The subject of engagement is a hot topic at the moment, and several great articles have been written and research conducted on the role it plays in growing your Enterprise Social Network (ESN). Yammer’s own Mike Grafham and Maria Ogneva have done an excellent job of covering the subject thus far. While I’m still relatively new to the Yammer Customer Success Team, engagement is at the center of a lot of the work I do. Here are some observations learned on the CSM team, and prior to joining Yammer.
What is engagement? Here’s how I see it: Engagement is the degree to which your community is participating collectively in any given endeavour to achieve meaningful and measurable outcomes that create value for the community and enterprise as a whole. To really foster engagement, you need to have a strategy (what do you want the network to do?) and an adoption method (how will you get people to participate in a meaningful way?). The fallacy is to overly focus on one without the other. If you focus on everyone using social without tying it to business objectives, your organisation will fail to see meaningful business value; the network will just meander until people abandon it. If you focus too much on the strategy without thinking through the user experience, your best-laid plans will fall flat, because people won’t participate. Social is voluntary – you can’t make people share – and requires a shift in our thinking as we consider our approaches.
Letting users choose
Across ESN platforms, I’ve seen these commonalities contribute to more meaningful adoption (and Yammer fares pretty well across this list, I’d say):
- Freemium model: In 2010, Gartner predicted over 70 percent of IT-mandated social media initiatives would fail. CIOs now see voluntary (viral) adoption as a way to set up a social initiative for success, and the freemium model is a great way to de-risk the value proposition for them. Because cost-based barriers to entry do not exist, anyone can sign up at a company and get started – the company doesn’t pay anything until the adoption of the product in their enterprise is proven.
- Ease of use: I’ve used many systems and Yammer is by far the easiest to use. This goes a long way to facilitating adoption.
- Similarity to consumer social tools: An ESN built around the paradigm of consumer software and developed for business use cases has a greater likelihood of success due to familiarity with existing social tools.
- People focused: An ESN has a focus on people, simple conversations and collaboration much more than other systems that often focus on documents, functions, etc.
Driving deliberate strategy
The ease of use and virality of a platform like Yammer can be deceivingly simple and lead people to think that a deliberate strategy is not necessary. That’s a mistake, because without direction and an end goal in mind, the network will simply meander and fail to deliver business value. These are the two most common misperceptions that we’ve seen:
- That no intervention is required to make an ESN grow – it will just happen naturally
- That there are no barriers to adoption that need to be overcome
Despite the fact that, with the right platform, you could achieve and maintain viral growth with your ESN, and this growth could all be done organically with very little intervention, I believe there are some hard realities for the average organisation. The above-average organisation has a naturally open, transparent and collaborative culture; and engagement on an ESN, where these things are key, is somewhat more assured to succeed. But most organisations have to work very hard at engagement – see this excellent article which relates how Phoebe Venkat at Tyco International has to do some heavy lifting to get traction at her organisation with Yammer. And the reality of an ESN is that – unlike with a public social network like Facebook – work, compliance, security and risk dynamics make this a very different beast. Here is a diagram that outlines what I believe are the key considerations for growing your ESN; you will see that strategy and guided direction play a very important role.
Addressing barriers to adoption
Across the customers I’ve worked with, I’ve observed some of these common barriers to adoption; most of these are implicitly put in place and could easily be avoided:
- Putting viral adoption on hold while an agreement on a platform is put in place
- Having overly restrictive structures, policies and guidelines in place
- Having senior executives mandate adoption
- Having too many conflicting social systems in place demanding attention
- Having no adoption – there’s nothing more off-putting than graveyard communities where nothing happens
Taking steps to success
So what do you do next? I wrote up some recommendations, sourced from what I’ve seen working across customer companies. I see there being three distinct buckets:
- Purpose, value and leadership (how you build out and enable an internal case for the programme),
- The right interaction elements (creating an environment that encourages interaction in person and via technology), and
- Culture and community dynamics (gently propelling the community towards meeting a common goal, without too much overengineering).
Purpose, value and leadership:
- Clearly articulated purpose, executive sponsorship/involvement and communications programme
- Business use cases focused on value and benefits, and combined with metrics and analytics
- Participation-related rewards programme (gamification or actual rewards programme)
The right interaction elements:
- Easy to use and intuitive social technology
- Social technology that is truly focused on people, conversations and work outcomes
- Physical events that augment or spur online action and capture offline actions, ideas, etc.
Culture and community dynamics
- Community manager(s) in place with usage guidelines and policies to support the network, stoke the conversation fires, further best practices and develop use cases.
- An open and transparent culture that is authentic and encourages participation
- Training programmes and useful help guides, webinars, videos, screencasts, etc.
If you can think of any more points you’d like to add, or if you’d like to dispute any of the points mentioned above, please let me know by posting a comment.