong challenge is worse than mediocre ideas for the right challenge”. Arthur VanGundy #innovation

#6: Understand the job your product was hired to do, says Clay Christensen. Good example by OfficeMax: http://bit.ly/ff4c6 #innovation

#7: Nice post about harnessing community brainpower to solve problems, and Spigit http://bit.ly/12etu5 by Sun Micro’s @drapeau

#8: Bing is starting to serve up the latest tweets for people when you search their name + “twitter”. Nicely done. http://bit.ly/Qmym3

#9: RT @gialyons Famous speeches delivered via Twitter: http://bit.ly/10rY2c

#10: Funny discussion by @peterkim and @markstevens20 about the need to give your kids unique names in a social media world http://bit.ly/Ua3Lz

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 062609

From the home office in Buenos Aires…

#1: Early criticism of veracity of MJ story was that it came from TMZ. Does TMZ misreport or lie? Or do people just not like what they cover?

#2: Reading – How to approach open innovation: With lessons from P&G http://bit.ly/EjcSp by @lindegaard #innovation

#3: “As strongly as you & a few like-minded people feel the impacts of info overload, a lot more people just don’t care.” http://bit.ly/9OnX4

#4: CLEAR, the service that used biometrics to fast-track you thru airport security, is no more http://bit.ly/cAxSY Another biometrics firm dies

#5: Reading these Dachis posts today http://bit.ly/13RFri I get the sense the firm is consultancy, not technology @peterkim @armano @jevon

#6: RT @VMaryAbraham McAfee/Lockheed: Top-down mandate needs to be done carefully. Otherwise it can hamper e20 rollout. #e2conf {How?}

#7: Reading: The secret sauce to successful Enterprise 2.0 adoption http://bit.ly/7oLP5 by @oscarberg

#8: Self-spam? Colleague CC’d himself on an Outlook email. Outlook put his email into its spam folder.

#9: Blind? :-p RT @hottweeters @bhc3 Are your legs tired? Cuz you’ve been running through someone’s mind at http://www.hottweeters.com/bhc3

#10: My 5 y.o. son asks: Is there infinite of anything. My answer? No, everything is finite. Right?

Enterprise 2.0 and the Trough of Disillusionment

There is currently a business and marketing fashion wave for collaboration as the miracle cure for all that ails business which isn’t helpful in differentiating good from bad ideas.

Oliver Marks, ZDNet, When Internal Collaboration Is Bad for Your Company…

It feels like I’m seeing more posts describing the challenges that Enterprise 2.0 faces. I’m not alone, Dion Hinchcliffe noted a similar trend yesterday as well on ZDNet. Of course, these concerns have always been there, as they are for any technology innovations (just look Twitter coverage in 2007). But I’ve been impressed with the frequency of critiques recently.

All of which is right on schedule.

Are you familiar with something called the “hype cycle”? It’s a fascinating framework used by the analyst firm Gartner. It describes five phases that technologies go through on their to becoming mainstream and beneficial to companies:

1. “Technology Trigger”
The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. “Peak of Inflated Expectations”
In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. “Trough of Disillusionment”
Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

4. “Slope of Enlightenment”
Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. “Plateau of Productivity”
A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

The hype cycle is a useful framework, providing a reasonable explanation of the business phases of technology. Let’s look at how Gartner specifically characterized Enterprise 2.0 in its recent hype cycle report.

Enterprise 2.0: Staring into the Abyss

In August 2008, Gartner released Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2008. The report analyzed the different stages of 27 different emerging technologies. Included in the report were technologies related to Enterprise 2.0:

gartner-2008-hype-cycle

See Social Computing Platforms in the chart above, of which Gartner notes the following: “Following the phenomenal success of consumer-oriented social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, companies are examining the role that these sites, or their enterprise-grade equivalents, will play in future collaboration environments.”

Future collaboration environments. What did Oliver Marks say? That Enterprise 2.0 has experienced a “fashion wave for collaboration as the miracle cure for all that ails business”.

