An adoption strategy for social software in enterprise

Experience has shown that simply installing a wiki or blog (referred to collectively as ‘social software’) and making it available to users is not enough to encourage widespread adoption. Instead, active steps need to be taken to both foster use amongst key members of the community and to provide easily accessible support.

There are two ways to go about encouraging adoption of social software: fostering grassroots behaviours which develop organically from the bottom-up; or via top-down instruction. In general, the former is more desirable, as it will become self-sustaining over time – people become convinced of the tools’ usefulness, demonstrate that to colleagues, and help develop usage in an ad hoc, social way in line with their actual needs.

Top-down instruction may seem more appropriate in some environments, but may not be effective in the long-term as if the team leader stops actively making subordinates use the software, they may naturally give up if they have not become convinced of its usefulness. Bottom-up adoption taps into social incentives for contribution and fosters a culture of working openly that has greater strategic benefits. Inevitably in a successful deployment, top-down and bottom-up align themselves in what Ross Mayfield calls ‘middlespace‘.

Fostering grassroots adoption

This approach centres around identifying users who would clearly benefit from the new software, helping them to understand how it could help, and progressing their usage so that they can realise those benefits. These key users should:

  • be open to trying new software
  • be influential amongst their peers, thus able to help promulgate usage
  • have the support of their managers

Users who are potential evangelists should be identified at every level of management, not just amongst the higher echelons, or amongst the workforce.

1. Identify key user groups

The first step is to identify which potential user groups within the company could most benefit from using social software.

  • What needs do these people share?
  • What are their day-to-day aims?
  • What projects are they working on together?
  • What information flows between them, and how?

2. Identify and understand key users

Once you have identified key user groups, you need to know which users within that group are both influential and likely to be enthusiastic. Then consider how social software fits in to the context of their job, their daily working processes and the wider context of their group’s goals.

  • What specific problems does social software solve?
  • What are the benefits for this person?
  • How can the software be simply integrated into their existing working processes?
  • How does social software lower their work load, or the cognitive load associated with doing specific tasks?

Ideally, key users will be ‘supernodes’ – highly connected, in contact with a lot of people on a daily basis, and heavily involved with the function of their department and the transfer of information within the group and between groups. This may not be the group executive, but could well be his PA or a direct report. Frequently, people’s supernode status is not reflected by official hierarchy.

UPDATE: I don’t believe that supernodes are key anymore. I do believe that oft-ignored groups who are not traditionally thought of as influential, such as PAs, can in sometimes be crucial to an adoption strategy. But it’s far more important to focus on groups who share aims, actions, and information and who show existing enthusiasm for change and learning new stuff. This post explains in more detail why I changed my mind.

3. Convert key users into evangelists

Training in the form of short informal sessions (face-to-face or online) and ongoing on-demand support are the basics for encouraging adoption. Too much training or too formal a setting will put users off, and is usually unnecessary.

More important is that the information gathered in steps 1 and 2 are communicated to key users. They need to understand:

  • What their own needs are
  • How those needs are going to be met by the software
  • What the benefits are of using the software
  • How they can integrate that software into their daily routines

This requires face-to-face, personalised sessions which can’t happen unless steps 1 and 2 are successfully completed. The aim is to convert key users into evangelists who can then help spread usage through their own team, encouraging the people they work with to take the training and use the tool themselves.

4. Turn evangelists into trainers

Evangelists may find that it is in their own interests, having adopted the social software, to encourage their colleagues to also become competent with it. A minority of evangelists (and it only needs to be a minority), will also find it in their own interests to train their colleagues themselves.

These evangelists should be trained further and given the support and materials they need to become trainers themselves.

The advantages of having evangelist-trainers are immense:

  • They understand the day-to-day needs and working processes of their colleagues far better than an external trainer can
  • They can communicate with their colleagues more easily, in the same language
  • They have the opportunity to provide effective training on a far more informal, ad hoc basis
  • Given enough support themselves, they can then support their immediate colleagues

5. Support bottom-up adoption and emergent behaviours

Training and support should not be limited to named groups, and should be made available to all users. ‘Volunteers’, especially, should be encouraged. The most influential people in a wiki or blog community are not those with official status but those who engage most enthusiastically. For example, wikipedia has about 90,000 registered users who have edited at least 10 times since they joined, but the majority of work is done by about 5% (4500) of these users. (Stats approx. for Nov 05.)

If people start to use social software in an unexpected, innovative, or informal manner, this should also be encouraged. If a user begins by putting their team’s coffee rota on the wiki, for example, this will help them understand how the wiki works and what benefits it brings.

