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Where has all the Social gone?

by Carol Rozwell  |  August 7, 2014  |  2 Comments

Do you wonder where all the interest in social went? Once the hottest trend since sliced bread, interest in social definitely dissipated. Based on my client conversations and research, I surmise that because enterprise social networking tools could be used for so many purposes, their value seemed nebulous and elusive.


Advocates of social initiatives who wanted to ‘open up’ their organizations to a new style of working had trouble convincing the decision makers who held the purse strings that such investments would prove valuable. Senior managers got hung up on asking for ROI or specifics on what savings they would realize if something that could be counted like phone calls, emails, or meetings were reduced.

This line of questioning misses two key points about social:

  • Social is a style of working, not the endgame
  • You can’t ROI the future

First, let’s look at social as a style of working. Workers don’t ‘hang out’ in enterprise social networks because they have nothing better to do. They use the tools if they see an improvement in how they get their work done. All of the successful social initiatives we studied were developed for very specific, compelling purposes and make it easier for people to have the interactions necessary to complete their work better, faster, more easily, with less effort and the like. All of the ‘it’s social so people will use it’ initiatives deployed with no specific purpose in mind became ghost towns or dating sites.

Second, trying to do ROI calculations on social initiatives is generally a waste of time. Yes, we need to be fiscally responsible and try to determine the business outcome or value from our investments. But the reality is that you can’t ROI the future. By definition, if you are trying something that’s never been done before, you have no baseline to use for measuring ROI. And that’s the point. You should be trying something new and different when what you are doing now needs more than an incremental tweak – it needs a radical do over (or at least a do over). The experiment – because that’s what it is – should be carefully planned and executed so that even if the results are less fruitful than you hoped, you can salvage the learnings to improve the odds of being more successful next time. This is what people in the innovation business call ‘the freedom to fail.’

Enterprise social networking sites design to serve specific purposes like:

  • improve knowledge reuse among call center workers so more calls get resolve with the first customer interaction, or
  • speed up the sale reps’ ability to get an RFP response to a prospect so they can close more deals

help people get their work done. No engaged employee has the time or desire to waste time on social systems that are pointless distractions. Unfortunately, few organizations realize exactly how much work employees carry out where interaction with colleagues is not just desirable, it is critical to completing the work. This has to change. Otherwise, we’ll build digital workplaces that are just as ineffectual as the social media initiatives that preceded them.

Good luck. And call us if you need help.

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Category: change-management  collaboration  community  knowledge-management  social-media  social-networks  social-software  

Tags: change-management  collaboration  collaboration-dynamics  communities-of-practice  innovation  metrics  organizational-change  social-media  social-networking  social-networks  

Carol Rozwell
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Carol Rozwell is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Where has all the Social gone?

  1. I have read so many posts on the topic of the blogger lovers however this piece of writing
    is actually a pleasant paragraph, keep it up.

  2. Dave says:

    I’ve come to similar conclusions. We’ve been at it for about a year and a half. Started with a contained experiment that had some hypothetical, “let’s see if we can track ROI” with a few of the cliches you listed. It took a while, but at the end of it, we got management to “here are some examples of benefit, but the ‘meeting’ and ’email’ thing? Let’s toss those. We’re getting meaningful collaboration and that’s the point.” In so many words. 😉

    We’re now reaching critical mass and are getting ready to go “big time.” Been a good journey so far.

    For any if you on the fence or starting out, heed Carol’s advice. It’s good.

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