So in his statement, Marks both describes unrealistic expectations of Enterprise 2.0, and his view that the hype about its potential needs to be taken down several notches. Last August, Gartner had put social computing platforms right at the cusp of falling into the Trough of Disillusionment. Eight months later, we’re seeing the first signs that Enterprise 2.0 may be falling into that trough.

To which I say…good. Let’s get on with it.

Collaboration is a Means, Not an End

One thing I find odd is that collaboration is touted as a benefit of social software. Collaboration is an activity. There is no ROI in collaboration itself. What enhanced collaboration produces is the benefit.

And that’s where it’s been tough in the enterprise 2.0 world. A lot of vendors offer tools with wide open use cases. They can be used for any purpose inside an organization, with an eye toward better collaboration. It makes sense, and yet it is challenging  to identify specific ROI-grounded use cases.

Here’s what I mean. Say you offer an application that let’s people easily share what they’re working on. They can send public messages to one another. They have spaces where you can upload, share and work together on docs. Free form spaces where employees share their thoughts. RSS feeds of activities.

Now I’m a believer in these tools, and I personally benefit from their utility every single day. But the challenge is specify what those tools will deliver to organizations’ bottom lines. Is it…

  • An increase in paying customers?
  • A reduction in customer churn?
  • The ability to stop paying for another more costly application?
  • Increased average unit sales for new products?
  • Hiring of new employees who have higher average ratings and lower rates of quitting?
  • A reduction in supply chain costs?

I could go on, but you see the point. What pain point inside companies does an enterprise app, social or otherwise, address? An answer of “any pain point” is unfortunately too broad, and makes it tough for executives to visualize exactly how the software helps. As Dion Hinchcliffe writes in Determining the ROI of Enterprise 2.0:

However, a key aspect of the ROI issue is that the strategic capabilities represented by Enterprise 2.0 are primarily emergent in nature, instead of carefully aimed at and unleashed at specific problems.

This isn’t to say that companies aren’t buying social software. Apparently, roughly a third of companies have some form of Enterprise 2.0 tools. But the actual usage and impact doesn’t match that adoption statistic.

So what happens to an industry when it enters the Trough of Disillusionment?

Less Attention, Fewer Competitors, Focused Solutions

Keep in mind what the overall Hype Cycle measures – level of attention on an industry. It doesn’t say the fundamental value of the technology changed.

It’s more like a hangover after the inflated expectations.

But of course, the hangover and reduced attention does have some effects. More skeptical articles appear. VCs rationalize the field. Enterprises no longer feel rushed to adopt the technology.

Sounds pretty rough, eh?

So what comes out of the Trough is a gritty determination to see it through. Companies persist in developing their products and marketing to customers. Indeed, a focus on what works becomes more important than ever.

For the Enterprise 2.0 industry, the Trough means this: focus on solving specific problems with social software. If you can talk pain points of enterprises, you will win. They’re not talking about failures to collaborate enough. Here are some examples of what I mean.

My own company Spigit is seeing some strong enterprise sales. Strongest I’ve seen in my 14 months of being the sector. I attribute much of that success to its singular focus on using social software to better collect, assess and select employees’ ideas. Product functionality goes toward helping companies build their innovation pipeline.

Helpstream is another Enterprise 2.0 company with a specific focus. It combines a well-covered field – customer service – with a unique integration of customer communities. Helpstream isn’t about better search, or replacing companies’ intranets. The company’s philosophy is nicely summed up in a blog post:

You have to deliver specific product functionality to specific business functions in order to extract all the value from Social Media in business. Most Social Software for Business makes claims of value for specific business functions, but nowhere can you find actual software modules targeted at those functions.

Even Jive Software, which recently released its wide-ranging Social Business Software 3.0, has started talking about specific solutions: Employee Engagement, Marketing & Sales, Innovation, Customer Support.

Fewer, leaner companies with products targeting specific problems. That’s what the Trough looks like.

Remember, Enlightenment Is Around the Corner

Photo credit: Jake Keup

Photo credit: Jake Keup

Keep in mind that the Hype Cycle is just that…a cycle. The rush of jubilation followed by the disappointment that a technology cannot, in fact, change all that needs improvement. But that doesn’t mean the technology doesn’t have value. It just means the hard work of addressing more specific tangible problems becomes the focus.

