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About The Authors

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

Email Suw

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

E-mail Kevin.

Member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup
Dark Blogs Case Study

Case Study 01 - A European Pharmaceutical Group

Find out how a large pharma company uses dark blogs (behind the firewall) to gather and disseminate competitive intelligence material.


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All content © Kevin Anderson and/or Suw Charman

Interview series:
at the FASTforward blog. Amongst them: John Hagel, David Weinberger, JP Rangaswami, Don Tapscott, and many more!

Corante Blog

Monday, October 13th, 2008

A recession: Perfect time to implement social software

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

We’re in recession. The global economy has bronchitis and is coughing up dead and dying banks all over the place. Governments are scrambling to put together bailout plans. The housing market has zombified, with house values plummeting and foreclosures sky-rocketing. Consumers have no disposable income and are struggling with food and fuel prices. Businesses everywhere are pulling their horns in, wondering how - and if - they are going to survive.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that businesses reconsider how they communicate, collaborate and converse, which means that the most important thing they can do is invest in social tools. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Suw, what are you smoking?” But bear with me here.

Recessions mean you have to do more with less. You can’t afford to have your people wasting time, even unintentionally, using inefficient tools or sticking with bad habits. For many, that means that email is a liability. As I found when I was researching my article for the Guardian on email, some people in business are checking their email every five minutes. Given that it takes some 64 seconds to recover your train of thought after being interrupted by a ‘new mail’ alert, that’s over 8 hours wasted each week.

Of course, that’s not the only way that time is frittered away in the course of day to day activities. Using email to collaborate on documents is astonishingly wasteful, compared to working on a wiki. We lack studies that specifically look at how email is used in this way and how long it takes to collaborate via email attachment compared to on a wiki page, but my experience is that using a wiki really cuts down on the time and effort required to co-author a document.

Then there’s duplication of effort. I did some work with a company recently who had started to use social tools to improve collaboration. One unexpected side effect was the discovering that there were two teams, in different locations, both trying to solve the same problem. Once they knew that they were both working on the same thing, they could share resources, information and expertise.

Institutional knowledge also often gets lost: people end up re-learning what others already know, because there’s just no communication between them. That’s especially true of day-to-day knowledge which is important, but not the sort of thing that gets encoded into documentation (which is out of date as soon as it’s published anyway). Opening up the conversation by encouraging people to do their work on a wiki is a great way to capture information as it happens. It’s not about cataloguing it after the fact, but keeping info alive as a side-effect of just getting on with things. In a recession, you can’t afford to be reinventing the wheel all the time.

A recession is also not a great time to just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. But businesses don’t need to experiment, they just need to work with people who truly understand social tools. More than anything, businesses need to invest in their people, in understanding how they work right now and how they could be working.

Personally, I fail to see how any business right now can afford not to address the inefficiencies inherent in their organisation’s existing comms tools. Now, more than ever, businesses need to raise their game, improve communication, improve collaboration, improve conversation. But in this climate, they can’t afford to get it wrong - there’s no slack in the system anymore. Luckily, there’s no need to get it wrong. There are some great people out there who can help you do it right.

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

First Fruitful Seminar a success; three more in the pipeline

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

I’m delighted to say that the first Fruitful Seminar on the adoption of social media in enterprise, Making Social Tools Ubiquitous, last Friday was a bit of a hit! I had a fabulous time, and I got some great feedback on the day, so I’m looking forward to running it again. Quite a few people said that they were interested in coming but couldn’t make it that particular day, so I am going to repeat the same seminar, probably on 10th September. Put the date in your diary and keep an eye out for the registration page to go live!

I am also going to run two other seminars in September. One will be on The Email Problem: Email used to be a fantastically useful communications tool, but in recent years it has become more of a burden, with people struggling to read and respond to all of the email they receive. Some companies have tried “No Email Days”, but these put off the problem, they don’t solve it. If, however, you start to examine email as a psychological problem instead of a technological one, different solutions become apparent. This seminar, The Email Problem And How To Solve It will take an innovative look at email and the different ways that social media can reduce its use.

This leaves me with a slot free, and I’d like to put my seminar ideas to a popular vote. These are the options:

1. Social Media in Internal Communications: How can internal comms and HR departments use social media to help them effectively communicate with their constituency? How can you ensure that people have the information they need, when they need it? And how do you engage with your constituency and collect meaningful feedback?

