Enterprise 2.0 champions aren’t where you think they are.
Many managers these days are trying to identify members of their organization who will embrace social media tools and practices within their organization. That’s a healthy development for Enterprise 2.0. It reflects a shift in thinking from the preliminary questions of Why and Whether to the intermediate question: How?
Unfortunately, many of the folks I meet don’t know where to look for their Enterprise 2.0 champions. A lot of managers find themselves walking the halls to find colleagues who “get it”. They’re not sure exactly what “it” is, but like Simon Cowell on American Idol, they’re out searching the organization for fresh, undiscovered talent that have “it”. There isn’t universal consensus on the criteria for “it-ness”, but here are some of the things I’ve heard managers say they’re looking for:
- The Young and Hip: “Jimmy’s only 28. He grew up on Facebook!”
- The Tech-Savvy: “Mary’s always got the latest gadget. She’s a natural for this!”
- The Connectors: “Martin knows everybody. He’s the ideal social networker!”
- The Visionaries: “Isabel is so visionary. She’ll totally get what we’re trying to do!”
These assumptions don’t lead to effective rollout strategies. There are three reasons for this:
- These broad psychological categories don’t accurately predict Enterprise 2.0 adoption. I’ve seen far too many examples of people embracing Enterprise 2.0 long after their crystals would have stopped glowing on Logan’s Run. (If you’re reading this blog and you get that reference, you’re probably in that category yourself.)
- They’re not actionable, at least not at any scale. If you’re trying to roll out across an organization of 5,000 or 10,000 employees, how are you supposed to know who the connectors are? Who’s tech-savvy? Who’s a visionary?
- They don’t transmit. We’ve all seen the lonely social media evangelist, howling in the corporate wilderness about the fact that no one else “gets it.” Sooner or later that champion gives up, moves on, or simply trudges on in noble obscurity. The energy and enthusiasm of evangelists translates into organizational change only when the enthusiasm transfers. If that enthusiasm stems from the evangelist’s personal quirks, it won’t transfer.
The problem with these psychological approaches is that they focus on the traits of individuals, in the absence of any business context. They presuppose that it is something about an individual’s personality, experience, psychology, or talents that determines whether that individual will be a valuable contributor to your social media rollout. What it misses is the central importance of organizational role. Recruiting social media champions based on personal criteria is like recruiting for a football team on raw talent, when you haven’t thought at all about who is going to play which positions. If you just pick players based on their individual characteristics (speed, strength, agility, etc.), then you end up with a bunch of fast, strong, agile guys who are collectively unable to move the ball down the field.
There’s a better way to do this.
In my experience, the most reliable way to generate sustained Enterprise 2.0 adoption is to target business functions and activities that are structurally motivated to improve collaboration. In other words, look for individuals whose professional success in their role depends on the things that Enterprise 2.0 will help them do.
In her memoir, “Madame Secretary”, Madeline Albright tells a revealing story. Shortly after transferring from one agency of government to another, she found herself in the Kafkaesque position of writing a formal rebuttal to a position paper she herself had written. “You stand where you sit,” Albright notes wryly. In other words, your actions are guided by your organizational role, not by your personal beliefs or psychology. Or as they say in the Godfather, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”
The same principle applies to social media. I haven’t seen strong correlations between enterprise social media adoption and age, gender, tech-savviness, political affiliation, sexual orientation, toothpaste preference, or any other identifiable psychological characteristics. What I do see are strong correlations to role. When it comes to using social media, you stand where you sit.
Here’s an example. Several months ago, we implemented Socialtext for a major global media company. Adoption ballooned month over month until it included thousands of users, with more joining every week. A little social network analysis revealed that most members of the community were invited, through one or two degrees of separation, by a single marketing manager. She wasn’t particularly senior, and she wasn’t based in corporate Headquarters. And yet she was transforming the way her company works.
We contacted the marketing manager to learn what it was about her that inspired her to invite so many colleagues into Socialtext. It wasn’t her age, her love of technology, or her gregariousness at cocktail parties. It was the fact the she works in Marketing. “I’m responsible for marketing a new product line that’s very different from what we’ve sold in the past,” she told us. “Our sales force is still struggling to understand how to talk about it with customers and prospects. Hundreds of people email me with questions. I’m trying to make it really easy for them by creating a single place where they can find the current marketing materials, get their questions answered, and surface issues with our approach. Socialtext was the best way I could find to do that.”
Like Madeline Albright, she stood where she sat. The demands of her Marketing role, not her personal passion for social media, made her an effective social media champion.
This isn’t an isolated example. In most companies we work with, Marketing “gets it” ahead of their colleagues. They’re eager to jump on board, and to invite their colleagues in Sales, Product Development, Customer Support, and other functions. That’s because their organizational role requires them to do many of the things that social media helps companies do:
- Continuously maintain rapidly changing information
- Answer questions and gather feedback from their internal customers (primarily Sales and Business Development)
- Convene conversations about customer needs (across Sales, Marketing, Product Development, and Customer Support)
- Elicit feedback on the accuracy of public messaging (primarily from Product Development)
- Identify resources to help with “corner cases” (e.g., non-standard uses of the product, unusual sales pitches)
Because the Marketing Manager’s commitment to social media wasn’t a personal thing, it transferred quickly to other parts of the business. Other Marketing groups got wind of the project, and started posting their own content, creating their own workspaces, starting their own conversations. Then it started to spread beyond Marketing, to Sales and Product groups that had initially participated as consumers of Marketing content. Marketing’s cross-silo reach positioned them to involve different parts of the organization, which then went on to do their own thing. That would not have happened if Marketing’s success had been a function of one person’s passion.
Marketing isn’t the only function that works this way. Within every organization, there are multiple functions that are structurally motivated to drive social media adoption. Here’s a pretty good starter list:
- Research (especially demand-driven research in professional services firms, e.g., consulting, accounting, legal, financial services)
- Product Development (especially consumer, pharmaceuticals, financial services, technology)
- Project Management (especially where teams aren’t co-located)
- Human Resources
- IT (for Helpdesk-related issues and for internal discussions about what IT business needs and wants)
- Corporate Communications
So if you’re looking for Enterprise 2.0 adoption within your organization, here’s my advice: Pro-actively target the individuals and functions where professional success depends on exchanging knowledge, information, and ideas across large parts of the organization. That’s where the real champions sit–whether they know it or not.