Why Social Business Initiatives Fail

Deeper analysis of the 2013 Global Executive Study and Research Project provides insight into how organizations are setting up their social programs for failure.

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Why do so many social business programs fail?

Gartner research estimates that fully 80% of social business initiatives will deliver disappointing results over the next three years.

That’s a bad track record. It’s almost as if organizations were sabotaging their own efforts.

A careful look at data from the 2013 social business report from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, “Social Business: Shifting out of First Gear,” provides three interesting and common sense insights into why social business initiatives often fail to meet expectations.

1. Managers go into social business with unclear objectives.

The first insight can be found in the question that asked respondents whether the social business initiative they were involved in was started to address a specific business problem. Sixty three percent of respondents indicated “no.”

This situation, a classic one with information technology, occurs when managers hear about the latest technological developments and decide their organizations need to adopt these tools simply because colleagues and competitors are doing so. “Because it’s there” may have been sufficient motivation for Sir Edmund Hillary to climb Mount Everest, but it’s a lousy reason to adopt social business tools.

Uncritical adoption of technology, particularly when associated with social business, is a recipe for failure. Managers need a clear vision for how these technologies will influence business operations and communicate this vision to employees through both word (i.e. training of and clear expectations for employees) and deed (i.e. incentives and job performance reviews). It is important to ask first why an organization is adopting social business tools and what it hopes to gain from them. The answer to these questions will drive which tools to adopt and how.

2. Initiatives start as pilots then fizzle out due to modest participation.

A clear business objective may not be initially necessary, however, if the initiative is explicitly started as a pilot project. In this case, technology is adopted with the explicit intention of trying to figure out exactly what the business applications of these new technologies might be. Indeed, about half of the respondents indicated that the social business initiatives without a clear business objective were intended as a pilot project.


Social Business

Social business research and more recent thought leadership explore the challenges and opportunities presented by social media.
More in this series

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Comment (1)
Jake Plum
Hi Gerald, 

Thank you for the interesting article. It's a good summary of some real issues. 

As with everything, adoption for adoptions sake isn't going to provide the best environment for success.  

When you really start to consider the implications of an internal social business network the questions and concerns become so vast and consuming that we find these pilots sometimes don't find the care and nurturing they deserve. Often they are left as a side project because executives are avoiding the plunge. They're content with the notion that a pilot is in progress and they've prepared themselves for if/when they need to commit.  

Adoption during pilot programs is most successful when the teams use the software for day-to-day business activities instead of 'here is a new way of communicating, enjoy' type of deployments however daily workflow integration requires resources as you've mentioned. ESN vendors are now finding ways to easily plugin to various business systems, such as SAP, Oracle, Sharepoint etc. that could make this process easier and less costly.

Regarding expectations for a financial return indicates the immaturity of the market. For decades companies have struggled to pinpoint ROI for Manager training however spend millions non-the-less.  

Jake Plum from Mumba Cloud http://www.mumbacloud.com