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Bad Advice Awards for Social Software Solutions

by Anthony J. Bradley  |  July 1, 2009  |  11 Comments

Today I reviewed a client’s draft social solution strategy document. It was comprehensive and well researched with several references from analyst firms, media outlets, and academics. Unfortunately, some of the analysis and advice in the references is, well, just bad (in my experience, of course). Also, in doing my daily Web scan of what’s going on, I sometimes come across “less than best practice” advice and poor analysis (again, in my experience).

So, I have the idea of starting a 2009 Bad Advice Awards for Social Software Solutions competition through this blog where we can illuminate and discuss what we think is bad advice or poor analysis. At the end of the year I will post the winners based on your feedback. My viewpoints are also up for examination. I only ask that we be professional about it and view it as an intellectual exploration. So let me know what you think of my idea for the 2009 Bad Advice Awards.

I will offer two entries to start.

Bad Advice: Fail Early, Fail Often

The notion of failing early and often is the complete opposite of what I’ve seen. It almost tells you that you don’t have to take a social initiative seriously to garner success but just wing it until you get it right. IME, that is bad advice. It turns out community members are not so resilient to failure. If you fail a community even once there is a good chance you will never get them back. My research indicates that if a participant visits a community environment and doesn’t see value the likelihood of them returning a second time is less than 30%. If they still don’t see value returning a third time drops to almost 0%. Start with the expectation of success not failure (even if it is early). See How to Apply the PLANT SEEDS Framework for Enhanced Enterprise Web 2.0 Adoption” and “Toolkit Sample Template: PLANT SEEDS Checklists for Planning an Enterprise Web 2.0 Initiative for information on how to take it seriously and plan for success (available to clients or for a fee). I actually have updates to both of these that will publish within 2 weeks.

Bad Analysis: But I don’t see Enterprise 2.0 becoming a big area of corporate spending. The tools are too cheap and easy to replicate with tons of free alternatives, and many of the vendors are just not ready for prime time.”

Social software is far more about the social than it is the software. Even if the tool costs were negative (that is they pay you to use them), the costs of catalyzing, growing, and maintaining a community are not at all trivial. Also, this is a growing market with plenty of alternatives. As the market matures and consolidates the cost of tools will increase and by then the value proposition will be better understood and people will pay. Also, many of the free tools are not enterprise ready. But there plenty of “ready for prime time” enterprise vendors and 100s of enterprises with thriving communities with thousands upon thousands of participants that gain value for themselves and deliver value to the enterprise. Although enterprises need to make careful decisions, they shouldn’t be waiting “for prime time.”

What do you think of these two? Do you have any submissions you want to nominate?

Blatant Disclaimer: These awards are determined by myself and the community of those that follow my blog and are not representative of any Gartner stance.

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Category: social-applications  social-solutions  

Tags: best-practices  social-solutions  

Anthony J. Bradley
13 years at Gartner
30 years in IT

Anthony J. Bradley is a Group Vice President in Gartner Research. In this role he leads global teams of analysts who research the emerging technologies and trends that are changing today's world and shaping the future. Mr. Bradley's group strives to provide technology product and service leaders (Tech CEOs, General Managers, Chief Product Officers, Practice Leads, Product Managers and Product Marketers) with unique, high-value research and indispensable advice on leveraging emerging technologies and trends to create and deliver highly successful products and services. Information technology now impacts pretty much every business function in all companies, all industries, and all geographies. Technology providers are critical to the technology and business innovation that will define the world of tomorrow. Innovation depends on technology providers. By helping them, we help the world.

Thoughts on Bad Advice Awards for Social Software Solutions

  1. […] from:  Bad Advice Awards for Social Software Solutions Filed under: Blogging, Health, Uncategorized, rss   |     […]

  2. John Goode says:

    I have seen bad analysis on the client side too. The fears around social media are both well founded and interesting. Well founded because it’s well understood that weak/poor products and services will get negative feedback once that channel is opened. Interesting then, that so many companies are avoiding the use of social media because the risks currently outweigh the perceived benefits.

