Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Customising your Social Business platform - 5 things to keep in mind

Most social business platforms are maturing quite fast. The landscape now has players that have been around for a while and provide functionality that'll put some consumer apps to shame. That being said, often times the stock platform isn't 'exactly' what you want. You may need to customise the platform to get the most out of it for your company. While this is quite common in the enterprise, it's also a big opportunity for you to destroy every chance of success that you can potentially have. We've done a significant amount of custom development on our internal social business platform, myThoughtWorks and our successes and failures have led me to a few lessons that I want to share with you in today's blogpost.

Find a stakeholder who understands social business

Social business is new and isn't necessarily compliant with the traditional notions of knowledge sharing, learning and internal communications. And let's face it, you're unlikely to have a free rein to build whatever you want to. If these two realities have to combine to a happy end then you need a stakeholder who understands social business. Easier said than done, I know but if you have to succeed then your business stakeholders need to be speaking the same language as you. Talk to Dinesh Tantri and Nikhil Nulkar and they'll tell you that the most successful enterprise 2.0 implementations they've seen involve stakeholders who were really passionate about the potential of social media in the enterprise. Sometimes we're not as lucky to have supporters of that nature. In that case, we need to do the best we can to educate our stakeholders on the potential of social business. Starting work with some common ground and common vocabulary can do a world of good.

Evaluate well, understand your priorities

Social business may not be the most mature practice around but the technology is advancing quite fast. Companies like Jive, Yammer, SocialCast and others pride themselves on the user experience they've crafted and the approaches they profess. Now of course some platforms have a lot of features and others don't. This is where a thorough evaluation comes in. Look at your budget, look at your needs and find the platform that's a closest match. Now the key is to honour that match. Social business suites build their platforms the way they do for a reason. A lot of them have had a lot of success selling their tools. You could easily start rigging your platform to be 'exactly' how you want it to be, but there's tremendous value in running a near vanilla install with just your company's branding on it. This is not to say that customisation is not important - you just need to hold your horses. See how people use the defaults, understand them well. There's no point extending a platform without fully understanding its existing potential. While you take the suite through its paces, prioritise what you really need to build. In fact, I daresay that in the initial months any customisation that's likely to drive engagement trumps what you would consider 'business requirements'. Frankly, if people aren't going to use the platform enough, the fancy business requirement means nothing.

User feedback trumps imaginary requirements

If you're building for users, then you need user feedback. You're not trying to release the next big thing in the market. Remember, people use tools such as these almost everyday in real life. So there's nothing sillier than to try and build stuff off your own wild imagination. That kind of thing may be necessary once you have the right level of engagement, but surely not upfront. Speak to users, seek their feedback. Understand their problems, help them find solutions within the system first. Check if it's only a clash of mental models. If it isn't then find out what's the bare minimum customisation that could possibly work. The key here is to make small, iterative improvements, to put changes into production and then to let real, informed use to drive improvements. If people aren't using it, then it's perhaps a case for you to look at usability first than to build new requirements. By churning out new functionality on a broken user experience, you'll drive users away faster than you can imagine. It's tempting I know, but resist the temptation to over engineer requirements - simplicity is the greatest sophistication.

Keep the experience consistent


I'll let you in on a dirty little secret about enterprise 2.0 platforms. They're so flexible that you can run them the way you like. You can create the cool, corporate equivalent of your favourite social media platform or you can build out a crap, 1990s style intranet. Now I don't know about you, but I'm hoping that somewhere in your firm you want to run social media like social media. And if that's the bulk of your usage then you don't want to saddle it with legacy style requirements. It's confusing for your users, it's a nightmare to manage. Not evident upfront, but I can tell you this from experience. This is a consulting challenge for most internal social business consultants, but I realise that this requires long term influence and stakeholder education. Again, you can choose to run new systems the old way or exploit them to the hilt by encouraging new business behaviours.

Innovate fast - appreciate the consumerisation of IT

If I had to add one last piece of advice to today's post, I'll say this. Everyone knows what social media looks like and how it works on the big, broad, internet. To tell you the truth, we see the latest and greatest sooner than we see it in the enterprise. Think of user experiences for example. You can access Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Google Apps by just tapping an icon on your phone. No login required whatsoever, once you've enabled credential storage. How do you logon to your intranet? You perhaps have to key in a cryptic passcode. Think of Flipboard for the iPad - it's a magazine interface for all your social media intake. It's just perfect for 'keeping up'. In comparision, even a leading enterprise provider like Jive Software hasn't updated their iPhone app for over a year! With the recent announcement of iCloud, even email and calendaring as well will be heaps better than anything the enterprise offers. You could take every use case and people have access to better tools than you're providing them from the enterprise. The key is to focus your customisations on bridging the gap between personal and enterprise tools. How can we reduce the entry barrier? How can we help people's information intake? How can we increase engagement? These are key questions for us to answer.
So, are you extending your social business platform? If you are, I'd love to hear how your experience has been. Do my musings strike a chord with you? Do you have suggestions for other blog readers? Let me know. Next week, watch this space for some more of my thoughts about social business adoption and maturity.

28 comments:

Sam said...

These are the things that you should keep in mind before customizing your social business. Thanks for sharing.

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SpeedStar said...

Finding a stakeholder who understands social business should no longer be as difficult as it used to be a few years back, because more and more people are becoming aware of the power of social media and how to harness that power.

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california incorporation said...

For those new in the business of social media, it would be so much more advantageous to outsource it to providers who have the numbers and the reputation to walk the talk. It is also important to do proper due diligence before signing off with 3rd party providers.

Marshal Drake said...

Prioritising will really help you in knowing which is the utmost and urgent project you will do. This tips are really great and found a good value to it. Thank you for sharing this one.
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Stew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stew said...

I love your input about the "consumerisation" of IT in the sense that it spans more than just one branch of business operations. There are various sectors, for instance, accounting in the philippines, that rely heavily on what new developments it will bring to the table.

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