Our Social Media Romance

Every so often, the rhetoric gets so heated that you might be forgiven for thinking you were reading a romance novel where the swashbuckling hero is a web 2.0 tool. Far too many consultants, vendors and KM bloggers have become so enthused with the potential of social media that they seem to be viewing it through a vaseline-coated lens.

However, at some point even the biggest romance novel fan has to acknowledge the differences between fictional romances and the gritty reality of a relationship — dirty socks and all. And now, it appears that we’ve arrived at that point courtesy of two recent reports on web 2.0. The first is the McKinsey Global Survey on Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise in which we learn that

… after an initial period of promise and trial, companies are coming to understand the difficulty of realizing some of Web 2.0’s benefits. Only 21 percent of the respondents say they are satisfied overall with Web 2.0 tools, while 22 percent voice clear dissatisfaction. Further, some disappointed companies have stopped using certain technologies altogether.

If that isn’t a sufficiently shocking piece of reality, take a look at the recent Gartner report on the failure of social software projects:

…many IT organizations fall into the trap of following “worst practice,” installing social software in the expectation that productive communities will emerge spontaneously. Gartner’s discussions with clients suggest that the “install and they will come” practice rarely succeeds; about 70 percent of the community typically fails to coalesce. Furthermore, of the 30 percent of the communities that do emerge, many revolve around interactions that planners didn’t envision, that don’t provide business value and that may even be counterproductive.

Now that reality has intruded on romance, what should we do? Gartner suggests that we pay more attention to ensuring that the right social communities exist (or are formed) to support the use of the software. In Gartner’s view, the right social community will have a well-defined purpose, which should be front and center when designing the implementation of web 2.0 tools for that community. According to Gartner, there are seven characteristics of a well-defined purpose and, by extension, a successful social software implementation:

– Magnetic — draws people in, explains “what’s in it for me”
– Aligned — with the business
– Low Risk
– Properly Scoped — start with minimal scope and then scale up as warranted by the community
– Facilitates Evolution — the purpose selected must be one that can be built on as scope broadens
– Measurable — the business and community value should be measurable
– Community Driven — the value must come from the community

Lest you think all is doom and gloom, the McKinsey report does contain some good news. Notably, the firms that have implemented social media tools successfully are discovering that they are able to increase their use of these tools, and leverage them to change their own management practices and organizational structures in fundamental ways.

So a relationship with Web 2.0 is possible, as long as you keep your feet firmly on the ground.

2 thoughts on “Our Social Media Romance

  1. Thanks, Mary. Those are both interesting articles. I’ve never been as “wowed” by the transformative potential of social media in law firms as some (ahem) have been, but I also am not as concerned by these findings as you seem to be. The satisfaction rate noted in the McKinsey survey is pretty good given the shotgun aspects of the survey and where we are in the adoption and evolution of the medium. The Gartner article just makes good sense and reinforces the fact that successful internet models don’t directly translate to the enterprise level.There’s a very intresting common finding in the two articles. The McKinsey survey notes that the least satisfied social media adoptions are in enterprises in which IT leads the introduction of new applications. Likewise, the Gartner article notes that social media projects often fail because IT managers wrongly believe in the “build it and they will come” approach. Perhaps there’s a place for knoweldge management leadership after all! (Are you listening Vinkatesh???)- Brent

  2. Brent – Thanks for your comment. I didn’t mean to be alarmist, but do think that there have been instances where firms have hoped that the sheer allure of the tools will prompt usage, rather than doing the work necessary to suit the tools to the problem presented. Given the skepticism of firm managers and general economic conditions, I don’t think we can afford many more misfires like these.As for the role of knowledge managers, you’re right that there is an opportunity here. We’ll just need to be sure that we form productive alliances with both IT and the end-users so that we truly can act as honest brokers.- Mary

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