“Social is hard!” is something I hear repeatedly by most of my clients and those I talk to. It is one of the issues I continually run across in my work with organizations trying to better understand social software and collaboration tools for their organization as well as helping vendors better understand their gaps and how to close them as social scales.
I have my “40 Plus Social Lenses” that I use to set foundations and understandings to better see issues, gaps, and understand the potential ways forward. Everything requires testing and rarely does the good solution work everywhere as there are no best practices, because what we are working with is humans and how they are social. Humans and how we interact is not simple, we are not simple social creatures.
In January I quickly cobbled together a presentation for the UX Camp DC (a Washington DC User Experience community BarCamp) that I quickly titled “Getting Beyond Simple Social”, which I used as a frame for why most organizations are stuck with social (it is embedded at the end of this). Most organizations are stuck as they came to social thinking there are just a handful of things to understand and this social stuff is simple. I had a meeting with the senior partner at a huge global consulting firm who only wanted to know the best tool and if I could just boil down the 40+ Social Lenses to 2 or 3 as 40 is a bit tough (not only did the meeting end in my head at that point, but so did much of my respect for that firm), I explained to the end users and customers social needs to be simple, but in reality it is very complicated and complex and somebody has to work through that, which is what people hire consultants to work through for them and guide them through.
So, I cobbled together a few items from the 40 social lenses that I have presented prior, but included 2 new slides of things. The first is “Getting to Mainstream” (slides 4 through 8) and “5 Beginning Social Questions”.
Getting to Mainstream
Much of my work is helping organizations with social inside their firewall, which means bringing it to mainstream. In my years of working with social and collaboration services and platforms (since 1996) the tools haven't really changed much, other than now the tools get out of the way much more (in the 90s the answer to improving the tools was adding form fields, which is rarely ever the right answer, our technology has moved beyond that, we should too). But, the following are the reality setting steps I take with organizations and that took me years to grasp.
Inside the firewall the goal for social is ultimately 100 percent of the employees and/or partners. The measuring stick is often email, which is ubiquitous and a very familiar tool for everybody in the organization. Email is social and is something that everybody understands and has their face in at some point during the day. Many look at what is happening in social web services and seeing ease of communication and interaction, often in the open, which solves some of the pain points that are tied to email and email is everywhere.
What is lacking in the 100 percent goal is the understanding that email often took 5 years in most organizations to reach roughly 100 percent adoption and use. Having lived through the inception of email in a few organizations and then talking with friends about their organizations where they worked or consulted, the 5 year threshold was fairly normal. I don't know anybody who was actually measuring this broadly in their organization (Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization is a great book that will get you close to this as it walks through adoption and use patterns of email in companies).
Focus on Social
The focus is often on social by those looking for a solution uses the viewpoint of social web. But, much of what they see and have explained is not mainstream usage, but usage by early adopters and innovators (in the framing terms of Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm which uses a modified version of the Technology Adoption Lifecycle). The downside of much of the understanding around social through the view of early adopters or innovations, from their own perspective or others watching, is that is far from mainstream. The personality types and traits of this roughly 5 to 10 percent of the population are quite different from the norms of more mainstream users who follow later. Much of the understandings of the clicksperts who followed the trends and tried to make sense of things (often labeling themselves “social media gurus”) failed to grasp they were trying to explain the edges as the norm.
One of the most telling examples of this is from Twitter who explained 40 percent of our active users simply sign in to listen to what's happening in their world..
Understanding How the 90 Percent are Social
If we are going to focus on social for everybody we need to understand how the 90 percent who are not innovators and early adopters are social. Most people do not interact the way social is described by the clicksperts, social media gurus, or most of what is written up in Mashable (I spend so much time undoing what is written in Mashable as “understanding” - this was the impetus for my coming to grips with Popular - Thinking about it, which also applies to so many other things).
As we saw with email in the 1990s, social tools can reach the 100 percent. The BBCs wiki usage passed 100 percent adoption after 5 years of use. It takes time for adoption to happen, but it also takes guidance and modifying tools for use by mainstream. Euan Semple, who started and guided the BBC initiative as their head of knowledge management as a fantastic book out now, Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do: A Manager's Guide to the Social Web, if you want a good understanding from somebody else who has been living this.
5 Beginning Social Questions
Where I started getting to the reality of social and collaboration in 1996 I was managing a private Compuserve forum for 3,000 lawyers for a legal trade organization. I was continually running into issues pertaining to social problems. Having a solid academic background in social sciences with organizational communication and communication theory undergrad and public policy for grad school looking at human social interactions, particularly at social scale scale was something I had training for and experience with. But, having a mediated interface through a whole new perspective to think through.
I quickly realized there were a high level set of 5 questions I was continually coming back to so to try and solve some of the issues I was seeing with use and non-use of the service (I also spent a lot of time with the Compuserve product people talking about issues and means to resolve them). The 5 questions I asked started with trying to resolve, “Is it:…”
- The person
- How humans are social
- Cultural influences - or cross cultural issues
- Organizational constraints
- Problems with the tools / service
Never was the problem just one of these elements, but it was a mix of two or more of the elements. On very rare occasions it was just the person, but like many things where there is one instance there will often be more. These 5 simple beginning social questions get intermingled and tangled very quickly and are just the tip of the iceberg for all things social software that would follow for me.
The person is often the most common place to point with there is a problem or issue with social software. If it is seemingly a one-off problem keep good track of what it is, as quite often you are looking at social software's equivalent “patient zero” (also known in epidemiology as the index case) and understanding that one person's problems and issues as much as possible will help sorting out the real issues then if and what could or should be done to resolve the issues.