Management support

As well as supporting bottom-up adoption, it is beneficial for there to be top-down support, but that support has to be based on openness and transparency. Managers and team leaders must trust their staff to use the tools correctly, but they must also be forgiving if mistakes are made. There is always a learning curve associated with any new software, and some people find social software daunting because they are scared of what they perceive as a high risk of public humiliation.

Managers and team leaders should:

1. Lead by example

By using the tool themselves for team- and department-wide projects, managers can encourage their colleagues to also use social software. By being active, showing subordinates how the new tools can be used, and demonstrating the benefits, manages can play a valuable role in fostering adoption.

In the software industry, this is known as ‘eating your own dogfood’, and it is essential in order to build trust, interest and understanding.

2. Lead by mandate

If the manager makes clear that this new tool is to be used for a specific process or task, it can help foster adoption and encourage reluctant users to learn how to use the tools. For example, managers can mandate that all meetings be documented on a wiki, with agendas written through collaboration and minutes being published as soon as the meeting is over, or that monthly/weekly update reports be made on a blog or a wiki instead of in a Word document or by email.

Key to leading by mandate, however, is that the manager must also lead by example. If one of his team puts a document on the wiki, but the manager comments on it by email, that gives conflicting signals to the team. Managers must be clear about which tool they expect people to use, and must use that tool themselves.

3. Lead by reminding

Managers can also increase usage by reminding colleagues to use new technology instead of old, e.g. when a colleague emails with a document to be proof-read, the manager can reply with a request to put it on the wiki.

4. Ensure there is adequate support

Managers must accept that their staff may require support, and they must be willing to allow staff to take time out to do training. They must also ensure that they have access to ad hoc support, so that problem can be solved quickly – it is important that there is someone tasked with ‘hand holding’ through the initial adoption period.

5. Ensure personal and business benefits reflect each other

Management plays a key role identifying and communicating the business benefits of social software adoption. When users understand these benefits (e.g. reducing email volume, speeding up projects, improving productivity, encouraging innovation), and see that the business benefits are in line with the personal benefits, (everyone likes to get less email) they will have greater confidence that the software is worth their own investment.

Understanding time-scales

In large companies with thousands of users, it is impossible to give everyone face-to-face training, but even with online screencasts* and help documents, it takes a significant amount of time for adoption to take place. Having a clear adoption strategy, and ensuring that the correct key players are identified and ‘converted’, helps to speed up the process, but it remains a fact of human nature that it takes time for people to become comfortable with new technology, new ways of doing things and, most importantly, new cultures.

The cultural aspect of implementing social software in enterprise cannot be underestimated, and it is the hardest aspect to overcome. It requires time, patience and understanding, but given those three, it too is a temporary obstacle.

Remember what your goals really are

Adoption isn’t a goal in and of itself. Lots of people use email an awful lot, but that doesn’t mean that it’s being used well. Think about what your ultimate aims are; make them discrete, measurable and attainable. Go for ‘reducing occupational spam’, for example, rather than ‘improve communications’. Measure your email usage before you start, monitor it whilst you adopt, and report back regularly so that people can see the progress that they are collectively making.

Wikis are a very powerful tool within enterprise, but like any other IT project, it takes thought and planning to ensure successful adoption.

* Screencast: Digital recording of a computer screen output, often with audio instruction.

31 thoughts on “An adoption strategy for social software in enterprise

  1. Great post, Suw. This is a nice, concise summary of the adoption challenge and solution for the enterprise.

    One trick I’ve learned (“…when a colleague emails with a document to be proof-read…”) is to respond to any email that could be better served on the wiki with a positive “Thanks for the question/request/issue/idea/etc. I’ve provided the answer on the wiki” and then provide the link to the wiki.

    I’ll even copy the text of the emails into the wiki just so the reader can see a familiar context and get the idea of how their communications can be done on the wiki instead of email.

    THis may seem like no big deal, but it’s a hand-holding technique that works pretty well.

  2. Mayfield on Social Software in the Enterprise

    Suw Charman lays out an excellent framework for the buildout of social software processes [i.e., wikis and blogs] within the enterprise. I came across the post originally in Ross Mayfield’s blog today, but the post was originally posted by Suw

  3. Councillors Websites

    Suw has a strategy for getting a group of people to start to use social software. 
    I only mention it because I know there has been quite a lot of soul searching going on about the relatively small number of councillors who …

  4. Hi Suw,

    I’ve been working on a project designed to encourage Councillors to use personal websites for the last 3-4 years. (

    We’ve had a fair amount of success and we’ve used a strategy not unlike yours.

    The key problem is that many public sector bodies have a profound resistance to providing the kind of support that you advocate.

    I’ll be publishing an updated study shortly on how this has / can be acheived – I’ll let you know when it’s complete.