What gives me comfort is that the Hype Cycle provides a fairly well-known model for how technology ultimately becomes core to the way businesses do work. So let the analysis show that Enterprise 2.0 cannot, in fact, solve every problem that companies have.

That’s just a sign that things are progressing nicely.

How Much Scale Is Needed in Enterprise 2.0 Employee Adoption?

A couple recent items caught my eye with regard to the issue of employee adoption of social software.

In Reversing the Enterprise 2.0 Pricing Model, Julien le Nestour argues that pricing per user for social software should increase as more employees use it, because the network effects of higher participation make the software more valuable. It’s a great theoretical piece, tying pricing to value received. But in the harsh budgeting realities of the enterprise and in the comparison against other software pricing models, it’s not likely we’ll see anything like this.

Atlassian, maker of the Confluence wiki and developers tools, recently passed the cumulative revenue mark of $100 million. In the post announcing this milestone, Atlassian blogger notes that the company has no sales force. People just download the app. I know some of the Atlassian guys, and this kind of viral, bottom-up adoption is core to their philosophy. They don’t sell to upper management, adoption occurs at the departmental level. That being said, I am aware from my work at Connectbeam of some large-scale rollouts of the Confluence wiki by Fortune 500 companies.

What connects these two items? The first post describes the nature of Enterprise 2.0 apps and how their value increases as more employees use them. The second post points to the value that departments have received from Atlassian’s Confluence wiki, even without broad adoption. In other words, network effects are not a critical aspect of the Confluence value proposition.

From these posts, other readings and direct customer experience, the following occurred to me:

You don’t need a high level of adoption to get value from some Enterprise 2.0 apps. Others require broad participation.

In some ways, that may seem obvious. Yet I don’t tend to hear this distinction being made. Usually, all social software is lumped together under ‘Enterprise 2.0′ and there is a collective view that wide-scale adoption by employees is a necessity. It’s actually more nuanced than that.

Varying Adoption Levels Required

The graphic below depicts the relative levels of participation required for different apps to “deliver value”:

enterprise-20-employee-adoption-to-derive-value

Here’s a quick summary of the graph:

  • Employee participation is defined as contributions and engagement (views, edits, comments, etc.)
  • Moving from left to right, the percentage of employees involved gets higher

This graph has a couple of implications for Enterprise 2.0 vendors. Before that, here’s an explanation for why I put the different applications where I did.

Consider the Purposes of the E2.0 Applications

Before discussing these applications, I want to note this. All social software applications get better with higher adoption. There is no disputing that. The distinction I want to make is that some apps require increased participation before they deliver value.

Blogs: The nature of a blog is a single person’s thoughts, observations and ideas. Inside companies, these applications can be tools for the ongoing recording of things that fall outside the deadlines and process-oriented activities that make up the day. Making them public is a great way to share these contributions with other employees and establish your record of what’s happening. If only a few key people blogged inside a company, there will be value in that.

Wikis: Wikis actually have two purposes: (1) knowledge repositories, and (2) projects and collaboration. It’s that second purpose that makes wikis particularly valuable even with small participation. I’ll use Confluence as an example. We use it as our low home for putting up documents accessible to anyone else, and for free-form contributions on all manner of things. It is very much a utilitarian use case for us. If we weren’t using Confluence for this purpose, we’d share documents via email. In larger organizations, Confluence may replace usage of SharePoint or the company portal.

Using wikis as knowledge repositories, such as [Company Name]-ipedia type of implementations, requires a larger percentage involvement. Sparsely populated company versions of Wikipedia are of little use. As are wikis that are not updated regularly with new information. I’d put wikis-as-knowledge-repositories up there around prediction markets in terms of required participation.

Forums: The old man of Enterprise 2.0…forums. These are the place where topics can be posted, and a scrum of conversation occurs. To really get value out of these, it helps to have larger participation. Blogs are solo voices with interesting content. Wikis can have a very specific collaboration purpose among a few employees. Conversations around a topic require a wider variety of voices. Otherwise they fail to give people a sense of what others are thinking. Nothing sadder than forum post with no comments.

