How does social software get in an organization?

2/25/2008 | Christian Kreutz

In older days, new software and applications came to an organization via the IT department. Nowadays, it is easier for social software to reach organizations in different ways because no firewall can stop it. To keep social software and its potential for knowledge sharing behind the firewall it is a contradiction.

Social software arrives in an organization in many different ways. Traditionally, it used to be installed software, where the desktop was -- or still is -- protected to prevent any misuse. As the web becomes a platform, applications are more and more web based. For example, a whole office suite can be accessed online. Calendars, project management and to-do lists are also offered for free. And of course blogs, wikis and social networks are just one click away. Clearly this changes the role of the IT department.

Dennis D. McDonald elaborates the different adoption models social media. He sees four different models in which social media and social networking are taken up by organizations:

  • _Top down _In the “top down” model organization’s leaders implement and lead the adoption of tools and techniques such as blogs, wikis, social networking systems, shared bookmarks, and podcasting.
  • _Bottom up _In the “bottom up” model the workers start blogging, using wikis and social networking systems to advance their jobs.
  • _Inside out _This is a variation of “bottom up,” only this time the tools are adopted internally by the organization and their usage spills over into external markets, members, or customers of the organization.
  • _Outside in _In this model the adoption of social media and social networking by the marketplace progresses to a point where the organization can no longer ignore it, especially if usage by competitors starts to become public.

But why is it interesting to know how it happens?

  1. It says a lot about the organizational culture.
  2. It lets you connect it better to existing web solutions.
  3. Too many different social software not connected nor taken with enough care will lead to another information overload and frustration.
  4. Social media needs its audience and that can flourish itself in an organizational environment as long as people are aware of it.

Top down

It has its advantages because tools are available right in the organization and resources are given to promote them. However, there are not necessarily adopted as easily because it does not prove an added value per se. Especially, focusing purely on a tool can become easily a dead end. More important to motivate engagement in the dialogue in order to experiment is a key, and that is much easier with the support of the management. However, the top down approach can only be a trigger or role model, but success evolves through a horizontal community.

Bottom up

It is the most obvious way and what is happening in many cases. Facebook is, for example, a mixture of private and professional contacts. But can a social network be build informally through a web in an organization? Employees can easily experiment with blogs out in a secure place for free. The time until a specific software is on every desktop can take ages. In contrast, web tools are a click away and they are getting better everyday. This "guerilla method" has also its disadvantages that the more people there are, the more different tools are used. Organizational knowledge is not linked and dispersed over the net. It is also questionable whether it reaches a lot of colleagues.

Inside out This is, however, an great attempt for an open network, where the organization can benefit best from internal and external knowledge. Few companies or organizations are doing this as far as I know. But until today the potential is not used if you look at social network, which marginal or not, are all grasped by an Intranet. I can think of Sun Microsystems. This approach blurs the boundaries, but leads to improved learning and innovation. That is what the book "Wikinomics" is all about. The resistance, especially from the management to it, is surely the strongest for many different reasons. This approach leads, however, to interesting debates about whether information has to be confidential and what should be open for sharing.

**Outside in **This is happening still very rarely. Surely blogs and wikis are tested in many organizations. However the outside pressure on organizations is in my opinion still low, because not enough organizations have proven the success of advantage of social software. However Larry Huston gave an interesting interview Innovation Networks: Looking for Ideas Outside the Company.

I don't believe we're at a tipping point yet, but I think, in the future, the companies that identify those assets outside and begin to build relationships with them have a real shot at building a competitive advantage and preferential relationships.

Often, employees have to find their own way to get all sort of information out from the web. A comprehensive feed subscription would be needed to deliver employees with good and relevant information available.

How does web2.0 arrive in your organization? What are the obstacles before it flourishes? Can you see the different ways it happens? Which key success factors are embraced by an organization and its members?