    Paul Evans

  5. Suw, all this makes a lot of sense but reads eerily like a knowledge management training/adoption guide from 2001. Generally speaking users don’t want to be trained, they don’t want to change their behaviour and they’re reluctant to share. So if management believes usage of social software will bring the organization benefit (have a positive ROI) then the application needs to be pre-populated with lots of valuable content and tools that are unavailable elsewhere in as simple a format. It the use and immiediate value of the application needs to be so obvious that training would be viewed as silly.

  6. Great article, Suw.
    I think your article it’s a simple and very useful guide when a company tries to move people towards new tools, like those from social software as wikis or blogs. I agree with Steve that we often meet reluctant people, but that’s normal if we consider the culture that we’ve created within many enterprises. So, perhaps we must insist on working with key users who are apart from the official power. If we work bottom-up we’ll have better results in the future. Perhaps it needs more time but nobody says these things are simple.

  7. I’d agree with everything you’ve said however thers one thing I’d add – systems should have low cost/risk methods to test the waters and train behaviour.

    One of the things that stops people from posting is confidence. If you’re not sure of your opinion or the group you’ll be a hesitant poster. That why providing anonymous and aggregated contribution methods – like rating and ranking are important.

    They help people learn that their opinion matters while allowing them a non-threatening avenue to test group reaction.

  8. But how do you get users to adopt social software?


  9. Developing Communities of Practice in Adopting New Technologies

    One of the reasons I link to Suw Charman’s blog is for posts like this: "An Adoption Strategy for Social Software in Enterprise" – a clear and useful outline of the process and pitfalls of adopting social software tools like blogs and wikis

  10. A Social Adoption Strategy for your Social Software

    Innovation Creators posted an article earlier this week Start blogging…. or you’re FIRED!. Rod Boothby, the author of Innovation Creators has some similar reading on encouraging enterprise blogging by playing to your employee’s egos …

  11. Paul: A lot of businesses, not just public sector, have a problem with providing the sort of support that I advocate. It never ceases to amaze me how companies believe that they can roll out software and then expect everyone to ‘just use it’.

    Would love to see your study though – please do email me about it!

    Steve: Yes, any training needs to be really lightweight, simple, and preferably not like training at all. Call them introductory sessions, or familiarisation sessions if you like, so long as they are short and to the point.

    And yes, I agree, most people don’t want to change their behaviour or share, which is why you have to provide clear evidence of a benefit to them which will make them better off. Sometimes that’s as easy as ‘you’ll have to deal with less email’, and sometimes it’s more complex, but you have to figure out for each person or group what the hook will be.

    Peter: Completely agree about confidence. People are scared of accidental humiliation, and that’s a powerful disincentive to use new software. Understandably, they just don’t want to be seen as stupid in front of their peers. Providing an opportunity to learn and practice which is non-threatening is important.

  12. I’m building a decentralized charity website with social network aspects that should be so scalable that it will include every charity in the world.

    It’s a bit of a plug for my site, but relevant to the article, read more about my project at:

  13. Great article, Suw.

    I’m JunPeng from China, worked for a mid-size IT Company, recently I’m investigating to see if there are some workable open source solutions for Enterprise Blogs/Project Management/Knowledge Management. could you please give me some direction on action, not hurry only when you have time ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks so much !!!

    Nice weekend.

  14. Try WordPress MU (Multi-User). It’s probably the best of the open-source solutions at the moment.

  15. Thanks a lot, Suw.

  16. Consumer and prescribing information.

  17. April 26, 2006. The purpose of the meeting was

  18. Adopting software in the enterprise

    At Strange Attractor, Suw Charman provides “An adoption strategy for social software in enterprise” that applies to adoption of any major intervention.

  19. I am also interested in social software such as blogs and wikis. I am happy to have read your article. Time and again, I wonder why people don’t readily use the software that’s available. There’s still some reluctance even if the software isn’t very difficult to use. I guess that management would have to learn how to communicate properly and I agree with the pointers you have given. This is applicable to social software but others as well.

  20. Social software is great and all but there are too many appplications out there that aren’t ideal for businesses. Jotspot for example is a tool that many businesses would love to use but because it’s being hosted on an external server, this tool is of no use this day and age because security is such a huge issue. Social software should look into making their products more security based to actually cater to the ir largest target market.

  21. Interesting article, Suw. I think that for many public sector organisations to seriously consider social software such as wikis and blogs would require a huge sea change.

    Many public sector employers are still voracious gatekeepers of information, monitoring what goes on a website to ensure that the message isn’t diluted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I’m just not sure whether we are ready for it yet!

  22. Vicky, I think the public sector would benefit greatly from social software, but like much of the private sector it would require quite a big sea change. That said, there are ways and means to start off small pilot projects that allow organisations to dip their toes in the water in a non-scary way. Internal projects focused on helping achieve business goals are good for that sort of thing.

