Social business pilot projects and smaller test cases are great ways to help making purpose and benefits tangible and understandable for those involved. They also result in know-how and lessons that can be used by the whole business for future projects. And it helps you get buy-in for a larger deployment of larger or other social business projects.

Obviously, pilot projects are not always a good idee. The value of pilot projects depends, among others, on:

  • your business culture
  • the type of social business project (social collaboration, marketing, HR, etc.)
  • whether the project can scale
  • needed resources
  • expected return
  • people that need to be reached to draw representative conclusions and achieve the desired benefits.

So, the size of the company and representative nature of the team plays a role too. If a social business pilot project works this doesn’t mean that all lessons are learned, let alone can be applied to a broader context.

However, often pilot projects will rise key issues when properly planned and conducted, certainly from a cultural, human and organizational viewpoint. It’s exactly the possibility to look (again) at your business (processes) that is often overlooked in all types of digital and social projects. The scope of the project needs to be in tune with the long-term intentions but in practice the degree of buy-in is seldom broad enough in initial stages where deplying to broad does more harm than good. If you have a clear consensus with a smaller team and scope for a pilot, larger buy-in will follow in case of success. In reality, pilots will even lead to awareness among executives, who see possibilities they didn’t before and start wanting more and broader projects.

The feasibility of social business pilot projects has changed

On the other hand, pilots shouldn’t be an excuse for fear and a lack of management. A few years ago running smaller social business projects was less feasible than today. And here the technological aspects come into play. When we talked Enterprise 2.0, we talked big projects and often big changes. The emphasis was more on building collaborative intranets, corporate Facebook’s, etc. So, it seems obvious that a few years ago many experts adviced against running social business pilots. But times have changed and they often do make sense, if conducted with a focus on all aspects and not only technology.

Today there are more potential applications, more alternatives and more cost-effective means to achieve an (intermediary) social business project end that fits in a staged approach. Competition among vendors is also higher and integrated solutions in the cloud enable smaller businesses and projects.

Furthermore, the people aspect becomes – finally – more important again in what has been for far too long a technology-dominated debate.

Before starting a social business pilot, you need to check whether it’s worth the while or if you better start on a larger scale but in recent years practice shows that in many cases pilots provide lots of benefits, certainly when the initiative is used to make an internal case with clear buy-in to do so. To be able to apply the learned lessons and deploy on larger scale, it’s clear it’s best to already plan the next stages, after the pilot. Pilots are not always the best way to go but in many circumstances they are, especially in the current market environment.

Key success factors? Connect all the dots from the start, look beyond social and focus on the project goals in the broadest context possible. And look at the human factor, always.

Benefits of a social business pilot project

One of the great benefits of social business pilot projects is that you can conduct them using the very processes, social psychology skills, agile team formation rules and lateral/vertical collaboration mechanisms powering them.

Especially in cross-departmental and even international smaller projects, focused on one specific goal and involving external collaborators, they teach a lot about the collaboration, optimization and culture challenges in the enterprise.

On top of management issues, disconnected systems challenges, diverging priorities within the business and socio-psychological factors, they nearly almost show how everything you do in social business projects succeeds or fails with people, the will to participate (your fifth P), proper management/coaching and employees.

Without a clear employee buy-in and involvement and explanation from the start failure looms. Obviously, the same applies for other key stakeholders, depending on the scope of the project or pilot.

Remember that the implementation of new types of collaborative processes and technologies that require/support these processes, is often a good opportunity to take another look at the “efficiency”, to use that word, of your organization overall. This is also the case if you want to start implementing analytics or ROI processes, for instance: there is a lot that will surface. Grab the opportunity and learn from it. If the scalability, math and representativity make sense.

Social business pilot projects
Social business pilot projects