  3. Not a good start, Anthony. I think enterprises really need to take a close look at how far they can go with consumer toold before spending any extra dollar in “enterprise” tools (what are they, by the way)?
    I may be skewed by my government focus, but research shows that those that have started spending on “enterprise tools” (with hefty bills attached) are now seeing the value of just leeting their folks use whatever is available out there.
    As I recently wrote in my piece about “Governments in the Cloud: Much More Than Computing”, social apps will be more and more developed using cloud services – with “private” cloud computing emerging, I would argue that buying and installing enterprise 2.0 tools today is debetable.
    I know this is a contrarian view, but to me closing the spending tap on enterpruise 2.0 tools today is far from a bad practice

  4. Anthony Bradley says:

    I don’t think it is good advice to tell enterprises to spend a lot or to spend a little. Enterprises should spend appropriately to the social solution initiative minimizing costs as much as possible without risking success. Once the enterprise understands what is needed to succeed with any particular purpose then they can make a decision on consumer v. enterprise tools, on-prem v. off-prem technology, open-source v. proprietary, join 3rd party v. creating their own environment, out-of-box v. customization, etc.

    Also, enterprises must factor in the non-technology costs around design, customization, tipping point, governance and moderating, ecosystem integration, content seeding, participant seeding, responding, analyzing participant behaviors for value, etc.

    Leading enterprises to believe there should be no or highly minimal investment is misleading and will lead to underinvestment, disillusionment, and possibly failure.

    Enterprises must examine the costs and benefits of each purposeful implementation of social software and make the decision to invest or not. If the enterprise can’t afford what it will take for success for a particular purpose then they shouldn’t do that one. Choose another purpose that requires less of an investment (even if there is less of a payoff). You pay what is necessary, no more and no less.

    Your view is indeed contrarian. The vast, vast number of significant successes I’ve seen in government and private industry are those where the enterprise has invested and used enterprise tools (even if they started as grass roots movements). Letting people (employees or biz units) go out and do what they want with consumer tools often leads to numerous “social islands” that are not enterprise collaboration assets, don’t interoperate, require manual efforts to “integrate” them with existing systems, proliferate a multitude of solutions that at some point might need enterprise support (driving up support costs in the long run), etc. This isn’t to say that consumer tools aren’t valuable, they certainly are when used for appropriate social solution situations.

    Social software is no “free lunch” and like everything else, to get something out of it, you need to put something into it. If you don’t put anything in then don’t expect much out.

  5. Anthony Bradley says:


    The risks do not outweigh the perceived benefits. Also, many organizations are investing in social media. For some organizations the perceived risks outweigh the perceived benefits and for others the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived risks. The trick is to assess the situation and figure out if the likely benefits outweigh the likely risks. Unfortunately, few organizations actually do a good risk/reward assessment.

  6. Fail once fail often isn’t a great catchphrase, but it does try to address the issue of strategic inertia that dogs many organisational cultures.
    The key thing is to try to improve quickly, not strategise endlessly and ultimately fruitlessly. As Jay Deragon asks, is now too late?

    But that also means spending differently: spending less in the short term in order to reduce risk but recognising that an iterative process means you’re likely to end up spending more in the long term.

    The challenges for these kind of approaches are how you then rationalise your many projects without breaking the bank in order to bring them in line with a wider strategy.

  7. Anthony Bradley says:

    You know that these social efforts have a cost. We have discussed on a few occasions the time and effort it takes for us analysts to maintain active blogs here and the impact it may have on our other research efforts as well as our personal time. Just like with this blog, you get something out of it only if you put something in.

  8. Anthony Bradley says:

    I’m all for starting small and growing incrementally as a best practice. Overplanning and overengineering can be the death of social solutions but underplanning and underinvestment can also spell doom. But the malignant aspect of the “fail early, fail often” is that not only does it condone failure but it makes it seem that failure is a good and healthy part of a social solution effort. IME, this is dead wrong.

  9. Anthony,
    I assume the many success stories you are referring to concern internal collaboration (for which I also have a few horror stories with early deployment of entreprise tools that don’t get used). When you start crossing the boundaries, reaching out to external stakeholders or leveraging the combination id internal and external networks for each employee, then consumer tools are not only the least risky option but also the common denominator across those different constituencies.

  10. Anthony Bradley says:

    Maybe we have a different definition of consumer tools because the vast majority of externally facing enterprise implementations of social software for community building that I have seen are also enterprise v. consumer technologies. Consumer technologies include those such as facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Wikipedia, Ning, etc. The big, global strength enterprise external communities normally run on an enterprise platform such as Lithium, OneSite, Jive, Communispace, CustomerVision, LiveWorld, Neighborhood America, etc. Granted that some, such as WordPress, are used by consumers as well as enterprises.

    The list of vendors here is representative and not all inclusive. See for Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software for a more complete list of vendors.

  11. Despite the fact that most people on social bookmarking sites are there to promote their own online work, the sites are still widely used for the purpose of community and online sharing.

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