Launching your enterprise social network with pilot teams, Part 1


Inviting pilot teams to an internal social network

Which teams will get to be on your invite list?

It’s usually not a good idea to roll out an internal social network to the whole organisation right away – unless you work for a small organisation with less than 100 employees. Instead of a big launch you should start small by launching the network with pilot* teams.

There are at least two key reasons for this.

Firstly, most successful change projects use pioneers to gather momentum. Trying to get everyone onboard right away might seriously harm the network: resistance from the skeptical majority can even kill the network in its infancy. Your job is to provide the network a safe place to grow stronger, so it has enough credibility when it comes time to convince the more skeptical majority to come onboard. When they see that other people in the organisation have used the network successfully to get work done they are more likely to try it themselves.

Secondly, pilot teams offer a safe place to experiment and gather success stories that you can use to sell the social software platform to the rest of the organisation – including senior management.

But where do you start?

First: Study the company strategy

Resist the temptation to pick a non-threatening project that is far removed from the core business – say a staff lounge renovation project. Instead, try and find a project or projects that have a clear link with the organisation’s strategy. This way you will be in a better position to get more resources to roll it out to the rest of the organisation later on – with senior management support. Senior executives will be more interested in your collaboration software  initiative when you can say things like “better collaboration and information sharing between sales reps increased sales by x%’’ or “the time spent handling customer complaints was reduced by x%”.

Or, you can try some of the suggestions below (many of which will probably have a direct link to your organisation’s strategy).

1. Find pain points in the customer journey

Ask the customer service team where the internal pain points are in the customer journey. What is hurting the customer experience? Is it information silos between sales and customer support? Is it the thorny customer questions that remain unanswered for long periods of time? Chances are there is at least one problem in the internal process that you can address with an internal social network.

2. Find project teams (low hanging fruit alert)

Project teams are generally considered to be the low hanging fruit for enterprise social rollouts – especially ones that are geographically dispersed. They are good candidates because they have a clear purpose and can often operate outside the routines and old ways of doing things. (However, make sure you pick a project with a real goal – generic, poorly defined “projects” won’t get any better just because you are using a collaboration platform).

Tip: if you manage to find a project that is important to senior executives you might be able to make an even more compelling case if the rollout is a success.

3. Find communities of practice (low hanging fruit alert)

Large organisations that have people in the same job function, often in different locations, are another low hanging fruit for enterprise social pilot projects. An easy way to get started is to frame the enterprise social network as a Q&A forum for this type of community of practice. People with similar jobs are almost always interested in tips and tricks from colleagues.

Tip: Make sure you pick a community of practice whose members are happy to share information with each other. If for example sales reps are on a commission and in direct competition with each other they are less likely to share information with each other.

Miguel Zlot, former enterprise social advocate at the brewing giant Molson Coors, points out that a of waste happens in a company which is spread across multiple regional zones that sell fundamentally the same product.

“Around the world we have several different agency partners doing fundamentally the same thing – sell cold refreshing beer. So being able to post advertisements and sales/marketing materials for other colleagues to enjoy and start breeding their own ideas can lead to big time and cost savings. For instance, if we create an ad that works in one country maybe we can recreate a version of it somewhere else. Someone will see it and say, “Hey that’s neat, How did you do that? Where can I get the creative for that?” They can just slap on some new words and get it approved by the relevant agencies in that country and put it out. That can cut out a lot of duplicity of effort.

Sales is another big area. For example, we launched Molson Canadian in Ireland and we’ve been able to watch how that launch had gone and how they’ve branded on and off premises with Molson Canadian – through the eyes of a sales rep. So the entire company’s gotten to do that; what that does internally is to breed competition between sales reps to outdo each other, so you end up with bigger, better and more bold displays. We’ve never been able to let our salesforce share imagery so easily before. Now our sales and marketing teams all post pictures from events in bars and pubs, which has been amazing to watch.”

How did you launch your network? If you used pilot teams, how did you choose them?

More ideas in Part 2 of this post.

– Virpi


* Use the word “pilot” with caution. It can make the project sound like a temporary experiment which is not worth taking seriously. This is why some people (my friend Matt Partovi from Yammer for example) prefer to call their pilot projects “phase one projects”. I would use the word “pilot” with senior management if they are not quite sold on the idea of an enterprise social network. Pilot sounds non-threatening and it can be easier to get a permission to do a pilot, than it is to a huge organisation wide rollout. Phase one makes sense when you are talking to your pilot (phase one) participants. In short: use the words that you think make sense with your audience(s).

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