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Making Web 2.0 work

Web 2.0 has been here for several years. They mainly include technologies and applications such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, information tagging, prediction markets, and social networks. Many companies have taken advantage of the trend and engaged web 2.0 in the business environment, with some degree of success. McKinsey recently conducted a study on the success factors. The result can be found in a published article: 6 ways to make web 2.0 work.

These new tools of communication have a strong bottom-up element and engage a broad base of participants. They need a mind-set different from that of earlier IT programs, which were instituted primarily by senior managers. What distinguishes them from previous technologies is the high degree of participation they require to be effective. They are highly interactive and require users to generate new information and content or to edit the work of other participants.

McKinsey identified six critical factors that determine the outcome of efforts to make web 2.0 work.

1. The transformation to a bottom-up culture needs help from the top.
A direct quote from the article: “These projects often are seen as grassroots experiments, and leaders sometimes believe the technologies will be adopted without management intervention – a “build it and they will come” philosophy. These business leaders are correct in thinking that participatory technologies are founded upon bottom-up involvement from front line staffers. Successful participation, however, requires not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.”

I have said something like this a few years ago. This is exactly why the EGRIN discussion forum failed. I suggested in EGRIN that the forum would need to be nurtured to look busy. I even suggested that GGO officers should take turn to post at least one message in the forum everyday. I also suggested that some senior members, DGG included, could write in the forum from time to time as a role model. All these fell on deaf ears. The attitude of GGO was the “build it and they will come” philosophy, and it was the staff’s fault of not coming.

2. The best uses come from users, but they require help to scale.
Most organizations have specific targets in using these new technologies. However, the study reveals that the applications that drive the most value through participatory technologies often are not those that management expects. When management chooses the wrong uses, organizations often do not switch to the applications that were thought to be successful. One company introduced some participatory tools to help new recruits settle in their jobs. The intended use never caught on, but people in the recruiting department began using the tools to share recruiting tips and information about specific candidates. At AT&T, rather than dictating the use of the web 2.0 tools, management broadened participation by supporting an awareness campaign to seed further experimentation.

3. What’s in the workflow is what gets used.
Participatory technologies have the highest chance of success when incorporated into the daily workflow. If their implementation is viewed as additional tasks to the normal workflow, participation level will fall. Google Inc. is an example of good use of the technologies. It modified the way work is typically done and made web tools relevant to how employees actually do their jobs. The company’s engineers use blogs and wikis as core tools for reporting on the progress of their work. Managers stay abreast of their progress and provide direction by using tools that make it easy to mine data on workflows. Engineers are better able to coordinate work with one another and can request or provide backup help when needed. The easily accessible project data allows senior managers to allocate resources to the most important and time-sensitive projects.

4. Appeal to the participants’ egos and needs.
Traditional management incentives are not particularly useful for encouraging participation. Techniques such as management by objectives are not effective. The study found some failed attempts: reward according to the frequency of postings on the company’s newly launched forum, and management pressure to get individuals to post on it. These can only generate low quality participation which is not self-sustaining. A more effective approach is to target the web’s ethos and the participants’ desire for recognition: bolstering the reputation of participants in relevant communities, rewarding enthusiasm, or acknowledging the quality and usefulness of contributions, through prizes for contributions handed out at prominent company meetings.

5. The right solution comes from the right participants.
Targeting users who can create a critical mass for participation as well as add value is another key to success. With participatory technologies, it is obvious which individuals will be the best participants. Without the right base, efforts are often ineffective. To select users who will help drive a self-sustaining effort, a thoughtful approach is required. Proter & Gamble targeted technology-oriented and respected opinion leaders within the organization to be active participants. Some of these people ranked high in the corporate hierarchy, while others were influential scientists or employees to whom other colleagues would turn for advice or other assistance.

6. Balance the top-down and self-management of risk.
A common reason for failed participation is discomfort with it, or even fear. In some cases, the lack of management control over the self-organizing nature and power of dissent is the problem. In others, there are potential repercussions of content that is detrimental to the company. Some participatory initiatives were stalled by legal and HR concerns. Companies often have difficulty maintaining the right balance of freedom and control. Some organizations have adopted total laissez-faire policies, and lack basic controls on inappropriate postings. In some cases, these have serious consequences to the organizations. Managers should work with the legal, HR, and IT security functions to establish reasonable policies, such as prohibiting anonymous posting. Fears are often overblown and the social norms enforced by users in the participating communities can be very effective at policing user exchanges and thus mitigating risks. Companies must recognize that successful participation means engaging in authentic conversations with participants.