TotalCIO

Jun 23 2011   7:48PM GMT

Six tips on avoiding social media project meltdowns

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode

You have to admire Kevin Jones, NASA’s social media organizational strategist. He stood up at this week’s Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston and laid bare his social media project failures.

Jones was brought into NASA in 2007 to develop the agency’s Enterprise 2.0 social media strategy and platform called ExplorNet.

“I’m Kevin Jones, and I’ve failed,” he said to the audience before giving his take on the top social media project missteps. Many involved political landmines and the fear of sharing knowledge.

Take, for example, his No. 1 reason for social media failures: Creating a culture of mistrust. A director was wary of letting his employees use NASA’s internal social media platform to ask and answer questions and share ideas. The director’s concerns: His employees would post something stupid, spell something wrong or take a shot at another group.

“If we don’t have a good trust culture, trying to do anything social is very difficult,” Jones said. One audience member said that a big blockade to creating a culture of trust is fear of retribution. Instead, people need to feel that they can make mistakes and not be punished.

In fact, this theory was at the heart of Jones’ presentation: Failure leads to learning for everyone, which leads to innovation, which leads to progress. “Flip that around. The less trust you have, you’re not going to have failures; then [there’s] no learning, then no innovation, then no progression. We need to fail, and we need to be OK with it,” he said.

Here is a brief synopsis of Jones’ five other reasons a social media project could fail:

Relying too much on stats. Jones gathered data to back up his proposal for ExplorNet, but it wasn’t until his manager actually used the system that he got the point and became aware of how useful the tool could be: “I crammed in facts and figures, and it didn’t work. It wasn’t until he had his own experience and he had a good story to tell that he could really buy into it.” The takeaway: Make a business case and create interest in social media by relying heavily on sharing stories and experiences across the company.

Underestimating the political landscape. The CIO asked Jones to let him know if anything held up the social media project. When something did, he told the CIO, who in turn asked the managers he had put in charge about what was going on. The managers didn’t know what the CIO was talking about, and Jones got an earful. They told Jones not to talk to the CIO, or meet with him or email him without first going over what he was going to say to the CIO with them first.

“I said, ‘OK, do I go to the CIO and tell him they said this, or not? What do I do?’ I was so confused. I underestimated the political landscape, and I still do. Politics can seriously alter the outcome of what we [as social media project managers] are trying to do,” Jones said.

Treating the project as yours. Jones admits he fell into this trap in 2007 while working for another company. He quickly learned that it was “almost a potential disaster.” By making it his project, he realized, there would be less buy-in from others. He turned it around by seeking out feedback at every step from many people across the organization.

Treating the project as an IT project. NASA put the IT group in charge of the social media project, and in the end it became all about the tool and not about the people. “IT is definitely part of it, but you don’t want it to become an IT project. It needs to be a human project,” Jones said.

Audience members suggested these steps to keep a project from being identified with IT: Making sure business users were early adopters, involving users in the decision-making process, making sure the money for the project comes from outside of IT.

“If you ever want to get into a good debate, ask what department Enterprise 2.0 should live in,” Jones said. “IT was in control, and we were stuck on a timeline, which was not necessarily bad; but if they control it, you lose the perspective of the people.”

Going cheap. When the social media platform was rolled out, it crashed. IT added more memory and it crashed again. When he was asked by management what happened, Jones explained: “Nothing. You guys went cheap, using the minimum specs for everything, and had no idea how popular [the platform] was going to be . . . If you go cheap, you’re going to get cheap, whether with personnel, whether with your software or hardware. You don’t have to spend billions, but if you go cheap, you will get cheap as well.”

Let us know what you think about this post; email mailto:ctorode@techtarget.com Christina Torode, News Director.

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  • BartSchrooten
    Excellent points! What we have seen is that one of the main reasons that social collaboration initiatives fail is the fact that a clear objective is lacking. Simple question of "what problem are we trying to solve" is simply missing. Large organizations have been hopping on the "social media bandwagon" because they do not want to miss out on a trend, but as a consequence new IT platforms have been implemented that do solve actual problems for the users. Bart Schrooten http://www.lumoresearch.com
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