Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

How to Accelerate Enterprise Adoption of Web 2.0 Network Effects

By Dennis D. McDonald




IBM’s Luis Suarez in 5 Key Steps towards Adopting Web 2.0 within the Enterprise provides a pragmatic and experience-based list of five tips on how to introduce Web 2.0 technologies into the enterprise. Here are his key points (he explains them in more detail):

  • Make the tools available behind the firewall
  • Provide some initial education
  • Promote their usage within the firewall
  • Facilitate their adoption by non tech savvy folks
  • Provide additional support

There are a couple of other points I would add, based on what I have been seeing in my own work. These include:

  • Decide on an appropriate level of management and direction
  • Emphasize learning by doing
  • Accelerate the accomplishment of network effects


Management and Direction


The first is, how much direction or management should the introduction of Web 2.0 tools have? Here are examples of questions related to this:

  • Should the enterprise use a “viral adoption” approach where, seeding a few key high-visibility areas, Web 2.0 tools are adopted “organically” as relationships and connections build naturally? Or,
  • Should the enterprise mandate explicit adoption guidelines, including (for example) requirements for training to be adopted by date X, Personal Expertise Profile to be created by date Y, and project wiki Z to be actively utilized by all project Z team members under pain of death?

My personal preference falls somewhere in between. The adoption process needs to be managed, but the natural “social” aspect of connection-making and collaboration needs to work on a person to person basis as well. What I recommend in my own consulting is the following:

  • Manage the adoption project as a project. It has goals, resources, and a schedule. Even if you are promoting informal communications and viral self-regulated adoption practices, you need to keep tabs on progress. After all, you’re spending the company’s money and, more importantly, valuable staff time.
  • Make the sure to communicate the project’s strategic business objectives to participants. People need to know why you are promoting Web 2.0 techniques. Are you attempting to speed a change in business direction? Are you trying to save money? Are you attempting to generate new product or service ideas? Bottom line: people need to understand how the work they do — and how they do their work — contributes to the company’s business.
  • Adopt more of a mentoring and supportive management style than a crack-the-whip style. Even when people are using tools incorrectly or in counterproductive ways, be “gentle” about getting them back on track, not only because it’s “nice to be nice” but also because everything you do or say can be instantaneously communicated throughout the employee’s personal network. (Just as you can’t take back an email written with sound and fury while angry, you can’t take back the instant messages that will issue from your participant’s office following your departure from a browbeating session.)
  • If you hire outside consultants to help you implement the adoption process, make it clear from the beginning that they must turn over the management of the adoption process as soon as possible to employees. Employee ownership is a key element in adoption of change.


Emphasize Learning by Doing


I’m not a trainer. I’m a consultant and a project manager who frequently practices “just in time” learning. I read manuals and help files — and contact acquaintances and experts — when I can’t figure out how to do something myself. This personal approach colors how I would promote the adoption of blogs, wikis, tagging, and social networking.

I believe that the best way for people to adopt a new technology is to … use a new technology. So I’m not sure I’d do a big, splashy company promotion complete with CEO presentations, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. I’d do small group introductions, one on one show and tell, and guided tours, backed up with (and here I support what Luis says in the article linked above) plenty of phone and instant messaging based support. (“Got a question? type it in this box…”). I’d get the “viral” effect working. Once people start telling others about their “personal expertise” page, for example, network effects will begin to take over.


Accelerate Network Effects


My definition of the term “network effects” is “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

For a network to be useful, the network needs content. Specifically:

  • For SEARCH to work as a way to locate content generated by staff members of the enterprise (speeches, documents, reports, podcasts, databases, etc.), content needs to be indexed. If content isn’t indexed it’s not part of the network. If it’s not part of the network it won’t be retrieved when the employee looks for it.
  • For RSS FEEDS to work as a way to keep up with changes to the content associated with people, projects, or pages, the content has to be created so it can be subscribed to. If there is no content to subscribe to, no content will be discovered.
  • For FOLKSONOMY BASED TAGGING to work as a way to help people discover that they have similar interests even though they work in different parts of the enterprise, content has to be tagged similarly so a staff member can click on a link that says “Click here to see who else has tagged this document with this term.” If two people haven’t tagged the content with the same tag, or if the systems two people are using to tag content are not communicating, this network connection will not take place.


Comments and Conclusions


If you were to ask me what I thought were the three most important factors to consider in implementing an enterprise web 2.0 architecture that supported innovation, process improvement, and the accomplishment of strategic objectives, I’d say this:

  1. Manage the process, but do it gently and smoothly. Web 2.0 is about collaboration, relationship, and sharing. You can provide the platform for these things, but you can’t force them to take place.
  2. Keep it simple. If the system and process require a manual and classroom training to make it work, it will fail.
  3. Maximize network effects as soon as possible. Web 2.0 is about relationships. People connect with other people, they realize they have common interests, and they are in a position to apply an aggregate of knowledge to solve problems and make decisions that previously they might have done in isolation. But for network effects to take place, enough connections between people and their knowledge bearing content must exist to enable good things to happen. What is the “tipping point” for this to occur? That will differ from organization to organization and requires careful planning.
Call me if you would like to talk about this. My phone nunber in the U.S. is 1-703-402-7382.


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