2. Giving It Away - Open IP in Business: You’ve got some intellectual property, but how do you maximise its value to your business? Can giving it away actually earn you money? What is ‘Creative Commons’ and how do you choose a licence?

3. Using Social Tools in Journalism: Forget old-school arguments about bloggers vs. journalism - reality is much more interesting than that! How can you use social tools to organise your own information and help yourself work more efficiently? How can you engage with your audience using social tools? And how do you run a networked journalism project? (Maybe, just maybe, I might be able to persuade a famous journo-blogger to help me present this one!)

So…

And don’t forget, Lloyd Davis’ seminar, Mastering Social Media, is on 16 July and still has some places left, so sign up soon!

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Why isn’t social software spreading like wildfire through business?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Andrew McAfee asked a deceptively simple question to a panel at Enterprise 2.0 last week, “If Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches really are so beneficial and powerful, why haven’t they spread like wildfire?” He was surprised that no one fingered management as the culprits.

In their initial responses all of them identified users, not bad managers or inadequate technologies, as the biggest barriers to faster and deeper adoption of Enterprise 2.0. Entrenched practices and mindsets, some degree of technophobia, busyness, and the 9X Problem of email as an incumbent technology combine, they said, to limit the pace of adoption. These factors slow the migration from channels to platforms and necessitate continued patience, evangelism, and training and coaching.

I didn’t expect the panelists to say that the Enterprise 2.0 tooklit is so incomplete as to hinder adoption, but I was a bit surprised that none of them identified management as a real impediment in their first round of comments. So I pressed the point by saying something like “I didn’t hear any of you point the finger at the managers in your organizations. Were you just being polite, or are they really not getting in the way of Enterprise 2.0? The new social software platforms are a bureaucrat’s worst nightmare because they remove his ability to filter information, or control its flow. I’d expect, then, that each of you would have some examples of managers overtly or covertly trying to stop the spread and use of these tools. Are you telling me this hasn’t happened?”

That is in fact what they were telling me, and I didn’t get the impression that they were just being diplomatic. They said that managers were just another category of users that needed to migrate over to new ways of working, and not anything more. In other words, the panelists hadn’t seen managers in their organizations actively trying to impede Enterprise 2.0.

I think the issue is far more complex than a simple “Is it the management?”. The IT department, for example, has become a common source of no, and issues around legal and compliance can scare people off. But management exert a strong and inescapable influence on how well social media is adopted in business.

Firstly, I have indeed come across managers who have refused point blank to use social software, who have actively campaigned against its use and have told their teams that they are not to use it. Whilst managers that vocal are rare, they do exist.

I have also seen managers who have damned the tools with faint praise, ostensibly supporting their use, but undermining them by planting seeds of doubt about things like how safe the data is or how long the tools will be around. These people talk up the tools in meetings, but never actually use them, so they give off mixed messages to their teams who then feel uncertain about what they should and shouldn’t do. If someone feels uncertain about a new tool, the chances are that they will avoid it or will interact with it only half-heartedly. This damages adoption just a surely as open hostility and is much more common.

More insidious - and much more common - are the indifferent managers. They are not vocal, and maybe not even all that negative about social media; they just aren’t interested in it. They may show up for coaching sessions, but they won’t bother using the tools, and they won’t encourage any of their team to use them either. They won’t complain, they’ll just ignore what they don’t want to engage with.

Now, in some ways these people are just “users” who need to be persuaded of value of using social tools, but to describe them that simply is to miss the point - managers have a subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) power to either encourage or discourage their teams to behave in a certain way. They set the culture in their team, and the adoption of social media is about culture and behaviours rather than technology.

Managers who show disinterest are broadcasting a message to their team that new tools are of no value, and so they will dampen interest amongst people who actually are keen to learn and use new software, even to the point of stopping that person going to a training session or using the tool for their own work. This kills off grassroots adoption in a very quiet, subtle, almost unnoticeable way. You won’t here these people complaining. You won’t hear them talk about social software at all, but they can have a powerful effect on the success of a new tool.

