Social networking success requires solid plans

Technology is important, but so is planning and execution, say users Lockheed Martin and design firm IDEO

Users who shared their social networking implementation stories at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston on Wednesday emphasized that success requires careful consideration of corporate culture and goals, as well as effective technology.

"My biggest piece of advice is to make sure social media is grounded in the challenges of your business. It's different for each business," said Shawn Dahlen Jr., social media program manager at Lockheed Martin, during a presentation.

Lockheed has created a platform called Unity, which is based on Microsoft SharePoint. But the choice of technology was more pragmatic than anything else, since SharePoint was already a mainstay in Lockheed's IT environment.

The platform "provided an evolutionary path" from a document-centric culture to one that embraces wikis and blogs, Dahlen said.

A grassroots approach worked for Lockheed when it came time to roll out Unity.

Initially, the company did little more "than put up some posters" to attract the attention of workers in the company's information systems and global services division, Dahlen said.

A subsequent step was a series of presentations to various Lockheed executives, which "got them excited about what we were doing."

Today, 20,000 of the 55,000 workers in the IS & GS division are contributing content to Unity, Dahlen said in an interview after the presentation.

But the real rate of adoption is more like 60 percent, since only 35,000 of those employees are "addressable" -- the others work in top-secret or nation-building activities, for example, and therefore cannot participate, he said.

Strong support from Lockheed's high-ranking corporate managers has been key to the success of Unity, which is now being rolled out across the company.

But an all-out order to use it would have been counterproductive, said Christopher Keohane, social media product manager, in an interview.

"If you set the right cultural tone, you'll find the adoption," Keohane said. "The more you mandate it, you get people just 'checking the box' to say they did it."

The most effective way executives can drive a social platform's adoption is simply by participating themselves, as well as being receptive to communications and ideas that stream in from the rank-and-file, Keohane said during Lockheed's presentation.

"Not everyone's idea has to be accepted, but you have to show they are listening and taking action on stuff," Keohane said.

A much smaller company than Lockheed Martin that nonetheless faces the organizational challenges of widely distributed teams also presented at the conference Wednesday.

Design company IDEO, which has about 500 employees and offices in North America, Europe and Asia, has focused its efforts around a corporate intranet called The Tube, said Gentry Underwood, head of knowledge sharing.

Over time, IDEO has developed a number of design principles for social-networking software, Underwood said.

One is to "build pointers" to people, instead of trying to pull every scrap of information every worker might possess into a giant knowledge base, he said.

That approach is good for collecting facts and figures, but not much else, he said. "A lot of the really good [knowledge], it's too contextual, too experiential, too tacit."

Therefore, an IDEO employee's profile on The Tube focuses on delivering an abundance of information about the worker that is useful to the business, such as his or her workload over the coming weeks, contact information, short and long-form biographical information, and a list of their ongoing tasks.

Managers can use the aggregated data in the process of assigning workers to various projects.

The profiles pull in information from existing IDEO systems, including Microsoft Active Directory and a time-tracking application, he said.

Since every organization has a raft of such legacy software, a social-networking implementation is "like a custom-fit suit," he said. "What we try to do is take all these pieces together and make one experience."

Nearly all IDEO workers have now "taken ownership" of their personal profiles, he said.

That rate of adoption "never would have been possible by saying, 'OK, there's a new system and everyone is responsible for maintaining their people page," he said.

The company's approach saw it invite about 10 percent of its workforce -- choosing people who were seen as social leaders -- to use The Tube first. This created enough buzz to spark broader interest once it was made available company-wide.

The software's usability is another key focus for IDEO. Like Lockheed Martin, IDEO is using an agile development methodology to fine-tune its platform. A new version of The Tube is released every week.

"The vision you're going to get this stuff right on the first step? It doesn't happen," Underwood said. "It needs to be thought of as a living system that is growing as the company does."

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Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service
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