This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

How Social Initiatives Fail

Pitfalls to avoid on the road to becoming a social enterprise.

While many companies are working to become more social in their processes and operations, most will not succeed in those efforts. Here are some of the pitfalls to avoid.

We have written extensively on the importance of moving your company along the road to being more social, for both employee-facing and customer-facing functions (see the related links below). Many of you are doubtless already working on initiatives to this end. Many of them will fail. Research last fall from Capgemini and MIT estimated that two-thirds of global enterprises are failing to evolve into digital enterprises. And Gartner predicts that "By 2015, the 20 percent of enterprises that employ social media beyond marketing will lead their industries in revenue growth." Just 20 percent.

What goes wrong with collaborative initiatives? Probably the most common single failing is to attempt a "revolutionary" transformation of the business, instead of aiming at a more gradual evolution. To be fair, a number of suppliers in the social business space do rather suggest this approach with their rhetoric of "revolutionary" solutions for "disruptive" times -- encouraging a strategy of ripping out existing tools and processes and replacing them wholesale with social equivalents.

The resistance to change of both people and cultures argues against the chances for success of a rip-and-replace strategy.

The other problem with a strategy of "revolution" is that it tends to approach the problem tools-first. In a carefully thought-out social enterprise initiative, selection of tools and technologies comes towards the very end of the process. Gartner lays out one possible framework for planning a successful social initiative: vision, strategy, processes, and metrics all precede any thought of what tools might best fit the need.

In a post on FastCompany.com, blogger David Lavenda lists a number of other causes of failure. Some highlights:

Lack of rapport between IT and the business. If IT isn't well into its own transformation from command-and-control into an orientation of service, it won't be in any position to lead a social media initiative.

Not engaging key users. By some estimates, approximately a third of workers will download and share new technology, whether the corporation asks them to or not -- or even approves. These are the people you want involved on the ground floor of any social program.

No grassroots enthusiasm. Collaboration and social initiatives need eager champions among the community of business users. A top-down approach to a social initiative simply won't work -- and is in fact antithetical to the whole spirit of the exercise.

Poor alignment with other business initiatives. Business goals need to be articulated upfront before a social media initiative gets going. Business users have to be educated to appreciate why being involved in the project brings value to their work every day.

If you are involved in planning for wider adoption of social media within your company, please let us know in the comments about any lessons you have learned in the process.