Why ‘critical mass’ is intensely relevant to Enterprise 2.0 user adoption


A new perspective on Enterprise 2.0 adoption has just occurred to me, stemming from a conversation with audience members at my KM Forum presentation the other day, and while writing the Implementing Enterprise 2.0 report, which is being created to be out in time for the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum.

[UPDATE:] Implementing Enterprise 2.0 is now out with 4 free chapters available for download.

In Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers describes the now well-known curve of user adoption.


Attribution: Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

In the case of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 technologies, they become more useful the more people use them.

For example, social bookmarking or tagging is of limited value if adopted by just a handful of people, but can be extremely valuable in making information search more effective, if used by the majority of people in an organization.

This changes the shape of the adoption curve. Once there are sufficient users, the value increases, accelerating uptake. This is arguably the case with any system where there are network effects, however the mechanisms of Web 2.0 accelerate this increase in value.

This does not fundamentally transform the nature of user adoption initiatives in organizations, but it does change some of the dynamics and effective strategies.

For Enterprise 2.0 technologies far more than for other technologies, the real focus and the battle needs to be on moving from the early adopter group to the point of ‘critical mass’, where sufficient usage of the technologies is rapidly accelerating their value to users, and uptake is far more rapid.

  • This is why there are advantages to working with already existing communities. Within any workplace there are any number of informal communities (of practice, interest etc) – and by enabling these groups to come together via E2.0 style tools, it is possible to create that exponential adoption that is so desired.

  • Very interesting point Gavin. This means that you don’t need to go through the user adoption cycle from scratch each time…

  • I agree with Gavin that there are always existing communites, that help you accelerate adoption. And then, there’s behaviour change, as enterprise 2.0 is about more than just usage. Behaviour change needs organizational change, and this seems longer
    I agree that it is essential that enterprise 2.0 reach critical mass so that their value to the business can be clear (tagging, identifying experts or knowledge, expanding networks, innovating, …).
    I am still in the process of deploying second year pilots. I wonder how long the momentum lasts, if critical mass is not reached within two years

  • This is also why I think a lot of Enterprise 2.0 tools can end up failing in their implementation. In a business, the dynamics are so very different to the web. The adoption and maintenance of tagging, blogging etc. inside an organisation, coupled with the far smaller numbers involved, plus employee churn, motivation for participation etc. all have a direct impact on success and longevity.
    I kind of agree with Gavin’s point. Focus on where you might get traction at first, but it’s also sensible to appreciate that the type of people in informal communities are an easier target. If you can get an unlikely community forming, that will be a better demonstration to the rest of the business than a great example by an existing community that, somewhere down the line, will likely use these tools anyway.

  • Luis, absolutely, the bigger context here is that organizations must change – often rapidly – to deal with the external pace of change. Interesting point re the time you have available to get traction before it can subside.
    Alex, yes there are massive challenges. But that means if you succeed, you’re one (or more) step ahead! 🙂 It’s interesting how much user adoption strategies are critical to making E2 happen.

  • While there is added value with scale most of these tools also have really strong value as a personal and small group tool. Many are people implementing or consulting around them are clueless as to these values and pitching them.
    Tools that have extrinsic value over personal value usually have slow or low adoption, but most of these tools have both and it is selling and ensuring the personal value that not only gets people to engage, but keeps people using the tools.
    This is a very old lesson and one that is inherent in many of the enterprise tools. Sadly very few of those “leading” in enterprise 2.0 grasp this or are clued into how this works.

  • Thanks Thomas. This is an important point that can be lost when focusing on the whole-of-enterprise perspective, which I think relates to the earlier comments about the role of communities. Without underestimating that value, I think it’s also important to keep on working however possible at the broader ambition of organizational transformation.

  • Thomas, I disagree in that I do think many people working in this space are acutely aware that you have to demonstrate a personal value or “what’s in it for me” factor to employees (or users in general) for these tools to achieve success.
    Yet, it’s one thing to understand this and quite another to be able to effectively demonstrate how a tool might be useful, or easier/faster/more effective than what someone is using currently – especially when you apply, or take into consideration, the specific systems and skillsets within any given organisation.

