A Social Innovator’s Dilemma: How Appirio Learned It’s Chatter 1-2-3s

August 2, 2011 Appirio

By Eryc Branham – General Manager, Social Enterprise

Aim before you shoot. While this might seem like common sense, it’s amazing how many times technologists forget that little piece of advice when rolling out a cool new application. Intentions are always good. People get excited, see the potential, and are anxious to get their hands dirty so they go forth and “do” before working through all the ramifications.

And by people, I mean us. Here at Appirio we have a policy to use things internally before we claim to be experts. If we’re going to be cloud and social enterprise thought-leaders, we better eat, sleep and breathe what we’re designing and implementing for our customers.

So it makes perfect sense that when salesforce.com introduced Chatter almost two years ago, we jumped and turned it on for our entire company. And like many technologists, we made mistakes along the way. However, that early journey taught us a great deal about the best practices (and worst practices) when it comes to implementing, adopting and achieving the greatest business value from Chatter.

Chatter is a transformational technology, but realizing its full potential requires more than just turning it on. We learned first hand through the process just how important it is to have a sound strategy, training, and adoption plan that focused on nurturing the community – both leading up to and after launch.

To talk about our journey, what we learned and what you can learn from us, I interviewed two of Appirio’s foremost experts: Brandon Oelling (@cloudy2me), a Solutions Architect who led our internal Chatter re-launch, and Steve Elmore (@steveelmore), a Collaboration Architect who helps our customers design their social enterprise strategy.

Q: Appirio had pretty good usage of Chatter even at the beginning. At what point did you realize we could do better?

Brandon: We instantly gravitated to Chatter as an alternative to mass emails and to connect our workforce scattered across the globe. Rather than a one-way push, Chatter gave us a venue for conversations and to answer questions interactively for all to see.

While we initially saw a big spike in Chatter usage, it dropped off after a few months. We realized we needed to talk to our Chatter users about how they collaborate (email, IM, shared drives, etc.), the intricacies of the business processes they supported, and how Chatter could support those. In our enthusiasm, we also may have added a few problems of our own. For example, one of our engineers created a follow all button to make it easier for our employees to do just that. While it sounded great in theory, by not forcing employees to select who and what they wanted to follow, their Chatter feeds became pretty noisy.

We’re now at a place where we’ve weaved Chatter into the foundation of how we interact and power our business. Whether it’s collaborating through groups, on customer accounts, or sharing content on key customers and prospects, it’s Chatter that ties this whole process together so everyone has precisely the right information at the right time to support the success of the organization and our customers.

Q: What were some of the best practices we applied in our own relaunch?

Brandon: The first thing we did was write down our objectives for Chatter. That sounds simple but when we opened up the potential for using all of Chatter’s functionality, we saw overlap with some other apps we currently used in pockets of our company and we needed to decide whether to retire certain apps if we wanted the undivided attention of all users on Chatter.

The next thing we did was to ask our employees how they were already using Chatter to gather insight that would help us “architect” our Chatter environment. We needed to know what types of users needed to collaborate on what types of things and how open each of those “mini-communities” should be. For example, our strategic acquisitions team needed a private Chatter group to discuss key partnerships still under NDA. But our staff based in our San Mateo, California headquarters needed an open Chatter group so everyone could get critical updates on customer visits. This type of insight drove the configuration, roll-out and on-boarding of users.

We then focused on “relaunching” Chatter to our employees. Our employees are already heavy users of social tools like Facebook and Twitter, but even so, we needed a plan this time around. We communicated ways to get the most from Chatter through employee webinars, created Chatter Guidelines and made those available for our rapidly growing team, and appointed evangelists who could showcase the power of Chatter and help other employees.

Q: Chatter has had a significant impact on Appirio from a business standpoint – helping us close deals, improve offerings, boost collaboration – as well as culturally. Can you give me some specific examples of this in action?

Brandon: Chatter is used everywhere at Appirio, from on-boarding new employees to celebrating our sales wins and beyond. Here’s a few examples for how we’ve benefited from Chatter:

  • Winning deals: The knowledge that we share on Chatter – lessons learned, competitive intel, presentations and collateral from recent pitches (through content) – has helped us close and increase the size of dozens of deals. For example, our sales team for a Fortune 500 financial services customer was able to pick up key points for winning their deal via another Appirio sales team’s Chatter post where they celebrated a competitive win at a similar company with the same competitor. If that was an email, it would be been lost in someone’s inbox and not discoverable over time by the team at-large.
  • Improving customer service and knowledge sharing: Chatter Groups play a pivotal role in promoting our internal subject matter experts who can help with a customer problem, as well as educating and sharing knowledge among project and account teams. As just one example, we have Chatter groups set up for our various Centers of Excellence (CoEs) to post and capture community discussions. Our application development Chatter group has become the one-stop-shop for de-bugging customer project issues and tapping into the collective wisdom of all of Appirio.
  • Improving our own offerings: We also use Chatter extensively to get feedback and discuss improvements for our own offerings. For example, when introducing a new piece or version of our technology (e.g. CloudWorks) we use a Chatter group to share feedback, answer questions for internal users, solicit new feature ideas, etc. Using Chatter we were also able to collaborate across regions on the pricing strategy for a new offering.

The business impact and connection that Chatter can enable in a distributed and growing business like ours is why we make it a core part of our employee on-boarding. We require all new employees to complete their Chatter Profile as part of their orientation and we introduce them to the company through Chatter as well. We also ask them to join our ‘Appirio Newbie’ Group so they connect with other new employees and to read and understand the Chatter Guidelines. It’s not limited to new employees. We provide all employees with ongoing tips and tricks to support adoption, configuration and management of their Chatter universe.

Q: How are we applying these lessons in customer engagements, and can you give me a specific example of how it has helped a customer?

Steve: Our first-hand use of Chatter for the last two years, and our own journey has given us unique insight into the potential of social enterprise technologies like Chatter. They can not only contribute to a more connected, collaborative workplace, but they can capture knowledge, institutional memory, cultural nuance and the pearls of wisdom that distinguish high-performing organizations.

The experience we had designing and architecting our own Chatter usage led us to create a new customer offering this spring: a Collaboration Blueprint. In this 6-8 week project, our social experts help you to develop your Chatter objectives, design and roadmap the most effective implementation, while simultaneously prototyping a “model Chatter” environment based on your unique needs.

Chatter is not just a feature of Salesforce CRM, it’s a platform unto itself and to get the most from it, a little pre-planning goes a long way. For example, in regulated industries there is a great deal of concern around the internal dissemination of non-public information. With one customer we were able to discover and identify in the Blueprint how existing controls and behaviors could extend into Chatter and provide greater security while simultaneously reducing the number of information silos. With another, our recommendations identified key areas that had to be addressed first to ensure proper resourcing.

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give others who are just starting down this path on how to achieve greater value from their social investments?

Steve: Social is just another way of saying people interacting with people.

Clearly people are the foundation of Chatter and any social enterprise solution. The first step should always follows the ancient maxim: know thyself. You should always factor in the organizational psychology, behaviors and existing structure before rolling out an enterprise-wide social platform like Chatter. Understanding the collaborative capacity, existing appetite for social tools, and what will resonate will help you craft a plan that works in the end. When you look at a financial services firm in comparison to a technology start-up, they are completely different animals in how they manage risk, and they require very different social approaches. That is not to say many of the steps are not the same, but how the organization leads, handles change initiatives and communicates “what’s in it for me?” are important things to think through.

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