Digital natives – the generation for whom the Internet has always existed – have embraced the medium as one of choice. They use social computing applications as a medium for many activities, including receiving and giving product advice (ratings, comments), meeting with and talking to friends (social networking, chat), organizing events (social networking), learning (Wikipedia, weblogs), and communication with the general public (Youtube, weblogs). Facebook, a social networking service, has reached an audience of approximately 800 million users; young Iranians organize protests against their government via social networks, while amateur journalists and artists are viewed by millions on Youtube and weblogs. Inspired by these developments, corporations now seek to adopt social computing applications and derive similar benefits for their organizations. However, despite their growing interest, many firms report significant problems with the implementation and acceptance of social computing applications.
In a recent research project we investigated how three companies resolved these issues and improved communication and collaboration by incorporating social computing applications into their intranets. Based on the insights gathered from the cases, a general process for the adoption of social computing applications is proposed.
Corporate Adoption of Social Computing
According to our process theory, corporate social computing projects start with a need for better communication and/or collaboration between corporate employees, their business units, or even smaller units (1). When such a need becomes obvious to an employee interested in starting a project, resources required to continue have to be mobilized. These resources may often only be obtained by involving the respective management team (2). Consequently, it is often necessary to inform the management of the needs expressed by the employees by engaging them in workshops or informal meetings in order to carry the idea to the next level. To succeed, the innovator(s) has(have) to use hard data to illustrate the communication and/or collaboration deficiencies. In our cases, surveys and interviews were mostly the instrument of choice. After the innovators had convinced the management of the need to implement social computing, the management also demanded an evaluation of the application by a defined group of people (3). Rather than being defined by their skills and positions, this group of people comprises employees who demonstrate a deep interest in social computing: an interest group. When the interest group succeeds in making a compelling case for the introduction of the social computing application (4), the management delivers the necessary resources and legitimizes the project (5). This legitimation empowers decisions and justifies the costs of the upcoming implementation process. As a next step, the IT department is assigned the task of implementing the system from a technical perspective, including its design, security, and access (6). At the same time, the interest group starts creating content to avoid going live without adequate content to illustrate the purpose of the system. Further, the IT department signals the technical availability (7) and the management gives the final permission to go live, while preparing the announcements that will accompany the rollout (8). Going live is accompanied by a great deal of communication from the project team via the intranet, emails, flyers, and other organization communication channels. In addition, training sessions are organized in which the project team demonstrates the new application by illustrating how the system can be used in the daily work environment (9).
The research results have recently been accepted for publication:
Räth, P., Urbach, N., Smolnik, S. and Butler, B. (2012) Corporate Adoption of Social Computing: A Process-Based Analysis, Journal of Information Technology Case and Application Research (JITCAR), 14, 2, 3-27. (Link)