But the main way that managers hobble the adoption of social tools is through simply not thinking it through, not considering what they are doing and why. They don’t provide the right sort of coaching or support, and then they wonder why people aren’t using the tools. They chuck up some blogs or wikis and hope that ‘nature will take its course’ and that people will just see the light and start using them. That, of course, doesn’t happen because not everyone has the time or the inclination to investigate new tools.

Once the early adopters - the people who are naturally curious and experimental - have discovered and started using social software, growth slows because just as in tech product marketing, there is a chasm between early adopters and the mainstream user than needs to be deliberately bridged. Businesses who have not thought about how to bridge this gap will find that adoption slows, stops, and then sometimes starts to contract. (Particularly if your key evangelists leave.)

Why doesn’t social media spread like wildfire in business? Because few people provide the tinder for a spark to ignite. Disinterested managers act like firebreaks, hostile managers act like rain, and managers giving off mixed messages act like firefighters pouring water on otherwise susceptible land. If you want a wildfire, the conditions have to be right for it to burn, which means thinking harder about what you’re doing.

Suw is holding a seminar on the adoption of social tools in business on June 27 2008. Deadline to sign up is June 25.

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Fruitful Seminars: Making Social Tools Ubiquitous

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Lloyd Davis, Leisa Reichelt and I have been spending a lot of time plotting just lately, and the result of our machinations was the creation, at midnight in a semi-derelict Gothic mansion and with the help of a bolt of lightening, of Fruitful Seminars. The three of us will be putting on a number of day-long seminars on various Web 2.0 subjects over the next few months, starting on 27 June with my session, Making Social Tools Ubiquitous:

Many companies have heard that social tools, such as wikis and blogs, can help them improve communications, increase collaboration and nurture innovation. As the best of breed tools are often open source, it is easy and cheap to experiment with pilot projects. But what do you do if you don’t get the level of engagement you’d like? And how do you progress from a small-scale pilot to widespread adoption?

This seminar, run by social media expert Suw Charman-Anderson, will take a practical look at the adoption of social tools within enterprise. During the day you will be lead through each stage of Suw’s renowned social media adoption strategy and will have the opportunity to discuss your own specific issues with the group. You will have access to one of the UK’s best known social media consultants in an intimate setting - with no more than 9 people attending - that will allow you to get the very most out of the day. By the end of the seminar you will have a clear set of next steps to take apply to your own blogs or wikis.

Perfect for CXO executives, managers, and social media practitioners who want to know how to foster widespread adoption of social tools in the enterprise. Perhaps you have already installed some blogs or wikis for internal communications and collaboration, but aren’t getting the take-up you had hoped for; or have successfully completed a pilot and want to roll-out to the rest of the company.

We’re keeping the sessions very small, with a maximum of nine people attending each one, so that everyone has the opportunity to fully take part in discussions. Sessions will be quite practical and participants will be able to really get into the nitty gritty. I think that’s something that’s really missing from conferences and the bigger workshops - you don’t get the chance to really get down and dirty with what’s relevant to you. I want people to come away from my seminar with a really clear idea of what they are going to do next, and how they are going to do it.

Registration is already open - it’s very easy to sign up and payment can be made by PayPal or cheque/bank transfer. The fee includes lunch, tea and coffee.

Any questions? Just ask!

UPDATE: We’ve also now got a Google Group mailing list for news, announcements and discussion of Fruitful Seminars topics and events. The group is open to everyone, so do join up if you’re curious or interested.

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

Scary monsters: Does social software have fangs?

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Last week I gave a tech talk at Google about social software within business, the difficulties we face when introducing it to people, and tactics for fostering adoption. I spoke for about 25 minutes, and then we had a lively Q&A for half an hour. I will admit that I was quite nervous about it - I mean, there are lots of very smart people at Google, and I wasn’t sure if what I was saying was just teaching grannie to suck eggs. I think about 20 - 30 people turned up, and most of them seemed to enjoy it, so I can only hope it was interesting and useful for them.

Google videoed it and had it up online in no time at all, so here it is:

If you don’t want to watch it all, then Steph Booth took written notes to go with it.

Thanks very much to Kevin Marks for organising it for me.

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Wikipedia vs Britannica: Yawn

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

So Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia and Dale Hoiberg from Britannica slug it out in the Wall Street Journal. Both miss the point.

