Going Viral in the Enterprise

SisyphusHow can you tell if you are succeeding in your campaign for adoption of new enterprise collaboration tools?  How can you define that magic moment when you can breathe a sigh of relief and say “That’s the tipping point.”  Metrics maybe?  Sure, they are important, but for me it’s when some idea goes viral on your network.  Viral, like the Old Spice guy or the BPGlobalPR twitter feed, but inside your organization.         

More about that in a minute.  First, it’s obvious that user adoption for collaboration tools is becoming a hot topic.  Rightly so.  Even with all of the transformational capabilities at our disposal – wikis, blogs, microblogging, social networking, folksonomies – and the money we are pouring into them, we are still held captive by the ” inertia of the inbox”.  Try as we might to espouse and adopt the benefits of social media or web conferencing we still find ourselves caught in lengthy email threads with a dozen or more people – most of whom wish they weren’t on the CC list.  Personally, as a Collaboration Solutions Architect, I am overwhelmed by a sense of irony (or hypocrisy depending on my mood) every time I exceed my inbox quota.  Solving this is a huge challenge and opportunity.  The benefits are apparent but not easily measured.  I’ll write more on User Adoption in a later blog, but until then I highly recommend you look into The 2.0 Adoption Council.   You should also see Gil Yehuda’s blog and his white paper titled “Framework for 2.0 Adoption in the Enterprise“.         

Angry GooseNow, back to the importance of going viral.  The first time I experienced information that “went viral” was in 1997 at a major pharmaceutical company.  (The term “viral” actually meant something entirely different in that time and place!)  A visionary in the IT department sponsored a system on the intranet for idea collection and harvesting.  Called Newton’s Orchard (clever, huh), it was a quick success with many people posting ideas, hundreds of others reviewing and commenting.  It really took off when people started talking about — wait for it — goose poop.  Yes, goose poop.   There was a big problem on the corporate campus with the Canadian geese and the sidewalks.  I won’t go into details.  You can thank me later.         

In retrospect, this was a huge success.  People were discussing an issue that was important to them in a collaborative forum other than email.  But it certainly didn’t seem right at the time.  Usage on the system was skyrocketing, but it was about things like harmonizing the color of milk caps at the supermarket. 2% should be green, whole milk should be red, etc.         

I am not making this up!         

Finally, someone crossed a line and posted something that had potential legal implications for the company.  A stern phone call from the CIO and the site was shut down.  Immediately.  Permanently.        

The ingredients were all there for a dramatic shift in culture with profound benefit to the company.  The only thing missing was some governance and a willingness to manage a bit of risk.  Missed opportunity!  Or in Twitter terms – #fail.  

Rapper Intern - Greg Justice

Rapper Intern - Greg Justice

A dozen years later and the more things change, the more they stay the same.  We’re struggling with many of the same issues, but at least we recognize them now.  And there’s hope.  My favorite example happened recently at Cisco.  Granted, Cisco is one of the most collaborative organizations around.  We have all the tools and the culture and incredibly supportive management.   Even amidst all that, this example stands out.  A summer intern named Greg Justice was just a few days into his new job when he used nothing more than a Flip camera and some editing software from Show and Share to record a video of himself at his desk.  Using the medium of Rap and a great sense of humor, he proclaims himself  “THE WORLD’S MOST INTERESTING INTERN” and issues a challenge to other interns inside and outside of Cisco to post their own videos.  Watch it here…  

Within a few days, it was playing across the global campus.  People were sending the link via instant messaging, screen sharing on WebEx, posting to Quad and, of course, sending via email.  Good news is that they were sending the link and not the whole video.  Soon it was posted on the home page of the Intranet.          

The content of Greg’s video does not contain Cisco’s next billion dollar idea.  It doesn’t provide process changes that save the company millions in expenses.  It doesn’t include policy that will ensure our employees comply with important regulations.  What it does is set a tone for a culture of sharing and openness.  A tone that encourages creativity and, yes, fun.  This, my friends, is the tipping point for collaboration.  When your organization reaches this point it is poised to take advantage of collaboration and ultimately innovation opportunities far beyond anything you’ve experienced.           

Just be sure to keep an open mind when it happens.  You don’t want to find yourself a dozen years from now thinking regretfully about goose poop.        




