Never get solely fixated on driving intranet or ESN adoption

In Chris’ last post he outlined why it’s important not to confuse strategy with tactics when it comes to intranets. In my view one of the reasons for this is because intranet teams have a habit of focusing too much on the tactics and working energetically and diligently to make them work, without ensuring they are part of a strategy which ensures business value.  Ultimately this leaves teams open to a withering “that’s nice, but so what” from senior management.

One of the reasons for this is the obsession with driving adoption when it comes to intranets and collaboration platforms.  Of course if you build a site or post content, it’s only natural that you want more people to use it or read it. More visits to the homepage, more users registered to the social network, more collaboration sites created, more comments on the news items, more unique visitors. These are often the validation of an intranet team’s efforts and the evidence of success.  They are also some of the easiest things to measure.  I’ve become fixated on driving adoption in my work and I’m sure I will again and again.

I’m not going to pretend that adoption isn’t important, because it is. It may well be the prerequisite for the overall success of your intranet strategy. Perhaps you need some sort of scale to feel an effect an organisational level, for something to be transformative, or to realise some sort of ROI benefit.  But it’s only part of the mix and increasing adoption on your intranet is definitely not a strategy in its own right.  

Focus on value not adoption

Adoption also only has value if what users are adopting has value. It has little value in itself. For example email has spectacular adoption, but now a reduction in that adoption level is regarded as a good thing.

In his recent presentation at Congres Intranet in Utrecht  Lee Bryant is quoted as saying “We don’t need people to adopt the intranet. We need people to do their job.”  This is spot on. If an intranet has less value, perhaps because it is only an internal communications vehicle, then adoption becomes a little bit of a red herring. Yes, there may well be some residual value in many people visiting the homepage and reading the news, but does the impact really justify the efforts?

The lure of the uptick

It’s also really easy to be seduced by the uptick of adoption. There will be a post-launch surge which provides an immediate high for the project team after the energy-zapping pre-launch effort. But we all know things might not pan out so well in the medium to long term.

There can also be a degree of complicity in presenting the stats to stakeholders, showing a nice upward-looking trend which presents success at a glance.  And that’s not to say these adoption trends might be really significant and fantastic, but they might not be.

It’s that tactics-and-strategy-confusion thing again

When adoption becomes your main focus, you’re in danger of judging success on the delivery of the tactics which drive that adoption. Intranet teams do have a lot of tactics at their disposal to drive adoption. I’m thinking better usability, a nicer design, gamification, subtle nudge tactics, advocate networks, publishing communities, notifications, personalisation, customisation, dashboards, metric scores which reflect engagement and adoption, encouraging viral growth, even traditional change management. These can all be excellent and important techniques when done right, which do help drive those numbers up.

But what does a 20% increase in the number of visits to the homepage mean? What does the unexpectedly fast viral growth of a social network mean? What does a 25% rise in the use of Team Sites mean?  Intranet managers and ESN community managers with their eye on the ball need to ensure it means something for their organisation and the people who work there.

Chris says:

“Now. I bloody love metrics. But it isn’t blind love and I can see its flaws. Adoption is a lonely metric unless it is enriched with a bundle of other more meaningful business metrics that should include a measurement of what you were after in the first place. Adoption worship, I think, perhaps comes from a lack of a hard understanding what your benefits were up-front. If you are deploying an ESN to break down barriers between functions go and look for the cross functional diversity of different communities and measure that. If you want to break the cold and steely grip of email, go and look for a drop in the number of email attachments. I understand where people are coming from. When you’ve done a great big intranet project you want it to be loved, but each large project is poker-chips-down, and some of your bets won’t work and you won’t press through into the late majority for many reasons. Go and read Everett M Rogers’ “Diffusion of Innovations” for more on this.”

3 thoughts on “Never get solely fixated on driving intranet or ESN adoption

  1. If there’s a guy that should know what he is talking about when it comes to adoption, it’s the CEO of one the most successful tech companies going around – Jeff Weiner from LinkedIn. This is what he had to say in a recent interview:

    “Interviewer: Are you succeeding in getting people to stay on LinkedIn longer [ie: increase adoption/engagement] during the course of the day, and is that a goal?

    Jeff Weiner: Time spent has never been the primary objective. As we like to say, LinkedIn is not a service that enables you to pass the time, it’s a service that enables you to save time. And that goes back to our mission, which is to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. So, ultimately would we like our membership to become more engaged [ie. greater adoption], yes, as a proxy for the value that we’re delivering to them on a daily basis, and that’s why we’re introducing products like LinkedIn Today, that’s why we have over a million groups now servicing LinkedIn members within a professional context.”

    For my money, increased adoption is a pretty good indication that you are doing the right thing and delivering something of value to your employees. Employees aren’t kids – they are not going to fluff around wasting time on the intranet if it doesn’t help them do their work. So I think it’s a reasonably safe assumption that increased adoption = increased business value.

    Trying to work out the business value of increased adoption… it’s a noble goal but difficult to do from my experience. I’d be interested to hear about real examples of improved business outcomes as a result of the intranet. In fact most of the time, I think it’s a challenge for organisations to even report basic measures such as page views and unique users.

    I’ve noted a few of my thoughts about this topic in the article below:

    Why measuring page views, time spent and user activity is a worthy measure of intranet success:

  2. Andrew, many thanks for your comment and the link to your blog post. (Well worth a look, folks). I’m certainly not dismissing the value of measuring adoption – of course its important – and also its a practical way to show success. And in many cases it is a reflection of value. As you say just measuring the basics can be a challenge, and measuring the basics is going to better than not measuring at all.

    What I think what I’m trying to say is that when adoption is regarded as the key success metric (which is what we often see for example in showing the success of ESNs and the number of registrations and communities), there is a danger of looking at platform success in a one-dimensional way. Real value might be more to do with something different or more specific such as process improvement, or enabling interaction with clients. For example is your effort better spent enabling key communities to collaborate highly effectively or everybody to collaborate in a slightly wishy-washy way? Good adoption might indicate value but it doesn’t guarantee value.

  3. Hi Steve – thanks for your response. I agree that using adoption alone as the key success metric is not ideal but it is better than nothing and I believe is a pretty accurate guideline to business value. But it certainly pays to dig deeper if possible.

    FYI, another interesting article published recently by Deloitte makes a similar point to you. To quote:

    “Why then do social software advocates focus on adoption, defined as the number of users who have accessed social software, to measure success? Adoption does not measure frequency or sustained use nor does it link usage to performance improvement or business benefits. ”

    The article goes on to say: “As long as adoption is the primary measure of success, resistance, at all levels, can block successful social software deployment.”

    “In the short history of social software, success has been measured in terms of adoption. But the frequency and nature of sustained usage,and the resulting operating impact, are better indicators of success.”

    It’s an interesting publication and actually includes two examples – from Alcoa and OSIsoft – of improved business outcomes through enterprise social solutions. But what I also find interesting is their definition of ‘adoption’ (shown above) as # of users who have accessed the software. That’s not how I would define adoption. In fact, if that is the accepted definition of adoption, then yes it’s a poor measurement. For me adoption includes “the frequency and nature of sustained usage” which they say is a better indicator of success.

    To see the complete article (it’s long but well worth a read).

    Metrics That Matter: Social Software for Business Performance

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