Wikipedia will remain the canonical reference source for the internet for as long as Britannica remains a paid-for service. When Britannica makes its content freely accessible to the public, and is one of the sites that can be directly searched from your browser, the way that Wikipedia is from Firefox, then we may see a shift. But until then, we the public cannot compare and contrast the content of the two services, and we cannot make up our own minds as to whether we prefer Wikipedia over Britannica or not.

So all this debate over open and closed models is no more than blowing hot air. Wikipedia wins not because it is more accurate or more inclusive or written by more people or has expert contributors. All that is irrelevant. It wins because it’s free.

(Link via Euan.)

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

An adoption strategy for social software in enterprise

Posted by Suw Charman-Anderson

Experience has shown that simply installing a wiki or blog (referred to collectively as ’social software’) and making it available to users is not enough to encourage widespread adoption. Instead, active steps need to be taken to both foster use amongst key members of the community and to provide easily accessible support.

There are two ways to go about encouraging adoption of social software: fostering grassroots behaviours which develop organically from the bottom-up; or via top-down instruction. In general, the former is more desirable, as it will become self-sustaining over time - people become convinced of the tools’ usefulness, demonstrate that to colleagues, and help develop usage in an ad hoc, social way in line with their actual needs.

Top-down instruction may seem more appropriate in some environments, but may not be effective in the long-term as if the team leader stops actively making subordinates use the software, they may naturally give up if they have not become convinced of its usefulness. Bottom-up adoption taps into social incentives for contribution and fosters a culture of working openly that has greater strategic benefits. Inevitably in a successful deployment, top-down and bottom-up align themselves in what Ross Mayfield calls ‘middlespace‘.

Fostering grassroots adoption

This approach centres around identifying users who would clearly benefit from the new software, helping them to understand how it could help, and progressing their usage so that they can realise those benefits. These key users should:

  • be open to trying new software
  • be influential amongst their peers, thus able to help promulgate usage
  • have the support of their managers

Users who are potential evangelists should be identified at every level of management, not just amongst the higher echelons, or amongst the workforce.

1. Identify key user groups

The first step is to identify which potential user groups within the company could most benefit from using social software.

  • What needs do these people share?
  • What are their day-to-day aims?
  • What projects are they working on together?
  • What information flows between them, and how?

2. Identify and understand key users

Once you have identified key user groups, you need to know which users within that group are both influential and likely to be enthusiastic. Then consider how social software fits in to the context of their job, their daily working processes and the wider context of their group’s goals.

  • What specific problems does social software solve?
  • What are the benefits for this person?
  • How can the software be simply integrated into their existing working processes?
  • How does social software lower their work load, or the cognitive load associated with doing specific tasks?

Ideally, key users will be ’supernodes’ - highly connected, in contact with a lot of people on a daily basis, and heavily involved with the function of their department and the transfer of information within the group and between groups. This may not be the group executive, but could well be his PA or a direct report. Frequently, people’s supernode status is not reflected by official hierarchy.

UPDATE: I don’t believe that supernodes are key anymore. I do believe that oft-ignored groups who are not traditionally thought of as influential, such as PAs, can in sometimes be crucial to an adoption strategy. But it’s far more important to focus on groups who share aims, actions, and information and who show existing enthusiasm for change and learning new stuff. This post explains in more detail why I changed my mind.

3. Convert key users into evangelists

Training in the form of short informal sessions (face-to-face or online) and ongoing on-demand support are the basics for encouraging adoption. Too much training or too formal a setting will put users off, and is usually unnecessary.

More important is that the information gathered in steps 1 and 2 are communicated to key users. They need to understand:

  • What their own needs are
  • How those needs are going to be met by the software
  • What the benefits are of using the software
  • How they can integrate that software into their daily routines

This requires face-to-face, personalised sessions which can’t happen unless steps 1 and 2 are successfully completed. The aim is to convert key users into evangelists who can then help spread usage through their own team, encouraging the people they work with to take the training and use the tool themselves.

4. Turn evangelists into trainers

Evangelists may find that it is in their own interests, having adopted the social software, to encourage their colleagues to also become competent with it. A minority of evangelists (and it only needs to be a minority), will also find it in their own interests to train their colleagues themselves.

These evangelists should be trained further and given the support and materials they need to become trainers themselves.

