When provided a choice, do people choose?

Social software is a strange beast in terms of corporate software. The best social tools are developed by small software houses or ad hoc groups of open source developers. Often they are much more usable than traditional corporate tools, more lightweight and more flexible. Comparing WordPress, which is basically a content management system, with some of the CMSes I used back when I was a web designer/developer, the difference is stunning. WordPress is just so much simpler to use and easier to manage.

But for me, the key difference between traditional enterprise software and social software is that in almost all cases, social software is elective. If your business decides to change its email client or accounts package, for example, there’s nothing users can do but get on with it. Social tools, on the other hand, frequently replace existing tools/processes such as email and meetings and are almost always optional. Users often opt not to bother.

The successful implementation of social software doesn’t stop with a technically successful roll-out. In fact, that’s when the process begins because that’s when your adoption strategy should kick in.

Adoption is ultimately about behaviour change: persuading people that, for example,

instead of sending an email to everyone with a new version of a document they are working on, they should put it on a wiki where it’s easier to collaborate. This might seem like a small step – and for a few people it is – but for the majority that’s a fundamental change to the way that they have learnt to work on documents.

When we are faced with these sorts of changes we tend to resist. I’d hazard a guess that neophobia is much more common than neophilia (which is why you can spot us neophiliacs a mile off!), and the assumption that people will resist should be front and centre in social media project roll-out plans.

In short, the implementation of social software is not a technical project, it’s a behavioural change project.