How do you get people talking on an enterprise social network?

I presented this question, and an overly simplified answer last week on Twitter. I say it’s an overly simplified answer but really it’s not, it’s so perfectly expressed in as few words as it should take to tell someone how to use an enterprise social network.

Beyond the obvious purpose of an enterprise social network, I think the most important is for social learning. Clark Quinn says in his article titled Social First! that “When we’re facing a performance problem in the organization, our first resort should be to ask: would a social solution solve this?” and goes on to say “Social solutions basically suggest that we either tap into user-generated solutions, or reach out to people on the fly.”

So given that enterprise social networks are one of the most important resources in the modern workplace, why then are they not given more thought by most organizations?

They should be, and Learning & Development should be the driving force behind the choice and adoption of an enterprise social network. The most important question to ask while choosing an enterprise social network: “is this stupidly easy to use?”

I’d argue that SharePoint is by far the most popular solution to social networks in the enterprise. There are so many parts to SharePoint and it’s so very powerful, but doesn’t that just complicate things rather than simplify? When I see SharePoint, I’m not really excited to use it, in fact I’ll probably try an avoid it all-together.

Have You Used SharePoint?

It’s not a social enterprise solution, it’s the furthest thing from simple. SharePoint is incredibly powerful and does a number of things well, but even some IT folks have a hard time understanding it.

Sometimes too much power is a bad thing, it doesn’t cross over to the non-techie crowd very well.

An Analogical Distraction

Speaking in terms of mobile technology, Android and iOS are excellent examples of what too much power can do. Android is a great mobile operating system but it has run into significant troubles in complexity, from fragmentation to a confusing amount of options.

Every member of my family began at one point on an Android phone as their first smartphone, they were happy with all the features, they knew nothing else, unfortunately for me, I would constantly get questions.

Two years ago I switched to an iPhone, they soon followed as they look to me for guidance. Each one of them was amazed by the simplicity and ability to understand how to do things without needing to call tech support, me.

Sometimes I miss the power, freedom, and configurability of my Android device, but in the end, I love the freedom iOS gives me to not have to worry about my phone.

It’s really quite freeing, kind of like being addicted to a social network (hi Facebook) and having it run your day, constantly checking it. Once you decide to leave Facebook, as I did February 2012, you feel a weight off your shoulders, it no longer runs your life.

Well, my Android device no longer runs my life. I’m not constantly tweaking it, breaking it, then having to fix it, it would sometimes even break without me touching it, really, it did!

My iPhone is there in my pocket when I want it and it’s guaranteed to work, I never have to tweak it, clean it, or anything. I can have my 172 apps (as of this writing) on it without issue and enjoy them at my leisure, they always work.

Back To The Show

How does this all relate back to SharePoint? I’d say SharePoint is much like Android in my story. It’s extremely powerful and can be configured to no end, the features are amazing, and it can do anything.

That’s great, for the super-techie crowd whose main focus might be tweaking it, unfortunately that’s a minority, the majority wants to only use their phone. I once saw myself in that group but no longer associate with it, I demand simple, clean, and a very low learning curve. SharePoint doesn’t provide any of this.

Last time I tried sharing a file with someone in my organization, all the options regarding versioning, security, etc. were mind numbing. Trying to have a discussion on SharePoint? Good luck, you’re bombarded with so many options and configurations it’s liable to make you sick.

But enough about SharePoint, the point of this post is not to put down SharePoint. It’s an amazing product and has its purpose, that purpose just isn’t to encourage people to talk in an enterprise social network.

How do you get people to use a enterprise social network? Make it stupidly easy to use!

How Do You Get People To Talk?

I wish I knew the whole answer to this question, I don’t. I’m also sure nobody has the answer because it’s so different from organization to organization.

The one thing I do know is that the first thing we have to do is make it stupidly easy to use.

Somebody who only knows the absolute basics of computers should be able to sit down, explained in one line about where to get to it and what it is, then be able to run with it.

Can you meet that challenge?

It has to be so easy to use that my dad can use it, and that says a lot.

I know this doesn’t guarantee the enterprise social network will be used, unfortunately it probably doesn’t. There would have to be a tremendous change management effort to get employees to change their behavior and use it.

How do you create that sharing mentality rather than the hoarder mentality?

Nobody will want to use it though, no matter how hard you try to convince them how awesome you think it is unless it is absolutely stupidly easy to use.

So what software have you seen that can make on the promise to make it stupidly easy to use?

Any  social enterprise networks anybody has seen that are stupidly easy to use? I’d love to hear about stories from your enterprise social network, both successes and failures.

Please join the discussion below or feel free to Tweet me @technkl.