The downside with focussing on just the individual is everybody is different with their make up is different and has different experiences, has different cultural inflections, is a different personality type, has a different social role, as a different work role, and many other variables that influence who they are and their social interaction needs. Many of these variable or elements can be clustered with others with similar traits so that we are not dealing with an “every snowflake is different” syndrome, but need to at the core of it understand why every person (snowflake is different).
How Humans are Social
Understanding with some broad and unfocussed grasp of human sociality we need to look at if the problem at hand or the need in front of us is viewed from how humans are social. When we think in this perspective it is best not to use an innovator or early adopter perspective as they do things that are out of the norm (think of Mark Zuckerbergs egregious claim that people want to be openly social and nothing can be farther from the truth for most of human social experience, most humans normally are not wired to share everything openly and looking at those of us who are broken should not be mistaken for the norm). Thinking of how humans at scale or broadly generalized are social can help is a helpful perspective, but knowing what the real norm is, or the norm is for the relative cultures is helpful.
Cultural Influences - Cross Cultural Clash
How humans are social is often problematic as the norms we consider do not really translate well across cultures and particularly inside organizations. We do know that people with interact with others in smaller more comfortable venues, but who is included nor not included in the conversation or even simple sharing of things doesn't universally translate. I have twice run across people who have been working to solve lack of use of collaborative platforms that are shared between US/UK portion of the company and their Japanese counterpart. The core problem is in the forum groups the US and UK employees will share more openly and freely if their managers are not part of the discussion and do not have access to the group, but in Japan not having your manager in the discussion is seen as highly disrespectful and is something that employees should never do.
Not only does culture come from global cultural differences, but understanding an organizations culture is also essential as many times the organization has its own ingrained ways of handling things and its culture is broadly adopted through learning or other less formal enculturation patterns. Understanding what happens in the organization when something goes wrong is often a really good pulse point. Having the depth of understanding from change management professionals is helpful for sorting through an organization's baseline culture and the possibilities for modification to that existing perspective.
How and organization is managed and controlled is really helpful to understand as it often is echoed in how social software and collaboration tools are used and adopted. How malleable that corporate culture is will be very important to grasp at the stage of tool selection, because each tool and platform has its unspoken social interaction model that it echoes. Getting the wrong interaction model mapped to an organization's culture that runs counter to that organizations broad culture you will have issues. It is also important to keep in mind most organizations have many subcultures, which often makes one social interaction model difficult for adoption and optimal use.
Every organization not only has its own cultural fingerprint, but it is often constrained by external pressures, particularly if it is a publicly traded company, an organization in a heavily regulated industry, or has a lot of oversight as governmental and NGOs have with their public view and those that gave and review their charter. The external oversight along with rules and regulations as to what can be said, who can see it, who shouldn't see it, and formal record keeping all play an important role in use, as well as tool selection and its implementation.
This is also often intermingles with cross-cultural issues of roles in organizations as some, by their role (legal, HR, mergers and acquisitions, etc.) are far more restrictive and not prone to sharing or cooperation outside the bounds of their small trusted and approved collaborators working within their known bounds of permissions and sharing. Where as those in marketing roles are often far more comfortable interacting more openly and broadly and are willing to cooperate, but you take the sales slice of that marketing and you hit people who are heavily competitive and often have personality types prone not to share and are also rewarded and encouraged to be competitive (often with the mindset, you share with me as much as you want, but I'm am still competing heavily and sharing is not in my best interest at all - yes, heavily stereotypical and often for a reason).
Is it the Tool or Service
The medium that all of this social interaction takes place to get the work down plays a tremendous role in what works and doesn't work. As I pointed out recently in Social Reticence of a Click things as simple as a star to favorite things (as the only option for one of three different social intentions) can lead to serious problems (serious if getting fired is serious)). Most (I have yet to find one that actually grasps this, but I am open to being surprised) of the analyst firms out there have simple check boxes that do a tremendous dis-service to social software and collaboration services as the things that actually matter and are needed to be understood are not included in any of the check box mindset understandings of the world. The magic quadrant and other farcical measures don't help understand what is needed to make good choices and this often leads organizations to purchase the wrong tools for their needs.
Often the tools get in the way from our optimal interactions as many of the elements that are important to grasp as put forward above (as simply and thinly as they have been conveyed) were not grasped in the consideration, selection, purchasing, nor implementation and honing of the service. Far too often the tools have been created outside of the depth of understanding of human social interactions and implemented by IT whom, as was brilliantly broad brush stated by Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard, is as relevant to do the work as having a Mormon bartender (having spent much of my professional life within IT and dealing with social this is as apt a metaphor as any).
The tool is often one of the pain points, as most do not embrace human social needs as they run counter to how humans are social. But, the tools is not always the part to blame.
It is A Mix
As it is with many things, it is not the individual pieces of this 5 part question looking to find a simple answer, but it is almost always a mix of some, if not all of these five elements. Our poorly thought through understanding that social is simple quickly hits reality that we must get beyond simple social understandings to understand how it is complicate and complex to we can move beyond. Looking at these five elements knowing which ones play what roles as part of the foundation of the problem set is essential, but having good data and understanding is needed, but also a solid understanding in of this panoply of intertwingled elements and how to best make an adaptive service that meets the needs of the people who have been waiting for a long time for a good social and collaborative service that meets their needs of business as it takes a larger step to better interactions in the work environment. Yes, most don't know they have been waiting, but most know the tools they have been strapped to in the past and often currently are not anything that they should be and often the tools and services are not really usable and IT spent money to create a problem rather than taking large strides to solve it. It is time to get beyond that, but doing so takes moving beyond the model of simple social.