Social bookmarking: Bookmarking sites you find useful has value by itself. So in that sense, “social” bookmarking can work for very few employees. But it’s not really “social”, it’s simply a replacement for your browser bookmarks. You get value by finding those gems your colleagues deem interesting. The odds that any single bookmark will be useful to you are small, so you need a healthy amount of bookmarks to increase the chances of finding links that will help you. And to get a healthy amount of bookmarks, you need broader participation.

Microblogging: In some ways, microblogging could be compared to forums. Both are public places to serve up topics. But they’re fundamentally different. And that’s why broader participation is more important here. Forums have a distinct purpose – the discussion of a particular topic. You need participation by those who know something around the topic.  Microblogging is a more free-form, personal activity. You don’t need a distinct purpose to post something. You post all the things that occur to you during the day. Some of which will have value, although it can be hard to predict for whom. It also helps to know that people are seeing these posts, because there is a conversational aspect to microblogging. The free-form, who-knows-what-might-be-interesting, conversational aspect of microblogging require larger participation than forums do.

Prediction markets: Prediction markets thrive on having a variety of ideas, events and initiatives. They also require the different perspectives of employees, leveraging different perspectives, knowledge and experiences. This is true wisdom of crowds work. Limited participation limits the value of prediction markets. These benefit from broad employee involvement.

Social networks: I put these at the top of the chart in terms of employee involvement. Perhaps one of the best use cases for social networks is finding colleagues with the knowledge or interest in projects you’re working on. This requires large-scale participation. If a social network only is used at the departmental level, it doesn’t provide value. In terms of expertise location, you’re probably already aware of what others in your deparmtent know. It’s breaking out of that traditional sphere of contacts where social networks shine. I know I’ve heard many instances of large corporations suffering from “reinventing the wheel” syndrome because employees lack visibility about what others know. Broad participation addresses this issue.

Implications

Three implications of this view about required involvement come to mind.

Greater required participation correlates to greater impact on a company’s value: Generally, you could change the metric in the chart above from percentage of employee involvement to impact on company value. The increased participation means the associated application will also have a larger effect on the company’s strategies and operations. It’s not an tight correlation, but a general trendline. Exceptions will abound.

Top-down vs. bottom-up: General observation is that broader participation requires a greater amount of senior management support. That’s the way things work inside companies. Employees will listen when the executives of the company push something. For applications that need lower participation, the name of the game is to provide a compelling application with a low entry cost. Departmental budgets and the green-light from employees at lower levels of the organization are all that are needed.

Time for application to gain traction: With applications that require low levels of participation, there is plenty of time for the application to grow virally. It serves its purpose for a select few, and over time others will see the value and elect to participate. These apps can be resident inside companies for long periods of time. Those that require higher participation to see value will need to show results sooner. They are on senior management’s radar, generally cost more and have a greater number of employees who will be watching to see the results.

So it matters what type of application we’re talking about when it comes to Enterprise 2.0. It matters for companies and vendors. It impacts the skills required for everyone’s success.

A nice post that complements this one is Adina Levin’s Scale effects in enterprise social software.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=%22How+Much+Scale+Is+Needed+in+Enterprise+2.0+Employee+Adoption%22

The Perfect FriendFeed: Themed Channels for New Users

friendfeed-logo

On his blog, FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit asks others to chime in with their own thoughts about improving the experience on FriendFeed:

If you’d like to contribute (and I hope you do), I’d love to read more of your visions of “the perfect FriendFeed”. Describe what would make FriendFeed perfect for YOU, and post it on your blog.

I’ve seen some good posts out there on the subject, many of them with suggestions for UI changes. I’m more inclined to think along the lines of Louis Gray on this one. He suggested a lite version of FriendFeed.

I’d like to suggest another approach.

FriendFeed provides pre-built lifestreams centered around different themes.

The idea is to make it easy for new users to get started.

