What Babe The Pig Teaches About Driving Enterprise Social Adoption

Next to "Why won't Google allow me on +?" a currently popular question among content and collaboration professionals is, "How do we encourage employees to use social and collaboration tools?" I hear this question frequently in discussions with clients about intranets and the Information Workplace. My colleague and collaboration guru Rob Koplowitz probably answers it in his sleep by now and published a summary of best practices last year.

Last week, the question unsurprisingly popped up on the extremely useful LinkedIn Intranet Professionals forum. There has been a rich set of responses so far, including some healthy scepticism about the fundamental value of enterprise social. I encourage you to see the ongoing exchange in it's entirety. For the sake of the Forrester blog audience, here is a slightly modified version of my LinkedIn response.

Stop me if you've heard this one before . . . but think about Babe (Universal, 1995). Contrary to all tradition and expectation, Babe the pig becomes really good at helping Farmer Hoggett herd sheep. It's fantastic! A huge success!

But there's no inherent value in herding sheep. You don't herd sheep for the sake of having well-herded sheep -- you do it because having the sheep where you want them when you want them there makes it easier and more efficient and more productive to extract value from the sheep. (Such as shearing them, or . . . other ways of extracting value.)

How does this apply to promoting the use of social tools? Same thing, but with fewer talking farm animals. In short, with enough effort and clever change management, you might overcome workplace traditions and achieve significant adoption of enterprise social practices. But there's no inherent value in using social tools. In fact, there's evidence that being social and collaborative in the wrong context can be actively unproductive.

The question is always: How does this activity create value? From the organization's perspective, this boils down to how does it create business value by, for example, making an R&D cycle shorter, a sales effort more likely to win, a marketing campaign more effective, etc. If you identify those impacts, then you can market them internally at the division or team level: Use these social tools, because we know and can prove they will make your work more successful.

Finally, this trickles down to the personal level, if an individual employee can see that being social makes a difference in the things that motivate them at work -- whether that is meeting a sales goal, learning a skill, building a better network, or whatever. The hard part is that these motivational triggers vary a lot and are not easy to identify. (Unless you create a meaningful trigger by, for example,  building social activities into every employee's bonus plan.)

Also, I think it's important that employees can see these effects at work. It's not enough to be told that, in theory, being social is useful. You want to be able to point to people who actually did engage in the social practices you want to encourage and as a result actually did enjoy some identifiable benefit.

Finally, as one of my colleagues likes to say, at the end of the day (literally), what really motivates employees is getting out of the office a few minutes earlier and spending a little more time with their kids/spouses/friends/dogs/talking pigs. If writing in the company wiki or replying to a blog appears to mean only that I have to spend even more time at work, the social initiative is probably doomed.

How are you putting social and collaboration to work in your organization?

(P.S. - In the movie, herding sheep well did have inherent value -- but only in the context of a herding contest.)


Fascinating insights

As I work on launching Forrester's own internal sharing community, these insights resonate with me. I'll reference this post in the launch email!

Social and its relevance

Very good points that show that the initial exuberance over Social has led to great questions about how it has real value other than the, uh, er, obvious(?). For Social to be useful it has to drive business, as you say, and driving business to me means making it relevant to very tangible things...things that can be explained in ways that don't rely on adjectives like "better" or "more efficiently". I suspect that the future of Social will find value in being associated with CRM, ERP, BPM and other ways that businesses conduct their work and earn revenue. Salesforce.com has a very interesting social ability in Chatter that allows you to connect within your CRM, but for it to 'grow up', it needs to be associated with Accounts, Opportunities and Leads so that it opens the dialogue of gathering and disseminating information to a broader audience. Yes, that sounds like structure, which is an anathema to Social zealots, but Social without structure is gives the user nowhere to look or speak and sounds a lot like chaos.


Why do you always try to quantify things? Social tools is like phone, audio conferencing or intranet! It is a service that should be offered within companies! It helps breaking country, language, team silo! It empower users (hero syndrom).
It enables people to build networks within the company! More and more people are working from home, new hired people could jump in more easily! It is also a natural way of communicating for digital natives! So also a way to mentor or learn from others!
You never know how much value you CAN get! But enabling bi directional discussions (making people active) is a way to facilitate change mgt! Like everything social maturity takes time.
It helps focus discussions in one place.
Your social network health is a precise snapshot of your company ability to engage people, ability to share, to break silos for the benefit of all.
For me, it is a must have. But, as usual, you need champions, or simply passionated or engaged people to animate groups, threads of discussions, etc.
Social network is a commodité now. Agility is based on trust and enablers. Try it, use it, find the value for you, your team, tour clients. It takes time.
But the first step is always to empower people. All people.

The blog's message

I would say, though, that this blog is making the point that there has to be a tangible benefit to social media. In your response, you're focused on the 'what' and not the 'why'. Care to revisit the 'why'?

Why is THE WRONG question

I thought I answered the "why" question ... I stated that for me "'Why is THE WRONG question". It is the question people asked when they did not want to use social media.

Social media should be a commodity in the corporate world. Like email or phone. It's part of the employee corporate wallet ...

