The ‘P’ word

Since embarking on this mission of discovery into enterprise social software one thing that has irked me, is the term given to individuals who find use for social software being referred to as ‘users’.

I think I am becoming a bit too opinionated here perhaps, but I would prefer to consider the more constructive and endearing term ‘participants’ and ‘participation’ to be more appropriate nouns for use when referring to these wonderful people who contribute and consume information through social software.

In my opinion the most key of all tenants for the success of a social software implementation is ‘participation’ therefore it is more appropriate to ensure ‘users’ also know their place as ‘participants’ in this space.

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My research and some 20 years in the information technology scene has taught me that more often than not focus is usually given to the feature-set of the software and rarely consideration is given towards what will motivate employees to use it. In regards to social software I predict that failure to consider ‘participation’ will disappoint any expectation you may have for your implementation to become a roaring success overnight. If your ‘participants’ (or users if your goal is other than social software) are not considered in your approach and their experience with your product is not warm and fuzzy right from the outset then their perception is indelibly effected and gaining back their trust and enthusiasm for your service is usually very difficult and costly. Another failure I have seen occur time and time again is rushing something into production prematurely to serve an arbitrary deadline. My advice is do it once and do it right, even if that means sacrificing a bit of face. Sometimes the success or failure of a product or service relies so much on employee uptake and first impressions DO matter if your goal is to foster participation and win their attention.

In terms of social software one theme I have found is that many companies do find it much of a struggle to encourage employees to participate. Therefore obtaining ‘participation’ from your employees is a strategic concern that will deserve just as much consideration and analysis as you undertook when you identified the need to implement it in the first place.

Some things I have found which would pay you to consider for encouraging ‘participation’ based upon my own experience and research are:

  • the social objects with which those individuals will want to operate upon
  • the sociodynamic aspects of regulation and doing things in a different manner
  • the psychological aspects which may enable or hinder a person willing to participate


Social Objects

These are the objects which encourage people to participate and perform social activities such as sharing documents, opinions, research data, product ideas, competitor research. The extent to which a participant will consider contributing and consuming this information depends upon the value that the participant receives from the consumption and / or contribution of such objects. Be aware that not all participants are equal, the social objects will vary for different categories of participant. You should identify who your audience is and consider how your software will provide social objects for their particular needs.

Shey Smith identifies 3 levels of participation in FriendFeed.


Sociodynamic Considerations

The sociodynamic aspects to consider are the people themselves and how adaptive they are to change. How to turn the laggards into enthused adopters of this new fangled technology? The answer may be in creating awareness, training and promoting the benefits of such technologies. Sadly some people just get stuck in their ways of “doing the same old thing” and “following the same old pattern” that the introduction of a new way of doing things can be quite intimidating for them and a different approach may be needed to assist with the transition for these folk.



Some psychology plays a part in a participants willingness to put themselves on the line and contribute to the greater good. Some aspects to consider are:

  • Culture – will employees feel comfortable expressing freely their thoughts and opinions or would many employees fear exposing themselves to the scrutiny of others in the group. If so how would you change this.
  • Reward – will employees be more willing to contribute for rewards other than the social objects discussed. It is a consideration for getting the project off the ground by encouraging contribution and initiating conversation by offering some physical reward but how about on-going rewards. Perhaps some monthly ‘top contributor’ or ‘most viewed article’ of the month award could be considered.


So, that’s my very own 2c worth on what I hope was inspirational or thought provoking in some way. I would love to hear your own thoughts or experiences with regards to how firms can further encourage participation from employees from the Enterprise 2.0 angle.


3 comments on “The ‘P’ word

  1. Thanks so much for this post – it is fantastic.
    I think you have really covered some of the key aspects in “participation” within an organisation. These concepts, do not only relate to the terms of social media participation, but also in general. Within my own organiation, especially in my current role as a Business Analyst, you often see people with great ideas but due to the sociodynamics, the have not or will not put their hand upand say “what about this???”. There is no avenue available for them to share their ideas and become participants in the improvement of the way business is conducted. I think organisations first need to conquer this “inhibiting” culture, before they can effectively incorporate the use of socia media in their day-to-day operation…….
    Once again, thanks for this post – very thought provoking!!!

  2. Can’t argue with the point you make about “participants” vs. “users” – good way to think about it and could make for an interesting angle in a communication strategy. However, regardless of one’s preference in referring to the people that have to use the tools at the end of the day, I think it points out that there needs to be greater consideration within the IT industry of the end-user. The principles of business requirements and user interface design has been around for quite some time now but most IT professionals seem to overlook this when acquiring or developing systems. Whatever happened to the concept of “fit-for-purpose”?

  3. Pingback: Cook’s 4C’s of Social Software – a summary | Social Media in the Enterprise

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