What Is FriendFeed’s Bridge to Existing Consumer Behavior?

It’s useful to consider FriendFeed in light of the emerging success of Twitter. Twitter rides the earlier adoption cycles of email and IM although clearly it takes some mental adjustment to grasp the how and why of twittering: public declarations of activities, information finds and conversations. Run a Google search on “I don’t get Twitter” to see the past and current struggles people have.

But there is a link to prior behaviors. And with the @replies and DM, Twitter keeps that link.

FriendFeed’s models of consumer familiarity are less clear. Seeing a stream of links, pictures, tweets, etc. from someone…what’s the analog? Online forums come to mind. When I was active in marathoning, I spent time on LetsRun.com.  People would post new topics, and we’d comment on them. Each time someone commented, the topic would bounce back to the top of the page.

Of course, FriendFeed dramatically changes the forum experience: richer set of content, sourced from dozens of external sites, Likes-based ratings and you personalize the set of topics you see.

So what were the earlier adoption factors for online forums?

FriendFeed = Community + Information Tracking

FriendFeed has two primary benefits for users:

  1. Community
  2. Information tracking

Of the two, which one is more accessible to a new user?

Community requires people who are familiar with you, and with whom you are familiar. That’s tough in any social network to get right off the bat. And FriendFeed isn’t a social network the way Facebook is. You don’t set up shop with a profile page where you describe yourself and interact with friends. You pipe in content you’re creating elsewhere, and find others’ content to follow.

Facebook lets you anchor yourself, and then reach out to others. FriendFeed is a constantly moving stream.

Community does come to users of FriendFeed. But it takes time. It will be hard for non-tech geeks to get into FriendFeed right now. Sure the bacon posts and photo memes are great. But most people just joining FriendFeed won’t be part of that. In fact, the adulation of bacon posts will probably scare them.

Something that Lists have shown me is that my attention gets focused on people who share interests in a particular topic. I guess that’s not surprising. And yet it points to the value of having something in place on FriendFeed that new users can immediately get value from.

If you join FriendFeed now, you’re not going to find anyone initially that shares your interests. You can do searches, maybe follow some of the bigger names on the service. But for the majority of the population, that’s not going to get them invested in the service. They’ll sign up, look around, then become inactive.

Community on FriendFeed comes over time as you find people that share your interests. This is why I suggest that FriendFeed provide  pre-built theme channels that let new users quickly find content they care about.

Themed Channels

Themed channels would let new users find areas of interest quickly. By “themed channel”, I’m thinking of feeds that relate specific topics for users of the various 59 (and counting) services that FriendFeed supports: bloggers, YouTube users, twitterers, Flickr users, etc. Included in that would RSS feeds of keywords related to the theme.

How might it work?

  1. New user joins FriendFeed
  2. They are provided with the option of adding one ore more themed channels
  3. They select a topic that is of interest
  4. By selecting a themed channel, they are immediately joined to a dedicated Room for a topic. The Room is one that is probably managed by a FriendFeed employee.
  5. They also can be subscribed to highly rated users whose lifestreams are among the top in terms of percentage of content related to a subject.

As an example, I created a Room for NASCAR. Into the Room, I’ve added three Twitter accounts, two YouTube accounts, four blogs, one Tumblr account, Del.icio.us tags for NASCAR and NASCAR tags for Upcoming events. Imagine a racin’ fan decides to try out FriendFeed. What do you think he’s going to do? Wouldn’t it be great if he had a pre-set channel of content relevant to him?

FriendFeed Isn’t Immune from the 90-9-1 Rule

Jakob Nielsen famously wrote about the 90-9-1 rule:

In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

The challenge for FriendFeed is that a lot of the population doesn’t blog or tweet. Or if they do, they don’t bring a lot of followers with them. Facebook or MySpace may be the biggest online social network they have. Asking these folks to create their own experience and find content they like is probably asking a lot of them.

But putting them in touch with user-generated content and other users who are relevant to their interests is a great way to kick off someone’s FriendFeed experience.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=who%3Aeveryone++The+Perfect+FriendFeed+Themed+Channels

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