  • For areas where no community exist, start quietly and small. By small I don’t mean picking something insignificant but rather a champion use case. (eg. 2-3 top performing sales teams).
    Work with them to refine the solution based on realistic and relevant work dynamics (the ratio of give/receive differs vastly by user role and is one of the biggest hindrance to adoption) and measure to show results.
    Then evangelize hard using metrics and replicate. You’ll get the “I wanna be like Mike” result (sorry its a reference to an old Michael Jordan ad 🙂

  • I agree, the big picture is culture change.
    ie. do we have a knowledge sharing attitude? Do we want effective knowledge transfer via SN and blogs?
    A lot of people talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk…they want their firm to be effective yet in practice they are 100% about efficiency, and nothing about longevity, effectiveness and learning.
    I think the first step is how much do we value collaborative performance. If you as a human asset are measured on this (a kind of group ROI), then this instills a family environment where we all count on each other to make sure we get the same pay check every week. ie knowledge sharing becomes essential to survival in this case (In saying this I’m not sure how this would play out in the real estate industry? I’m yet to explore industry specifics..)
    This is true anyway, if I had to solely rely on the talent of my team to get my work done, I would not be effective. Like all people I have a network of contacts in various teams I source for assistance…an online version of this sounds absolutely reasonable to me (plus you get all the discovery/accidental collisions)
    In my mind e2.0 tools are a catalyst for this culture change that KM has wanted for a long time.
    In saying this, I don’t think we need to go too deep into cultural preparation. As long, as mentioned above, senior management have collaboration, transparency and networking (social productivity) up there with topics such as “safety” as an attitude or strategy they are pushing. And as long as middle management will allow their workers to use these tools to be effective, but also please senior management with efficiency quotas. Plus also take it seriously by having full-time champions to consult with teams.
    All this helps a firm start off on the right foot, but if it’s not there I still believe we can have islands of social computing (as some workers know it’s a productive way to work), only it won’t be game changing like an enterprise 2.0 ecosystem
    Once a collaborative culture is an organisational mission and taken seriously, then it’s over to facilitate the workers to use these tools to adopt and make that culture change happen from the inside out.
    – management can use top-down crowsourcing as a way to get the ball rolling (ultimately you also want networking naturally happening without any top-down stimulation)
    – make known that knowledge sharing and branding yourself gives you opportunities, sharing knowledge brings you more power, and will be recognised in your performance…you become known (subject expert)…just like TV chefs 😉
    – you become connected, doing your work is easier
    – you discover people to help you out
    But what if management don’t really get social computing, even if you have described the benefits and buyin, and they agree and give the go ahead, but they don’t whole heartedly make it an organisational strategy, and don’t bother creating an awareness program…and don’t include collaborative and networking traits into individual performance expectations and reviews.
    The transparent office blog mentions to start off with in-the-flow activities, as this does not ask anything extra, as it’s repurposing what you are already doing in email
    – you are not asking for people to part with their precious knowledge, it’s just using forums to discuss project set-up and operations, and a blog for project announcements and progress, and wikis, etc…
    As Gavin and Sameer mention create a pilot and find some “rogues” that are already using these tools.
    Other community indicators are email groups, f2f groups, etc…
    – use them to solve a problem, fix a process
    – there will be people who also want to learn and share above-the-flow (social productivity)
    I think we need to concentrate on these groups by facilitating and workshopping with them. Then when you release you will have some great showcase examples for others to see.
    – we failed to do this and our pilot has grown too big for us to do real one-on-one workshopping.
    – rather than a concentrated effect with lots of hand holding, we did a broad pilot without being able to pay attention and facilitate everyone
    I think most important is peer-to-peer adoption. No matter how much you show someone, and how much they really like it, they may just not get the time, or resist learning a new tool and routine/habit.
    -so we need leaders as role-models and champions to do one-on-one assistance with them like helping them publish blog posts once a week for 2 months, till they get the hang of it.
    – like Sameer says, some people will only dedicate time to learn a new tool if a colleague they trust are doing it “if Vince is doing it, then maybe I should give it a go”
    So I think the best way is to target a small user base and really get them 2.0 savvy, and have their colleagues be influenced by them, and let the infection take over.
    Social computing is a catalyst to enterprise 2.0, where our behaviours, habits and routines change to a new way of working, hence a cultural emergence.
    Whoa, maybe I should think about this more and write a blog post
    Ohh I almost forgot…I don’t think CoPs need network effects like social networks to be successful

  • This is the concept called increasing returns. Kevin Kelly said “Mathematics says the sum value of a network increases as the square of the number of members. In other words, as the number of nodes in a network increases arithmetically, the value of the network increases exponentially.* Adding a few more members can dramatically increase the value for all members.”

  • John, great comment – thanks for your insights!
    Ralph, what you are referring to is Metcalfe’s Law, but that is not what I am describing. The degree of value that emerges from incremental participation in a Web 2.0 environment does not follow this curve. It is a very good question as to what curve it does follow – that will depend on among other things the types of technology used and how they are used. Certainly worth thinking about more…

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