What impacts the success of a social business project (and who’s responsible for what) ?

Summary : deploying social business asks to work on many fronts at the same time but it’s clear that, beyond the usual “engagement-adoption” approach organizations lack something more structured allowing to visualize the main lignes of their plan and understand how they impact the reach of expected benefits. That would also be a good means to understand who’s responsible for what : enterprises, vendors, service providers have all a role to play but it’s interesting to understand how each one contributes to final result in order not to be in denial and believe that having the best tools and advisors will be enough to prevent questioning some core principles inherited from the past.

That’s the first question that comes when an organization starts its social journey. “Hey..what to do, where do we start”. It’s the logical concern about methodology and there’s no need to tell you that each case being unique, no one-size-fits-all methodology exists. The only thing being partly replicable is the approach to context analysis that will allow to design an adhoc methodology.

So instead of trying to find magic wands, it’s better to identify all the things that impact such a project, address them one by bone, and for the points deserving a fix, choose the fix in a toolbox of known and recognized practices.

If we try to group these key factors by nature, by field of impact, we realize that each field belongs to a different player and, since businesses care about the ROI, the fact they address or not such or such fied determines what part of the ROI, or rather of tangible, observable, measurable improvement can be unlocked. In other words, because not all the actions needed to be undertaken will be because of budget, sponsorship, politics or courage, it will be a good way to balance risks and benefits related to such or such action. As a matter of fact remember that the person that is the best placed to tell about the ROI of these projects is the enterprise itself, depending on what they’re ready to do or not.

So vigilance points and key success factors can be gathered in three main fields.

1°) The tool(s)

Either you start or end with tools, they’re the major constraint of the project. Their ability to support, alone or jointly, all the key usages is the limiting factor. Anyone who tried to move towards advanced usage or make business and social tools converge will agree on that point : if the journey started with a CMS embedding minimalist and social functionalities there’s no use shooting at advisors, consultants or community managers if it appears that it’s impossible to reach a critical mass of users and productive usages.

If specifications and final choices are the enterprise’s call, success depends on vendors and integrators. The first because they own the product roadmap (reason why it’s essential not to focus only on the tool as it is but on its future and its ability to fit in a long term vision of the digital workplace), the second because it’s their call to position the tool in this vision and build synergies with the others tools in place in the organization. Also keep in mind that unified search and APIs are often pivotal in these projects. If this is done well they’ve done their part of the job.

Let me also mention graphic customization, both to improve user interfaces that are not often that friendly and to ensure a kind of visual homogeneity in an heterogeneous work environment.

So, I suggest specifications must include both an usage and a technical part, experience telling that the first is often the most important. As a matter of fact there are many ways to support a given usage and restricting specifications to a list of functionalities is often the cause of future disillusionments.


2°) What happens in the tool

Let’s start with the assumption that the right tools has been chosen, has ben properly integrated and that its interface does not look too user-hostile. So it’s usable but still needs to be used. That’s where accompanying and community management have a role to play. But, in fact, the concern is wider and more complex. If the tool part allows to unlock, let’s say…15 or 20 % of the maximal expected benefit (but 20% that are key and serve as a catalyst for the rest), this part is about unlocking 30% of the potential ROI.

It starts with training materials : nice to read, easy to be consumed, appealing. That’s not only about helping people to use the tools, but also a clear and factual explanation of what to use tools for…and why.

Then rather than talking about engagement and community management, focus on what users are expected to do.

– participative activities. Employees are welcome to join and participate but nothing can be mandated. That’s the very principles of communities (at least the real ones). This point is all about the usual points of vigilance that come with community managements and the tactics used to deal with them. Hosting, quality and attractiveness of contents and more globally the governance of the whole things (what is a community, what to expect from, who can create one, community management or not, moderation etc.). A part of the answer can also be technical : gamification, integration in the intranet so the social tool won’t be forgotten, accessibility from spaces dedicated to formal work when social activities are leant back against structured ones (an expert community accessible from the CRM, informal learning system accessible from the formal part of the LMS or, even, making it mandatory to to through the informal part to reach the formal one…). Virality, ambassador programs etc. are also a part of the toolbox here.

– productive activities. I’m not saying that communities are not productive but this point is about directly productive activities, related to one’s job and mission. That’s the emerging field of socialized processes, social BPM, ACM or Social project Management. Few things to add here : if the tool is usable, activity is driven by the flow of work and people and there’s no need to do much to make people use the tools.  On the other hand the socialization of business processes demands a work on process mining (some being emergent or informal), redefine decision making rules, ownership, integration of social mechanisms and social feedback for continuous improvement, what’s mandatory and what’s adaptive… Most of this highly depends on the following third (and last) point.

Of course any “good” project won’t focus on one of these two fields but on both.

Here the responsibility is on the enterprise side but is often delegated to those who advise and accompany the project first, then its own community managers. Provided the enterprise really wants to listen to advice.

3°) What happens outside of tools

Even if business has the best community managers, the most engaged employees andnice to use tools, it still needs the right context.This part accounts for at least 50% in unlocking the full potential of the social journey.

In other words it’s about assessing the coherence of the organization towards the elements that makes a businesses able to operate in an agile fashion, to reconfigure itself and its operation models in a fast-moving context, to make the best out of its human and knowledge capital, able to mobilize them when and were needed and develop them continuously. Quite a long definition but surely most concrete for normal enterprise people than social or 2.0.

Among the points to assess and eventually to fix or adapt to we can find ;

– corporate culture

– management model

– decision making models

– value and performance measurement

– people measurement and the impact on remuneration (and even career progression)

– job descriptions


And before all, there will be an imperative need for communicating and explaining the enterprise strategic project and make it understood by everyone.

On this part, organizations may ask specialists for help but the decision to move forward is their call. Of course, that’s the same for the two previous fields but they’re more obvious. Dealing with the tool and community management is something businesses know they’ll have to do from the start (even if doing it well is no that easy). But this last part recquires a real willingness to deal with things that businesses often prefer  to keep untouched. But, to understand how important it is, keep in mind that the Semcos, Morning Stars, Gores and others started with this point…and did very little if nothing on the two first. What is meaningful enough. Being in denial toward these issues is like accepting to lose at least 50% of the benefits than can be expected from the project. And being helped and advised by the best specialists won’t change anything.

What leads to this very simplified and simplistic diagram.

Click to enlarge

Now imagine that, for each point, we list all the points of vigilance and the possible tactics to deal with them. It would be a very analytic thing but that would provide with a comprehensive view of everything that could be done. Not a magic wand but the guarantee that nothing is left unconsidered and a good way to make leaders recognize that not everything necessary has been authorized. It may also be very helpful to come to leaders and ask them with the needed mean with a structured and analytic discourse. If you try to do so you’ll realize that you quickly end up with hundreds of items and an infinity of possible plans to manage the project. But that’s more pragmatic than coming to the leadership team and saying “we’ll seen and fix when things happen”. I’ll elaborate more in a future post because that’s just the beginning of a very long work in progress.


Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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