When rolling out an enterprise social network, the first thing that should come to mind is, “What exactly is the business goal behind all this?” The answer to this question is central to creating an engaging and captivating internal social network.

“Increase collaboration” and “improve communication” are not business goals. They are too broad and diffused to be considered as the driver behind the launch of any enterprise-grade social network.

By being broad they also project immediate conflict with generic systems and established work processes using email and Intranet without explaining how they can make things better. Users are at a loss and without seeing whats in it for them – resistant to change. The lack of user adoption in turn is the surest path to project failure.

Another problem with poorly-defined networks is that there is no perceived value nor a compelling reason to participate. Typically a social network rollout needs a lot of planning and pre-launch work in creating interesting and useful content to cater to users’ interests that can keep them coming back.

When the value is unclear it becomes that much harder to get champions and contributors to provide this seeding content. And without that – initial users have no sense of how they need to engage on the network. The result: even if users create a login because they received an invite – this quickly becomes just another “tool” on their desktop that they do not use.

There are some simple approaches to starting your enterprise social network in the initial months of a rollout:

  • Think small: Inviting everybody into one huge network and expecting them to immediately adopt it and begin collaborating is a recipe for failure. Remember, the size of the community does not reflect its success. Would you rather have a small but highly active community of 50 people collaborating, sharing notes, and working on a project or a community of 500 that gets a few visitors a day but nobody really does anything? Starting a number of smaller communities at the outset helps keep everybody engaged.
  • Make the goals clear: If users ask themselves why they have been invited to join a community, alarms should be ringing! Every online community in your enterprise social network should have a clear purpose and business goal that is easily communicated so that first time users know what to expect. Imagine a community for a product launch. It is quite clear what they are for and members can then use the inherent power of the network to ensure its success.
  • Find your Champions: When working in the smaller, “pilot” communities, users begin to see how they can use the different tools in your social network to become more productive. They will become your power users in other communities as your enterprise social network grows.

By starting with smaller online communities, you can ensure people know why they are there, what is expected from them, and capture their interest. Building on a number of focused successes in the early months provides a more controlled way to long term enterprise social network adoption and sustenance .