8 comments on “Going Viral in the Enterprise

  1. Rick Ladd says:

    I’m inclined to agree with you, Mark, and I have an example as well . . . though it’s surely not as entertaining as yours. At Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, home of one of the largest collections of Rocket Scientists in the known universe, we struggled for over seven years with using a social software enabler called AskMe. Though not as sophisticated as many of the systems currently available, it was pretty much ahead of its time when we first rolled it out in early 2003, having piloted it with moderate success on the Space Shuttle Main Engine team at the end of 2002.

    Usage was never what we had hoped, though there were some instances of really valuable information being captured and shared (and, incidentally, persistent and available for anyone in the company to find as needed). It limped along, helped considerably by yours truly sending out – of all things – email newsletters pointing out useful information.

    Then, some time near the end of last year one of the parking lots at the De Soto campus was redesigned to, ostensibly, make it more safe. One of the re-hired retirees Rocketdyne is fond of bringing back to keep things interesting decided he didn’t think what was done made any sense at all, and he posted his critique under the unfortunate title “Traffic Geniuses” – no sarcasm there 🙂

    The ensuing discussion became the longest and most involved every conducted on the site, eventually drawing over 3000 views and a couple dozen or more comments. Rocketdyne only employed around 3400 people at the time. Many of the comments were exceptionally good analyses of risk management and design thinking.

    The response of some of the leadership was to point to the attitude exhibited in the title, and to some of the posts that were just critical and not terribly useful, as reasons why the tool was a failure. Fortunately, many others came to its defense, including the Director of the Program Office, the Chief Engineer, and the President, who pointed out he was joining the conversation from Russia.

    He also made some pointed comments regarding how users would be more informed and more likely to contribute to the future of the company than those who weren’t involved. In this time of change in the direction of NASA and our nation’s space program, it is no small thing to be involved in Rocketdyne’s future direction, as success may depend on a change of direction at any moment.

    So . . . all to say, I agree with you wholeheartedly. We had always hoped for some great success story, say a question that elicited an answer saving the company millions of dollars, but having what started as a snarky complaint turn into a viral discussion of safety, risk analysis, and design turned out to be a pretty good thing. Nobody’s shutting it down, though it remains to be seen how useful it continues to be in the face of uncomfortable, necessary change.

  2. Jenifer Namestka says:

    Mark- I agree with your comments. Allowing for a dialog to occur means opening up to non-business conversations that morph and engage. Allowing for that dialog is the role of the organization. Corralling the conversation to avoid legalities requires governance. But corralling, versus controlling is the balance that is necessary to drive adoption.

  3. Dana Larson says:

    Awesome article. I completely agree that once business teams are open about the information and communication that will be happening inside the collaboration system, the collaboration system will take hold in the organization very strongly, and move everything to the better. The excitement, enjoyment, intelligence and fun of the tool will spread in a viral format, just like you said. Excellent.

  4. […] How can you tell if you are succeeding in your campaign for adoption of new enterprise collaboration tools?  How can you define that magic moment when you can breathe a sigh of relief and say "That's the tipping point."  Metrics maybe?  Sure, they are important, but for me it's when some idea goes viral on your network.  Viral, like the Old Spice guy or the BPGlobalPR twitter feed, but inside your organization.          More about that in a minut … Read More […]

  5. Bill Wood says:

    Hi Mark, I’m still at that old pharmaco 😉

    The last 6-9 months have seen the type of viral adoption here that you mention. We’ve seen a big uptake of Yammer, with no internal marketing campaign. Its a great way to network across the company and gain access to expertise you otherwise would not have, for instance how to hook up your Android device to corporate email.

    We’re now considering getting a Yammer paid account, here’s hoping that doesn’t kill it 😉

    • Mark Eggleston says:

      Hello Bill. Good to hear from you. Yammer is a great grass-roots entry for collaboration into organizations. We have a similar community at Cisco but are looking to formalize it into our Quad product as we roll it out internally. One downside to Enterprise 2.0 can be the number of disparate “signals” the individual must deal with every day – Yammer, RSS, newsgroups, Intranet, voice mail (office and mobile), IM, everl-present email, etc. Finding tools to consolidate these is an important role for the IT group and a key part of the Collaboration Strategy and Architecture offering that my team provides for our customers.

      One thing to be careful of with Yammer or other external systems is that you set and manage policies to control posting of confidential intellectual property. Even URLs to internal systems should be “masked” with something like tinyURL or bit.ly. Good luck with this and enjoy!

  6. […] The busiest day of the year was July 28th with 89 views. The most popular post that day was Going Viral in the Enterprise. […]

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