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Social Software : size as an alternative to predictability

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It’s a recurring discussion about the success of social media within organizations : does success depend on the number of users ? There are many examples that show us that the answer is obviously yes. And as many that shows us the opposite. According to me there’s no absolute answer.

In the beginning, my idea was that is was depending on the kind of tool. It’s easy to understand that a 5 people team is enough to demonstrate the value of a wiki and that a social network, on the other hand, needs a critical mass of users. With hindsight I’s rather say that it depends on activities.

As a matter of fact, a team that needs a wiki will use it without any problem. And, if they’re not provided with such a tool, they will get it by themselves. If they don’t need a wiki…they won’t use it, whatever can be done. On the other side of the spectrum, social networks, being more flexibility-oriented and aiming at mobilizing expertises inside adhoc groups, need to be used by a lot of people to make sure the relevant ressources (people and information) will be there when they’ll be needed.

If we try to generalize, a small team is enough if there’s an identified purpose and that a larger populaton is needed if the tool’s purpose is rather to make things possible while these “things” are not predictable.

That’s why wikis is often mentioned as the example of a tool that was easily adopter : defined human and fuctional scopes, defined goal. A contrario, tools which have a larger spectrum, more protean uses, such as blogs or social networks, need a deeper work to be a part of people’s day to day job.

To come back on the “size question”, it appears that :

• Size is not critical when a clear need exists about what people have to deliver so that people immediately understand what benefits they will get from using such or such tools. Here, the goal, what has to be delivered, who has to participate are known from the beginning. Use is led by work organization.

• Size may critical when social software is to overcome dysfunctions in the way the work is organized. Here the goal is defined, but the people who have to participate and the functional spectrum can’t be anticipated, nor when the software will be used. Use is led by circumstances.

• Size is critical when social software is expected to help people to deliver their full potential. Which, said in other words, mean to allow their to use all their skills to make things the company may have never thought about. It’s typically the case in “innovation” projects, where it’s impossible to know who wll have ideas, who’ll be interested in joining the discussion to improve things….and what the idea will be used for. Use is lead by the will to participate.

So it seems that the more certainties we have on what has to  be delivered, who have to work on that, and the more mandatory the goal is, the less size is critical.

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Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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