The advantages of having evangelist-trainers are immense:

  • They understand the day-to-day needs and working processes of their colleagues far better than an external trainer can
  • They can communicate with their colleagues more easily, in the same language
  • They have the opportunity to provide effective training on a far more informal, ad hoc basis
  • Given enough support themselves, they can then support their immediate colleagues

5. Support bottom-up adoption and emergent behaviours

Training and support should not be limited to named groups, and should be made available to all users. ‘Volunteers’, especially, should be encouraged. The most influential people in a wiki or blog community are not those with official status but those who engage most enthusiastically. For example, wikipedia has about 90,000 registered users who have edited at least 10 times since they joined, but the majority of work is done by about 5% (4500) of these users. (Stats approx. for Nov 05.)

If people start to use social software in an unexpected, innovative, or informal manner, this should also be encouraged. If a user begins by putting their team’s coffee rota on the wiki, for example, this will help them understand how the wiki works and what benefits it brings.

Management support

As well as supporting bottom-up adoption, it is beneficial for there to be top-down support, but that support has to be based on openness and transparency. Managers and team leaders must trust their staff to use the tools correctly, but they must also be forgiving if mistakes are made. There is always a learning curve associated with any new software, and some people find social software daunting because they are scared of what they perceive as a high risk of public humiliation.

Managers and team leaders should:

1. Lead by example

By using the tool themselves for team- and department-wide projects, managers can encourage their colleagues to also use social software. By being active, showing subordinates how the new tools can be used, and demonstrating the benefits, manages can play a valuable role in fostering adoption.

In the software industry, this is known as ‘eating your own dogfood’, and it is essential in order to build trust, interest and understanding.

2. Lead by mandate

If the manager makes clear that this new tool is to be used for a specific process or task, it can help foster adoption and encourage reluctant users to learn how to use the tools. For example, managers can mandate that all meetings be documented on a wiki, with agendas written through collaboration and minutes being published as soon as the meeting is over, or that monthly/weekly update reports be made on a blog or a wiki instead of in a Word document or by email.

Key to leading by mandate, however, is that the manager must also lead by example. If one of his team puts a document on the wiki, but the manager comments on it by email, that gives conflicting signals to the team. Managers must be clear about which tool they expect people to use, and must use that tool themselves.

3. Lead by reminding

Managers can also increase usage by reminding colleagues to use new technology instead of old, e.g. when a colleague emails with a document to be proof-read, the manager can reply with a request to put it on the wiki.

4. Ensure there is adequate support

Managers must accept that their staff may require support, and they must be willing to allow staff to take time out to do training. They must also ensure that they have access to ad hoc support, so that problem can be solved quickly - it is important that there is someone tasked with ‘hand holding’ through the initial adoption period.

5. Ensure personal and business benefits reflect each other

Management plays a key role identifying and communicating the business benefits of social software adoption. When users understand these benefits (e.g. reducing email volume, speeding up projects, improving productivity, encouraging innovation), and see that the business benefits are in line with the personal benefits, (everyone likes to get less email) they will have greater confidence that the software is worth their own investment.

Understanding time-scales

In large companies with thousands of users, it is impossible to give everyone face-to-face training, but even with online screencasts* and help documents, it takes a significant amount of time for adoption to take place. Having a clear adoption strategy, and ensuring that the correct key players are identified and ‘converted’, helps to speed up the process, but it remains a fact of human nature that it takes time for people to become comfortable with new technology, new ways of doing things and, most importantly, new cultures.

The cultural aspect of implementing social software in enterprise cannot be underestimated, and it is the hardest aspect to overcome. It requires time, patience and understanding, but given those three, it too is a temporary obstacle.

Remember what your goals really are

Adoption isn’t a goal in and of itself. Lots of people use email an awful lot, but that doesn’t mean that it’s being used well. Think about what your ultimate aims are; make them discrete, measurable and attainable. Go for ‘reducing occupational spam’, for example, rather than ‘improve communications’. Measure your email usage before you start, monitor it whilst you adopt, and report back regularly so that people can see the progress that they are collectively making.

Wikis are a very powerful tool within enterprise, but like any other IT project, it takes thought and planning to ensure successful adoption.

* Screencast: Digital recording of a computer screen output, often with audio instruction.