Gartner: Many social software projects fail due to IT managers' lack of purpose

25 Sep 2008

Many social software projects fail because IT managers wrongly believe that successful communities form spontaneously after social software tools are installed, according to a study by Gartner Inc. IT and business managers in charge of deploying social software need to choose a core purpose for the community and arrange implementation to achieve that purpose.

'Contrary to common perception that vibrant communities arise spontaneously, starting with a carefully chosen purpose does not limit participants. It gives them the direction they need to form a productive community,' said Anthony Bradley, managing vice president at Gartner.

Bradley said that many IT organizations fall into the trap of following 'worst practice' installing social software in the expectation that productive communities will emerge spontaneously. Gartner's discussions with clients suggest that the 'install and they will come' practice rarely succeeds; about 70 % of the community typically fails to coalesce. Furthermore, of the 30 % of the communities that do emerge, many revolve around interactions that planners didn't envision, that don't provide business value and that may even be counterproductive.

Gartner maintains that users need a well-defined purpose of appropriate scope around which to mobilize and that a good purpose for a social application has seven key characteristics:

1. Magnetic
The purpose should draw people directly to participate, immediately appealing to the 'What's in it for me' characteristic.

2. Aligned
Purpose should align with business value, that is the 'What's in it for the business' value, be it direct or indirect.

3. Low Risk
Organizations are advised to resist the temptation to opt for high-risk communities, which seem to offer the greatest potential for business value. They are better revisited once social applications have gained momentum.

4. Properly scoped
Gartner advises organizations to start with a minimal scope and focus on growing a community's scale as fast as possible. Once the community has scaled up, users will guide on how to expand the scope.

5. Facilitates Evolution
Purposes must be selected that both the organization and community can build on.

6. Measurable
Especially early on, when organizations are skeptical of social applications, Gartner advises choosing a purpose where business and community value can be clearly measured.

7. Community-Driven
The best communities contribute far more to themselves than do the enterprises that support them. If the purpose requires the enterprise to contribute most of the content, and the community participants are mere readers, the enterprise has simply used the new technologies as another channel to push communications.

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