  23. I enjoyed reading your post Suw, thanks. I work for an innovation company and about 4 months ago we introduced a wiki to share ideas, research, learn and maintain a connection throughout a now global company. It was very much a bottom up grass roots initiative and I’m doing much of the hand-holding introduction. We have quite an open culture but we’ve relied on email for the last 15 years and new technologies are not readily embraced. I’d be really interested in your thoughts on anonymous contributions from users, particularly if it encourages open and perhaps provocative debate around the organisation’s culture and leadership. It goes against the purist vision of a wiki, but I’m hoping it will encourage honest feedback from the ‘ground troops’. Do you have any experience with this? Much appreciated in advance.

  24. I enjoyed reading your post Suw, thanks. I work for an innovation company and about 4 months ago we introduced a wiki to share ideas, research, learn and maintain a connection throughout a now global company. It was very much a bottom up grass roots initiative and I’m doing much of the hand-holding introduction. We have quite an open culture but we’ve relied on email for the last 15 years and new technologies are not readily embraced. I’d be really interested in your thoughts on anonymous contributions from users, particularly if it encourages open and perhaps provocative debate around the organisation’s culture and leadership. It goes against the purist vision of a wiki, but I’m hoping it will encourage honest feedback from the ‘ground troops’. Do you have any experience with this? Much appreciated in advance.

  25. Nice article, thanks for sharing.

    I work for a global business information company in product development, so you would think wikis are common-place in a company like that; you’d wrong. I’m currently attempting to solve a particularl difficult data sharing problem that requires input from various areas accross the buiness and the globe.

    I’ve looked at many traditional solutions – but nothing hits the spot. In my spare time I’m an avid PC gamer, using differing communication methods – from wikis, forums, VoIP and blogs to discuss the gaming topics of the day. So I thought – why not introduce a wiki @ work to solve this problem I have.

    And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do now. I’m jsut at the very early stages and I’m attempting to start with a simple wiki (using Twiki)that will server my purpose behind the firewall.

    When I started think on the various other applicaions as replacements for unweidly exisitng databases, knowledge stores and document respositories my mind started to whirl with the possibilities. Coming back down to earth, I’ll start with this simple step, introduce it via trial and error and see where it goes, then I;m sure it will take on a life of its own.

    This article helped a lot in my appreciation that I am not alone in trying to start a grass-roots wiki within a global enterprise…..and some handy hints for making it work too.

  26. Thanks for the great post, Suw. You’ve made some really valid points about seeing social software adopted in the enterprise environment.

  27. Hello Suw!

    After reading your post, I find it to be very useful on my research on the adoption of Wiki technology. Right now I’m doing an academic survey on this topic. You may like to look at it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am currently conducting a research survey on Wiki technology. The survey title is called “Survey on Adoption of Wiki Technology Innovation”.

    The objective of this survey is to deepen the understanding of the initial adoption of Wiki technology innovation by individuals in organizations, and the Wiki technology’s diffusion within the organization. It is based on the theoretical framework of Roger’s Diffusion of Innovation theory.

    I would appreciate your expert view and feedback on this survey. Also, I’m wondering if you can help in forwarding this email to your colleagues, friends, or anybody you think use wiki in organisational settings. I hope it will not take too much of your time and apologize for any inconveniences.

    Here is a link to the survey:

    This short survey will take about 10-15 minutes to complete and will greatly assist in the study of the factors that influence the adoption Wiki technology innovation.

    Thank you very much for your time! ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Hello Suw,

    how could an enterprise use social software for the learning process (especially concerning apprenticeship or vocational training)??
    Thanks for your help!

  29. This is a great Article that I often send the link of, to enthusiastic customers who feel quizzed about why their team mates are not as excited as they are about using enterprise 2.0 applications.

    As a vendor of collaboration tools, I can vouch for the fact that deep adoption and increasing the contributor to lurker ratio has been the biggest challenge for most companies trying to implement modern tools like Wikis and blogs. Your post pretty much sums up the methodologies an organisation can use to drive adoption.

    Though driving of adoption is a process and an activity, I believe technology can play a strong role as well. We focused our product, much towards providing the best user experience, and build supporting tools around to enhance adoption. Our biggest success in this front has been the desktop tool, which provides vital functions from a desktop sidebar, that starts up with your computer. More than a 100 of our enterprise customers have beta tested this and nearly all of them have reported a 5x to 10x increase in participation.

    Thanks for the great post.

  30. Pingback: New Media Mania » Blog Archive » Ignorance is Not Bliss: People and Processes in KM

  31. Hi Suw
    I find very interesting your article, to display how you can overcome the factors that have affected the growth of Web 2.0.
    I wonder if I can provide information on cases of corporations that have implemented Web 2.0 technologies into their internal processes.

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