Enterprise Adoption of Social Business 2010—Social Knowledge Gap a Key Barrier

Social networks let us have more relationships but we don’t know how

“Digital social networks are transforming… [everything], from society and romance to politics and business… because they change the economics of how people discover, develop and maintain relationships.” – Social Networks’ Relationship Life Cycle

people_expts_accesSocial networks are remaking society because they enable us to have more relationships and more kinds of relationships. Relationships give us more diverse kinds of information, and information leads to more dynamic action. The problem is, most people don’t know how to be social appropriately in this emerging environment, which will delay value creation and pervasive adoption. However, if you recognize these limitations and take them into account, you will have the advantage over your rivals, many of whom will get frustrated and curtail their social media investments.

This post is the third installment of the Midyear Update. It gets personal, where the first tackled strategy, and the second social technologies. I’ll discuss the biggest hidden barrier to social business adoption and how you can guide your firm through it. I include this in the mid-year update because it has been such a prevalent part of client work this year. Understanding it is key to building and maintaining momentum.

Being “social” and why it matters

Social interaction has many motivations, but most social activity ties back to assessing people and determining how much we can trust them. Each interaction is a learning opportunity to gauge how much, and under what conditions, we can trust others. We all have in common that we want to lessen the uncertainty in our lives, and other people help us do that. Our success at attaining our goals and circumventing obstacles largely relies on other people. Think about any professional or personal goal: whether finding a new job, Series A funding or a new romantic partner, we succeed faster when we can depend on other people who know us, care about us and advocate on our behalf. People give us expertise (how to do things) and access to other people (whom you know).

trust_uncertFrom a technology standpoint, social technologies merely digitize certain things that we already do when relating to one another socially. The rub is, most people aren’t terribly aware of how they relate to others or the process they go through when assessing others. This lack of awareness prevents them from using social technologies to create value. From time immortal, people have required periods of experimentation to “get” new technologies and to use them appropriately: flint, fire, gunpowder, electricity, Twitter, the list marches on.

Test me on this: ask several colleagues specifically how they interact on LinkedIn to increase trust… or, how they introduce people to each other at networking events (or some other social act)… or what their four stages of trust are. I’ll wager that you’ll receive blank stares or very general responses that are not well articulated. However, any good web or software designer will tell you, in order to digitize a process successfully, it’s necessary to identify the implicit actions that users do to perform it: if important but unrecognized actions within the process are not designed into the (social) application, users can’t use it to do things the way they want. Net net: participants’ lack of social awareness will prevent them from tapping social business’s potential value in the near to medium term. There’s an elephant in the middle of this narrow road, and she’s not moving. More on this in Inside Human OS—The Roots of Facebook Behavior Revealed by Primate Professor.

Examples abound. LinkedIn is frighteningly effective at accelerating business, but a fraction of executives have created financial returns on their time spent because they don’t know how to learn how to use it to create value. By the way, this is also true off-line: most salespeople in the aggregate are poor performers, too, for the same reason. Millions of people create billions of hours of video on YouTube that’s difficult to find because they don’t know about metainformation and keyword taxonomies. Thousands of people complain about inane Twitter content, but they follow dweebs and have no content strategy to attract people they’d love to develop relationships with. People complain about Facebook privacy “problems,” many of which are easily remedied by learning how to use Facebook settings.

Using Prolonged Adoption to Your Advantage

  • soc_interactnMake the time to really understand the people you want to engage. Remember, most companies do not know their customers, they know demographics. I don’t know about you, but I have lost patience with companies that treat me as a demographic. Social business enables firms to interact with groups of individuals, as individuals, and very inexpensively. Individuals are getting used to this and universally respond to it better.
  • Before you throw up your hands, thinking, “I can’t possibly know individual customers,” remember that, in online groups, about 1% of the people produce most of the highly visible activity, an additional 9% contribute more passively, and fully 90% observe. However, you are influencing 100%. This makes it economically feasible to interact deeply.
  • Develop clear business goals that are relevant to these people. Test the linkage between the people and your goals with small, inexpensive projects.
  • Design simple social actions into your interactions. If you are participating on other venues (i.e. blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), design interactions that have social calls to action that are tied to your business goals. The simpler, the better. For example, it’s easier to get people to respond to a LinkedIn Poll than using LinkedIn Answers. Introductions still aren’t understood by members, so many people don’t respond. If you are building a venue, test first in other venues, and design simple social actions (interactions) into your venue.
  • Be determined to understand what interacting with you will do for that 1%, and test it through your interaction with them.
  • Don’t overlook the need to reeducate your people and proxies; they aren’t aware of their social actions either, and many are used to looking at the world through the company glasses, which is natural because their destiny is shared with the logo on the paycheck. They need mentoring to design simple, efficient responses to social actions.
  • Set expectations to walk, not run. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Create defined stages of adoption, each with its clear goals and measurements, so you know where you are and where you’re going. Create and maintain momentum.
  • Organizations are not used to thinking in terms of social capital, which isn’t measured in sales. In our context here, social capital measurements will show up as uninvited introductions, referrals, testimonials and other exercises in goodwill. More about measurement in the Social Network Life Cycle Model.

I hope his post has opened your imagination so that you can be far more purposeful in directing your social business interactions and initiatives. Please share your thoughts in comments.

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