Social networks require ownership

So Gartner states that only 10% of social networking roll-outs succeed. Surprised? I’m not. Computer World UK reports that certain characteristics are necessary for success, once a purpose has been provided:

  • The purpose should naturally motivate people to participate.
  • The purpose must resonate with enough people to catalyse a community and deliver robust user-generated content.
  • The purpose should have a clear business outcome.
  • Select purposes that you and the community can build on.

It’s a bit more complicated than that. First of all, most roll-outs focus on rolling-out, not changing behaviour. The hard work begins after the software vendors have provided the initial training and the organization is on its own. Social media, and social networks,  change the way we communicate. Like any new language, they take time to learn, and adults are usually not very good at showing their lack of fluency with a second language. They don’t like to look foolish.

While people may say it’s not about the technology, unfortunately that’s where a large share of the budget goes in social network initiatives. The bigger change to manage is getting people to work transparently. Transparency is a necessity for cooperation and collaboration in networks, as a major benefit of using social media is increasing speed of access to knowledge. However, if the information is not shared by people, it will not be found.

It’s not a question of “motivating” people, but understanding why people are naturally motivated to share. I would surmise that the 90% failure rate may have a lot to do with the dysfunctional state of those organizations implementing social networks. Attempts to use enterprise social networks, that inevitably increase transparency, will only serve to illuminate organizational flaws.


The knowledge sharing paradox is that social networks often constrain what they are supposed to enhance. Why would people share everything they know on an enterprise network, knowing that on the inevitable day that they leave, their knowledge artifacts will remain behind? Enterprise knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do, because of ownership. Motivated or not, workers do not own the social network or their data. Individuals who own their knowledge networks will invest more in them.Those who do not, will not.

Even with a clear, resonating purpose, salaried employees still own nothing on the enterprise social network. Aye, there’s the rub.

4 Responses to “Social networks require ownership”

  1. Euan

    Interesting that point about leaving stuff behind. I liked the idea that I had left trails when I left the BBC. It’s not as if I forgot any of it as soon as I left. Out of context a lot of it had limited value anyway but as little things that people could stumble upon in their original context they did.

    • Harold

      So would you say that ownership doesn’t matter that much in enterprise social networks, Euan? I’d be interested in getting more data on this.

  2. Alberto Manuel

    Harold, the pitch about discovering social networks does not change everything is provocative , but it’s the starting point to make the changes, if people are aligned and are working with the ones it should work. The same applies to IT systems, it’s possible to discover IT system usage and protocol invocation. Companies are becoming complex networked systems and it’s necessary to spot these patterns to improve. The same happens with cause and effect analysis on manufacturing, exposing the error does not change nothing, eliminating the cause is the question. That’s the reason these social network discovering tolls are so extraordinary to help to make change happen.

  3. Sean Spence

    Interesting & true how the wiring can deflect from the reason.

    However, an idea is not an object & can’t be ‘left behind’ unless the document is your only way it’s captured.

    An idea resides in a mind and has a particular shape because of that mind. It is also continuously evolving & that’s what’s delightful about sharing it – it evolves faster.


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