You need tangible benefits only if you want to prove something to your management. If social is a given, then you can focus on the what ...

That's where we disagree ...

Why IS the question

Yes, we disagree, which is fine. I see two schools of thought that you and I represent clearly...the school that it needs to have a purpose that is tangible (the "why") and that it just brings obvious value that doesn't need to be justified (the "just do it"). I'm concerned that implementing any capability without first understanding the benefit can be disruptive and chaotic. I see that with many implementations of social media software as people find it to be just another place to try to keep up. I have a very social-media friendly acquaintance who's company implemented a very popular software, and he told me, "It just creates duplication as everyone has their preference for communication so every message now needs to go in one more place." That's why I predict the future is taking social media and aligning it with something tangible, like business process, customer service, or some other goal of the business that would benefit from collaboration and wide distribution of knowledge.

I think that "it depends" is the answer....

These are both great points, but in the end it depends on the culture of the company and to a large degree to the location of the company. I know of a large international company that is headquartered is in Germany which has a very strong union that protects the rights (and visibisly) of employees. The idea of exposing information or interests on an internal social platform would raise a red flag with the work counsil. Thus, the company has developed an anti-social culture. Sharing happens via email, but not much else. The idea of telling your employees to "just do it" would never fly. In this situation, the employees have to find value or they will not use any social tools. Over the last year a wiki (baby step in social) was developed that provided value to the R&D group. Intitially it was used only by US bases employees, but once it started being of value to the Germany employees it took off.

There are cultures (like the US) that just seem to get it and will immediately gravitate to a social platform, but like the company above, there are culture that have to be coaxed.

Availability or adoption?

It's great (but not surprising) to see a lively debate on this topic. I look forward to more discussion.

I'm not so sure that the gap between the positions is as wide as it appears. Consider this: In our conversations with clients, my colleagues and I have noticed a clear shift in the primary question about enterprise social over the last 18 months or so.

In short, the question has (largely, but not entirely) shifted from "Should we implement it?" to "How do we get people to use it?" For example, in a Q4 2010 survey, only 18% said their firm had "no interest" in implementing enterprise 2.0 tools. Another 19% replied "interested but no plans," while 49% had implemented or had firm plans to do so. (And an impressive 25% were already expanding or upgrading existing implementations.)

More recently, the client firms are trying to find ways to increase the use of social tools. This implies that the leading challenge is not availability but adoption. I think William provides a great answer to that question (and proves the fundamental agreement among all of the responses) -- "Try it, use it, find the value for you, your team, your clients. It takes time."

It will indeed take time, just as did the gradual adoption of those other "ubiquitous" tools such as phones, email, the intranet, and the pc.

By the way, there is a similar thread, and another healthy discussion, in this blog post from my colleague TJ Keitt:

But...should it be this hard?

It seems strange that the question is now "how do I get my people to use enterprise 2.0 tools." If there is value then people will migrate there naturally. Nobody "forced" people to move to MySpace, or subsequently to FaceBook, or Twitter, or FourSquare, etc. These sites helped solve a fundamental challenge (a presense in the internet) for people so they were drawn there. If enterprise 2.0 tools are to be a success, I believe that they need to solve such a fundamental challenge. Too many times we try to over-engineer a solution instead of trying something, seeing if it sticks, and then moving on. We tend to want to have a clear end in site when we start building and I don't think that this is possible with enterprise 2.0 tools. It's a journey...not a destination.

Maybe its the WHEN

I had some fun with this topic in my blog today, and thank you for the inspiration:


I welcome your feedback.

It takes time

A key aspect that Tim mentioned, is in realizing the fact that it takes time.

While we can be impatient on progress, will need to be but be patient about results.

wrong name

Hi - This entry was posted by William El Kaim at Carslon Wagon Lit - not Bertrand Verret

Social and the so called lurkers

I found this article from yammer blog interesting ...

Your Community’s Hidden Treasure Is Lurking Right Over There.

Social value and dark matter

Thanks again to everyone for contributing to this ongoing conversation! William, I find that study on "active lurkers" really interesting. (I guess we could also call them "viral agents," since they are spreading information from the social network in outside contexts.) For one thing, such active lurkers underscore once again how hard it can be to calculate the business value of a social exchange within the enterprise. If you need to convince a sceptical budget holder about enterprise social, I do think that identifying clear cases of business value production -- like increased sales -- is a good strategy. But it is surely also the case that much of the value is like dark matter - hard to identify but far greater and of more significance than what you can see.

Chris - Ironically, I just did a podcast recording (not yet published) for ebizQ.net. Fortunately for me (and any listeners) the topic was portals and collaboration, but one of the questions did concern BPM. I was able to draw on a recent report by my colleague Clay Richardson on how social can help breakup BPM "logjams." (http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/social_breaks_logjam_on_business_pr...). That report is available only to Forrester clients, but Clay also has a article at ebizQ on crowd sourcing and BPM: http://www.ebizq.net/topics/bpm/features/13216.html?page=1

Yes it's a journey ...

Now we have internal debates about one group in our Social network ... people of one country speaking only about soccer ... What do you think ? Do we need to act or let them express their passion?