Building Enterprise Social Networks

Building Enterprise Social Networks

As a start-up, you’re encouraged to pilot things, one small step at a time. Continually build on your successes, and keep on refining things that don’t quite work. As an innovation technique, that works well too. As a change management technique, it also works pretty well.

What then happens if you don’t have the opportunity to pilot something? What happens if things just don’t work on a small scale? Enterprise social networks are a classic case where it only really works with a critical mass of users. It’s very hard to run a pilot trial with 25 users and come up with meaningful results.

Perhaps the answer is to go back to the basic rationale for the pilot, being a small investment that doesn’t lock you into a particular path and allows you to evaluate likely success. For most traditional projects, that equates to providing the product or service to a small number of users and letting them test it out. Two things are wrong with this argument in the context of a pilot enterprise social network.

Firstly, the link between the number of users and the amount of investment is unlikely to be linear. The marginal cost of additional participants is probably very small, if not zero. Roughly the same quantum of pilot investment money will get you a trial with 25 or 25,000 users, and if you’re lucky it might even be free. Why not go with 25,000? That might actually provide some data to evaluate success.

Secondly, the pilot trial needs to be thought about in the context of the wider business. The concept of a trial may involve not embedding key business practices on the enterprise social network. Keep the legacy systems running that power your CRM, innovation, project management, and other things. Integrating your social network in business processes is the end game. It would be quite unusual if creating a network wasn’t the first step of a much longer journey.

Run pilot trials, they really do work. The first step is to understand what you questions you want answered by the pilot, and then be creative about running something which will give you definitive answers. If you approach it this way, the network trial with 25 people would never have made sense.