This post explains why successful social networks generate virtuous cycles where new usage brings in new users -- and how, by bringing in new users, new positive dynamics appear. Because of both the new dynamics and the growing number of users that they attract, the network unlocks new capabilities that were not possible beforehand. When this happens, the value provided by the network can grow exponentially.
The little story
Facebook appeared in 2004 targeting a small collection of students, and was focused on solving their very specific problems. Then in 2006, the company opened its doors to virtually anyone, and rapidly started solving a very different array of human needs. By 2008, most of my friends, my brothers, my cousins had joined the network. Facebook became a common place to do some of the "old stuff" that we used to do elsewhere. We used to greet people for their anniversary by using the telephone. We used to share the pictures from our last party by email. Suddenly, all of this was happening right there in our social network.
Between 2008 and 2012, my Mom heard a lot about Facebook from us, but she never really wanted to sign in. That's quite a long time... I kept wondering why she was not in there despite her social and friendly nature.
Between 2008 and 2012 my Mom heard a lot about Facebook from us but she never really wanted to sign in.
It all changed one day when she visited a friend that showed her some pictures of our kids in her phone app. During that year, my brothers and I had been sharing many more pictures of our babies and kids through the social network than what we regularly sent to her by email (she lives in another country). My mother was just amazed by how many pictures of her grand-children this friend had, and how recent many of them had been taken. She came back home later that night and finally signed up for Facebook.
What's in for me?
The main takeaway from this story is that no matter how interesting a social network can sound to people, there has to be a real and tangible benefit for joining. For my mother, Facebook suddenly became "the killer app" to see her grandchildren on a regular basis. Of course, she is now hooked up to the platform, and uses it for many other things.
When we translate this story into a parallel for corporate usage, we can think of many examples of people not using an intranet or a collaboration platform simply because there is not yet a meaningful, tangible use case -- that one use cases that will make them join, that "killer app"... Once they join, it is a different story. Once they are using the platform, they will probably discover a handful of new use cases, and from there expand their daily usage. But most users need this important first "trigger" use case or event to get things started.
Most users need to see that killer-app use case before they start using a new collaboration tool.
At Beezy, when we get asked for advice on how to deploy a successful enterprise social network, the best advice we can give them is to find these specific and compelling use cases. No single use case will apply to every employee - the goal is to find those that will make your network become the "killer app" for each of your employees, and relate to their specific circumstances. For example, a Beezy customer from the retail industry shared with us how our mobile app became critical to their sales people when visiting their physical stores. They shared how they used our app on a daily basis to show off store designs and decorations, report and discuss issues, to generate ideas, and so forth.
Now matter how well you sell the benefits of an enterprise social network, you will need to answer the very specific question of "What's in for me" at the individual level.
Why adoption is so crucial
The fact that employees will require any new tool to solve their very specific needs doesn't mean that you want to focus only on the individual level. The ultimate goal of solving individual problems is to get broader adoption. My Mom saw value in Facebook because her sons had already adopted the technology, and were using it in a regular base to upload pictures.
Social networks by definition need a sustainable level of user adoption to fulfil their promises. The more minds you can get to work together, the more efficient the system will be. That's why the second piece of advice we give to our customers is that they target use cases that can entice large portions of their workforce. Our Town Hall functionality, for example, is frequently used to get a massive number of employees involved in targeted discussions, each of them coming to see their individual questions answered.
Social networks have this amazing capacity to adapt to a very large range of use cases, and because of that they can potentially bring together a large number of people. And when more people become involved, the network generates new uses cases. It's an amazing virtuous circle.
The evolution of consumer social networks teach us many things that are applicable to Enterprise Collaboration. Because of the fast pace of evolution inherent within social networks, they tend to anticipate what could potentially happen in their corporate Enterprise Collaboration counterpart. It's up to us to learn from this evolution, and leverage social networks to unleash the full potential of our organizations.