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Six ways to encourage adoption of social intranet

Synopsis: The industry has gone through the boom and bust hype cycle around social intranets. Efforts in this domain have finally matured and this article explains six proven strategies for driving social intranet adoption.

The big day has finally arrived.

In the run-up to this, you’ve shed tears, ripped the last remnants of hair from your head and become way too intimately acquainted with enough software bugs to last a lifetime. It is all going to be worth it though; as soon as you flip that figurative “on” switch, your organization is instantly going to transform into a modern digital hub, teeming with conversation, collaboration and efficiency.

So, your new social intranet is turned on and…


A few hours go by and, other than a digital tapping of the microphone from a curious early adopter (“is this thing on?”), things are looking pretty much the same as they did yesterday.

Still struggling with social intranet adoption and value

Sound familiar? It’s no surprise if so. And you’re not alone. Our member survey for the new DWG research report Success with Social Intranets found that:

  • 46% of respondents had only pockets of adoption for their social intranets across the organization.
  • Only 4% had achieved their desired levels of adoption.
  • 48% stated that organizational culture/change management was one of the three biggest challenges to their efforts to deploy a social intranet.
  • This was closely followed by lack of clear purpose or strategy (44%) and obtaining senior management support (37%).

This mirrors what we’ve all long suspected, even if we’ve only admitted it to ourselves in hushed tones in the small hours of the morning: a social intranet alone does not a social organization make.

Unless you work within a culture that already fosters traits such as open collaboration, innovation and transparent participative leadership, it’s unlikely that a new piece of technology is going to suddenly peel back the covers to reveal that such a culture was actually there all along.

Step away from the technology

So, where does this leave things? How can you start the long journey towards achieving the levels of adoption so eagerly anticipated back when you and your team embarked on your social intranet project?

Well, there is no magic formula, but our research has revealed that there are a number of interventions you can make to help encourage usage of your platform.

Six ways to encourage adoption of social intranet

1. Define “adoption”

The term “adoption” can be a red herring. There is a temptation to define it through number of page clicks or status updates, with the holy grail of “100% adoption” used as the ultimate goal. Avoid this temptation.

Rather, define what you mean by adoption, and root that definition within the task or purpose of each piece of functionality deployed within the social intranet. In other words, define adoption by what it is you’re trying to achieve. Also helpful here is developing an understanding of different types of user, as not everyone will be a creator of original content; Forrester’s Social Technographics Ladder provides a good starting point.

2. Understand the difference between voluntary and mandatory

All the organizations that contributed a case study to our research report had something in common: they had distinguished between voluntary use of social tools (e.g. ad hoc sharing of what you’re working on via a status update) and mandatory use of social tools (e.g. using a community to support the workflow of a project).

Doing this has helped them in numerous ways, such as identifying appropriate interventions to encourage usage, relevant metrics and managing expectations around adoption.

3. Encourage leadership

The need to get senior leaders involved cannot be escaped and, amongst those that have implemented effective social intranets, leadership has been found to play a key role.

For some, leadership support will need little prompting as the key players will have already been ‘on side’ from the start. For others, they will need to work to bring senior management with them.

Tactics such as coaching, pilots and aligning benefits with organizational priorities can all help bring key decision-makers actively on board.

4. Work with advocates and early adopters

A whopping 75% of respondents to our social intranets member survey identified early adopters as one of the top three contributors to successes they’d experienced with their social intranet programmes, outstripping any other success factor by a minimum of 40%.

The crux of it is to focus your efforts on working with social media enthusiasts and advocates as early as possible. Not only can they help you develop the platform through invaluable feedback and user testing, they can also help share relevant success stories and user cases amongst their own networks.

5. Develop appropriate learning and communication programmes

Don’t expect your users to work things out for themselves. Develop a clear communications campaign that tells people the “why”, “how” and “what” of the social intranet, involving key leaders if possible.

In other words, market the brave new world. And it’s not enough to just market, you also need to do some hand-holding. Be sure to spend time developing a training programme to help users adopt the new tools and ways of working, taking into consideration how training needs are likely to evolve as understanding and usage matures.

6. Monitor and evolve your tactics

One of the big lessons that came out of our research was the importance of iteration. In order for a social intranet to be sustainably effective, you need to approach it not as a one-off project but as an ongoing programme.

Monitor usage, continue to identify and prioritize emergent requirements, plan how the social intranet fits within your organization’s wider digital workplace and – above all – work with your users every step of the way.

Related research

Successful social intranets

Creating business value through strategic alignment and adoption planning

Successful Social Intranets - Executive SummaryLack of strategy, spotty adoption, and the absence of a strong business case have been identified as key barriers to successfully deploying social intranets.

This report seeks to provide some clear guidance on both building a social intranet business case and addressing the challenges of adoption.

Download a free executive summary »

About the author

Shimrit Janes, Community Manager and Researcher for the Digital Workplace Group (DWG)Shimrit Janes is the Director of Knowledge at the Digital Workplace Group. Shimrit is responsible for driving the research, knowledge and content agendas for DWG’s new arm dedicated to non-profits and governmental organizations: Digital Nations Group (DNG).

Connect with Shimrit on Twitter: @shimritjanes.

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