Analysts Identify Seven Key Characteristics of a Good Social-Application Purpose
Many social software projects fail because IT managers wrongly believe that successful communities form spontaneously after social software tools are installed, according to Gartner Inc. IT and business managers in charge of deploying social software need to choose a core purpose for the community and arrange implementation to achieve that purpose.
"Contrary to the common perception that vibrant communities arise spontaneously, starting with a carefully chosen purpose does not limit participants. It gives them the direction they need to form a productive community," said Anthony Bradley, managing vice president at Gartner. "As those initial communities gain momentum, other groups will use the social application to build their own communities, and this is how social applications achieve widespread adoption across the enterprise."
Mr. Bradley said that many IT organizations fall into the trap of following "worst practice," installing social software in the expectation that productive communities will emerge spontaneously. Gartner's discussions with clients suggest that the "install and they will come" practice rarely succeeds; about 70 percent of the community typically fails to coalesce. Furthermore, of the 30 percent of the communities that do emerge, many revolve around interactions that planners didn't envision, that don't provide business value and that may even be counterproductive.
The perception that communities on the public Internet appear to arise overnight and quickly grow to encompass millions of participants has led many organizations to assume that social software does not require the system-building rigor typical of many deployments. However, most successful social sites start with a defined purpose and a limited scope.
Gartner maintains that users need a well-defined purpose of appropriate scope around which to mobilize and that a good purpose for a social application has seven key characteristics:
The purpose should draw people directly to participate, immediately appealing to the "What's in it for me?" characteristic.
Purpose should align with business value, that is the "What's in it for the business?" value, be it direct or indirect.
3. Low Risk
Organizations are advised to resist the temptation to opt for high-risk communities, which seem to offer the greatest potential for business value. They are better revisited once social applications have gained momentum.
4. Properly scoped
Gartner advises organizations to start with a minimal scope and focus on growing a community's scale as fast as possible. Once the community has scaled up, users will guide on how to expand the scope.
5. Facilitates Evolution
Purposes must be selected that both the organization and community can build on. A "purpose road map" will allow for growing the scope of communities or establishing other applications and communities with the goal of progressing toward a highly collaborative enterprise.
The success of a good purpose can be measured. Especially early on, when organizations are skeptical of social applications, Gartner advises choosing a purpose where business and community value can be clearly measured.
The value must come from the community. The best communities contribute far more to themselves than do the enterprises that support them. If the purpose requires the enterprise to contribute most of the content, and the community participants are mere readers, the enterprise has simply used the new technologies as another channel to push communications.
Mr. Bradley will provide more detailed analysis on the impact that social software is having on the enterprise during the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, taking place October 12-16 in Orlando, Florida. Gartner Symposium/ITxpo is the IT industry's largest and most strategic conference, providing business leaders with a look at the future of IT. More than 6,000 senior business and IT strategists will gather for the insights, tools and solutions they need to ensure their IT initiatives are key contributors to and drivers of their enterprise's success. Gartner's annual Symposium/ITxpo events are key components of attendees' annual planning efforts. They rely on Gartner Symposium/ITxpo to gain insight into how their organizations can use IT to address business challenges and improve operational efficiency. Additional information is available at www.gartner.com/symposium/us.
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