User Adoption and Enterprise 2.0

June 23, 2008

So you’ve rolled out blogs and wikis internally behind your organization’s firewall and everyone is excited to see swarms of employees blogging and creating a “your organization-ipedia” that will put the traditional Intranet to shame.  Months later, you’re still waiting…still looking for that critical mass of users…still trying to get management on-board with the idea of blogs…still trying to get people to just, you know, use these tools!

What’s the matter???

It could be that you haven’t enabled something called “viral expansion loops.”  It’s a direct marketing technique that was highlighted in a recent issue of Fast Company, where there was an article on Ning, a social networking site where users create their own personal social networks.  You may not have yet have heard of Ning, but I’m betting that you will soon.

“In the early days, not everyone knew what to make of Ning. The company spent three years building out the site’s underlying platform; a year into that process, it released a couple dozen social applications in order to begin testing and refining what they had made. Those applications, which Bianchini readily admits were “very simple,” led Michael Arrington to post an entry on his TechCrunch blog entitled “Ning RIP?”: “The reality of Ning is that it has lost whatever coolness it had, no one uses it, and Ning is going to have a very hard time getting people’s attention.”

Now, with more than 230,000 unique social networks, Ning estimates that by New Year’s Eve 2010, they will host some 4 million social networks serving up billions of page views daily.  So what’s the big deal about Ning, and for that matter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any one of the dozens of social networking sites that are out there.  The reason Fast Company did a cover story on Ning, and the reason why I’m mentioning it here is that Ning’s business strategy is built around “viral loops.”

Ning’s business model involves:

“…incorporating virality into the functionality of the product. In English, that means Ning grows because each new user begets more users. Every time someone sets up a social network, he has no choice but to invite friends, family, colleagues, and like-minded strangers to sign on as well. The company calculates that each person signed up for a Ning group is worth, on average, 2 people, compounded daily: On day two, that individual brings in 4 group members and on day three, 8; within a week, she has brought in 128 people. Which is how Ning has been able to grow at a daily average of more than .4% and add 500 new groups a day, doubling roughly every 137 days.”

Each white dot represents one member of a specific social network on Ning. Each starburst defines the extent and pattern of that member's invitations to new users to networks across the platform.

Applied to the adoption of social media within an organization or within the federal government, this concept has the potential to help increase the odds of a successful social media implementation.  Think about it…one employees sits in a briefing where they hear about the new social media platform.  They go back to their desk and check it out.  Assuming that the tool has been built properly, meets his/her needs, and is user-friendly, what’s the next thing that this employee is likely to do?  Tell his/her officemate?  the people he eats lunch with?  What if this process was instead done virtually and instead of telling an table full of colleagues in lunchroom, he/she was easily able to publicize it to hundreds of people using his Outlook address book?  You’ve now turned this one employee into a marketing tool, capable of using word-of-mouth to reach hundreds more.

Ever wonder why it hasn’t been applied more often behind the firewall?  Is it because of a lack of confidence in the technology (after all, this would also allow employees to actively criticize the tools)?  Maybe it’s because of the traditional top-down thinking that employees will use whatever tool the boss tells them to?  Maybe it’s just simply that this functionality just wasn’t built into the technology?

Whatever the reason, successful adoption of social media behind the firewall requires the use of these viral expansion loops.  It requires users to actively recruit other users.  It requires that the technology be, well, social.


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