Most social projects are doomed: Five ways to help them succeed

If you're trying to set up a social collaboration initiative, the odds on succeeding are heavily stacked against you - but certain measures can help improve your chances.

Most firms embark on social collaboration projects with no purpose in mind, so it's unsurprising that most fail.

Only one company collaboration initiative in 10 succeeds, even though 70 per cent of organisations try to employ social technologies, according to new research from Gartner.

It's not a new failing. In 2008, the analyst firm found that seven out of 10 people specifically targeted in social projects didn't participate.

"Furthermore, of the 30 per cent 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," the firm found.

Having defined the target audience, those designing a project should focus on the nature of the collaboration involved and the business outcome, according to Anthony Bradley, Gartner group vice president.

However, not all purposes are equal in terms of their ability to involve an audience. So it's important evaluate the relative strengths of purposes and decide how to time their integration into a social collaboration initiative.

Gartner has identified five characteristics of a good purpose:

1. What's in it for me?

A purpose needs to appeal to the self-interest of those who you want to participate. They need to be able to grasp its importance and the value of participating. "If you have to create interest among users, especially through costly incentives, you've chosen the wrong purpose," according to Gartner.

2. Community draw

The purpose must address a shared issue that is sufficiently important to catalyse a community and deliver user-generated content. Gartner says the best communities contribute far more content than the supporting enterprise. "Find out how powerful the purpose is for drawing in significant numbers of people and contributions."

3. What's in it for the organisation?

The purpose needs a clear business outcome. "Choose purposes where organisational value can be clearly measured and shared with the community as feedback and motivation to continue participating."

4. Low community risk

It's best to choose low risks rather than high rewards - especially if the organisation is new to social initiatives. There are four types of risk:

Culture risk is where the corporate culture is not conducive to mass collaboration. Adoption risk is where people will be disinclined to collaborate on a specific subject or in a specific community. Information risk is where the community's shared information is sensitive. Result risk is when even if a community forms, its interactions will not bear fruit.

5. Favour evolution

You should choose purposes that the organisation and community can build on. Some purposes lead naturally to others. "Those that have no dependencies but can lead to other purposes score higher."


Toby Wolpe is a senior reporter at TechRepublic in London. He started in technology journalism when the Apple II was state of the art.


What the ... ? Brendon, I agree with your suggestions. I don't exactly disagree with the referenced Gartner article; at least, no more than I normally disagree with Gartner's ivory tower proclamations. But as rapidly as social media interactions are changing, I wouldn't quote any statistics or percentages from an article that old. You might as well quote MySpace memberships or Blackberry sales.


I think most social stuff fails because companies have bureaucrats located someplace and they get involved. For real life example, the CEO may say an open campus-like environment encourages creativity thru random meetings. Perhaps. But what actually happens after the buildings get built is that local managers of each building try to prevent random conversations from happening. They are disruptive to cubical dwellers or clog up the hallways or look unprofessional--use the huddle meeting rooms instead. Companies want to build a social networks where employees will do A then B then C and definitely not do X,Y & Z. Companies try to build social networks for the same reason bldg manager enforce 'normal' rulez: to prevent people from hanging around the coffee pot. A coffee pot is a social network in exactly the same way a campus is supposed to be until it arrives and people start doing C, then A with and not only do they start doing X,Y & Z, they even do a little Q and R and W. On our campus, many of the buildings prevent large groups from going to the coffee shop together. I'm not sure what the managers are afraid of, but they certainly don't have to worry about any eruptions of creativity.

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