Have you ever wondered why people don’t effectively and extensively use the tools and functionality within your intranet?

Whether or not ‘something new’ is used can be put down to diffusion.

What do I mean by this?

Diffusion is the process by which an innovation (the something new) is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system (company employees).

So, to stop being too technical and put it in “Intranet Speak” it means the effectiveness and rate a new feature on your intranet is used and shared by the users of your intranet.

There are 5 elements that can affect the diffusion of new ideas.

  • Relative Advantage is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as a better idea than the one it superseded. i.e. the more that someone thinks it is better than what it replaces then the more likely it is that it will be used.
  • Compatibility is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as consistent with the existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters. In effect this means that someone is thinking “Is this me?” or “Do I like this?” One factor that might help an innovation succeed it what it is called and how it is positioned in relation to previous ideas. (Is this why everything Apple makes is an ‘iSomething’?)
  • Complexity is the degree to which an innovation is perceived as relatively difficult to understand and to use. This is fairly straightforward to understand. If it is hard to use, or not intuitive, or simple to use then potential adopters will take an almost instant dislike to it.
  • Trialability is the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with. If someone has the worry of “Will I break it” or fear that any outcome might be permanent and non-reversible it may make them less willing to “try it”
  • Observability is the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. If it is seen to be used by other people then it is more likely to be used, although this is dependent on and affected by your relationship to, or opinion of the people that are using it. This goes back to the question of “What do my friends do?”

We listen to our friends more than experts. Is it a truism that most of us will evaluate something and then make a decision on whether or not to use it based on whether our peers use it and what they think about it. You are more likely to think positively towards something if your friends think positively towards it or more likely to use it if your friends do. (In fact when you were first deciding whether or not someone was your friend, it was probably influenced by sharing opinions and values but that is a whole different physiological discussion that this blog won’t go into.)

An individual’s perceptions of how “the something new” is assessed against the 5 elements, and based on how it stacks up it affects if, and if so how quickly “the something new” will be used.

5 elements

The relative advantage of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.
The compatibility of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.
The complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its rate of adoption.
The trialablity of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.
The observability of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption.

What is the point in knowing all this? So you bear it in mind when you launch or turn on new functionality. Users will need to see demos, to appreciate how easy it is to use and they won’t break things or disappear into a black hole. Some people will wait until they see someone else using it, or a lot of people using it.

Categories of innovativeness

This blog was going to have been called “Diffusions of Innovations” as it is based on the complex content of a book of the same title by Everett M. Rogers, but I thought, “Who would read it if it was called that?”

If it is evident that people aren’t using something it may be worthwhile considering why that may be the case – it may well be that one of the elements above is the cause – however it may be easier to categorise their approach into three more everyday concepts. There are a number of factors, or blocks that could prevent someone from using something

They could be

  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Perceptual

Emotional blocks are founded on a fear of making mistakes or looking stupid. You may be encouraging people to add comments to pages but there might be some users who think “I don’t want to be the first person to comment on this” or “What if someone disagrees with what I say”

Intellectual blocks are based on a lack of understanding of how something works, or a misunderstanding of how something works. This may be because the way it was introduced was too technical, too jargon fuelled or lacked a relevance to everyday tasks.

Perceptual blocks arise because we develop ways of seeing the world and we can become creatures of habit. We don’t like change – we might pick faults with the current process but at least it offers us the comfort of certainty over the challenge of change.

What can you do to overcome these blocks?

A) Tell users what it is you would like them to do – some people will benefit from the confirmation that it is OK to do things. It might be that you offer incentives to encourage them.

B) Show users how to do something, but better still give them the opportunity to have a go themselves. Encourage participation.

C) Show that they will gain from using it – how it will make things easier and more efficient. Don’t just show the features – demonstrate the benefits.

D) Realise that not everyone will be positive and enthusiastic – but have a plan to tackle the pessimism.

E) Monitor what’s going on – look for the high users that show engagement, look for those at other end of spectrum. Thank those that are using it well and effectively and look to encourage those that aren’t.

What are Steve’s 5 top intranet launch tips?