A recent Forrester survey of IT decision-makers in North America and Europe shows that a third of organisations have implemented, or plan to implement, social networking technologies in their enterprise in 2010. While the benefits of social technology can be significant, firms need to manage the challenges of driving adoption, realising true business value, and managing risk. For some organisations, the initial response is to keep social technologies out. Unfortunately, this introduces new risks that could well be more significant. Users could provision tools on their own from public sources, out of the view and control of IT, that create more significant risk. Even more troubling, your competition could embrace and manage the risk and place your organisation at competitive disadvantage in the market. For many, the opportunity to foster innovation using social tools is too compelling to ignore. Forrester sees an emerging pattern of adoption in those organisations that choose to proceed with social technologies. This pattern both lowers risk and maximises opportunity for success (see Figure).

Figure: Common Adoption Pattern For Social Technologies In The Enterprise (Click on it to see in full screen)

Best practices for introducing social technologies

Each adoption stage represents a gate
While the stages of social technology adoption represent a continuum, they also represent gates, each of which is a go-no-go decision point. Specific tasks and goals can be associated with each stage, and failure to achieve those goals means your organisation may not be ready to move on, or may not realise the full value social technologies. Look to achieve the following from each stage:

Stage 1: Ensure that your organisation wants to adopt social. As with the introduction of any new technology, the smart organisation starts small. In the case of social technologies, there is no guarantee that your organisation will embrace them.

Carefully define the business issue you want to address and work closely with business leaders in a controlled pilot to ensure that your organisation will embrace social technologies. Do not underestimate the change management efforts to drive adoption. Change management should certainly include access to training materials, but far more important is that users have a strong understanding of the business goals and objectives regarding the initiative. Tightly coupled to this is strong business backing for the initiative.

• Stage 2: Define success, avoid risk. Stage 2 should build on the success of stage 1. Expand the use of social technologies to include more users and more business use cases. Look for business cases that reflect the lessons learned in stage 1, and engage appropriate business leaders to support the broad initiatives. During stage 2 it is important to determine policy and governance of the emerging social environment. Many organisations balk at wide-scale use of social technologies because of challenges related to security, privacy and compliance. These issues are generally manageable, and a well-governed social environment will lower risk because of transparency.

• Stage 3: Treat social like a true enterprise asset. As your organisation moves social technologies into enterprise wide deployment, be prepared to harden the implementation. By stage 3 a social environment should be capable of existing in a mission-critical environment. Operationally, your social applications should be highly available, integrated with corporate authentication systems, and deployed widely to drive critical mass of adoption. Integration with adjacent technologies, like line-of-business systems, should be part of stage 3 if this part of your long-term strategy - and technology selection should support those goals. Forward-thinking organisations that have moved toward broad deployment of social technologies are now in the process of building out strategies with core line-of-business systems like CRM, ERP, and others.

It's a high hill, but it can be a gradual climb

When you embark on the road to social technologies, you do so with an eye toward transformational value. By the time you get there, the information and human connections that social technologies generate will become mission-critical assets in your organisation. However, unlike big-bang technologies like ERP or CRM, you have the ability to take a more measured approach to implementation. In doing so, you need to plan for driving adoption, deriving business value, maintaining the security and privacy of the environment, and ultimately deploying a mission-critical service. The stages outlined here represent the best practices of organisation that have achieved maximum success.

About the author:
Rob Koplowitz is principal analyst at Forrester Research and will be one of Forrester's experts to present during the Information & Knowledge Management Track at Forrester's IT Forum EMEA 2010 (June 9 - 11, 2010, Lisbon, Portugal).