eBay’s going social. Its protagonists are building the next generation social platform called the HUB, to increase employee engagement, collaboration and effectiveness. It is instructive to follow the evolution of their strategy in response to the growing chorus of eBay employees who were demanding social tools, or had already snuck them in.
On first impression, Ramin Mobasseri eBay’s Enterprise Portals Solutions Manager and Maarten Sundman a SharePoint Architect and Developer appear to be an unlikely team. Both men speak in different languages: Mobasseri ‘business’ and Sundman ‘tech’. Yet both were equally determined to create a people-centric platform for eBay’s 18,000 employees.
Their approach can best be described as a test-and-learn methodology. Mobasseri explains, “We believe in taking small steps,, [starting] with a proof of concept. It’s easy to learn from 1,000 people. It’s much easier to make mistakes with 1,000 people rather than with thousands people.”
Their goal with employees was to not to force them to drop their existing cloud-based social tools, but to try and integrate them into the collaboration Hub. That way, all of the information centralized rather than trapped in cloud-based silos.
The Playbook Summary
|Technology||SharePoint (the Hub), Newsgator, Yammer|
|Primary Adoption Strategy||Pilot the Hub with a 1,000 Tech Savvy Elite, learn and then roll out to next tier.|
|Most Important Lesson Learned||Incentivize users to fill out their profiles.|
|Most Unique Feature||The Hub aggregates and unifies a user’s external social network, then allows the user to cross-post information to social networks with one click.|
|Benefits||Improved employee retention, collaboration and transparency expected|
|Social Business Strategy in 5 Words||Test, learn, measure, revamp, repeat|
How eBay’s Social Business Program Started
Interestingly, the proliferation of eBay employees using a cloud-based micro-blogging solution from Yammer set off IT alarms and spurred them into action. Employees had brought in Yammer without IT approval or involvement. In this landscape, Mobasseri, Sundman and the rest of IT knew they needed act or risk being viewed as non-strategic. They wanted to support the business units, they wanted to be involved and they were going to do something about it.
In reality however, the team lacked the budget and power to build a social platform to support the company’s move to a more social organization. Not having any official support from the executive team, and only the CIO’s tacit approval, Mobasseri and his team worked around executives who were roadblocks, and went directly to mid-level management to gain their support.
“What we did was go to a number of directors and people who really wanted this social thing and wanted to participate. Some of them even volunteered to pay for the software, partially, which was great. We then developed an internal Stakeholder’s Analysis model. In it, we classified people as being ‘for us,’ ‘against us’ or ‘neutral’ and assigned power scores to each of them. In the end, we were looking for the person who loved our project and had a lot of power. Fortunately, we found him. His name is Alan Marks. The rest was easier,” said Mobasseri.
eBay’s Adoption Strategy
In testing their adoption strategy, Mobasseri explained, “We tested it with 1,000 people from various groups, backgrounds and digital skill sets, and not just the tech savvy elite. They were very, very interested in this tool because they believe in the social learning phenomenon.”
True, a pilot program that focuses on a select group of people is an adoption best practice, but eBay took it a few steps further. “We also ran a campaign called ‘Scrub the Hub’. We gave people incentives, like Xbox’s, vacation packages, you name it, just to enrich their profiles. Why? Without a rich profile, what can you get in a social network? Not much,” said Mobasseri.
|My Favorite Quote:
“What is a trip to Hawaii to a company like eBay? Why not? You gain a million dollars in productivity for a $10,000 investment.”
(Ramin Mobasseri, referring to a practice of incentivizing users to fill out their profiles)
Another way of looking at it is to imagine a Facebook without faces, background info, or personal context. The site becomes useless, like a shadowy Cheers bar filled with anonymous characters ‘who don’t want anyone to know their name’. Without the human element and context, social platforms are unlikely to flourish.
When I asked Mobasseri how the program has worked out, he explained, “The numbers of profiles has quadrupled, but it’s still not where we want it to be. To qualify for an incentive, some people went and just put smiley faces in their profiles. But it’s getting better. There is communication. We have to continue telling people, ‘Go ahead and put things in your profile.’”
Why eBay decided to use SharePoint (The Hub) as its Social Platform
It’s becoming increasingly evident that building a social platform as the hub of all social and document activity is an important step in enabling an organization to go social. But eBay didn’t want just any platform. They wanted a robust, state-of-the-art platform, figuring it would accelerate its usage; thus making the organization more effective.
In describing their decision to use SharePoint and Newsgator, Mobasseri didn’t believe the out-of-the-box SharePoint platform to be sufficient, “So we evaluated some other social networking tools like Jive. We played around with Yammer, as I mentioned. We tried Ning and Chatter as well. But NewsGator just kept rising up to the top of our scoring. So we decided the social networking tool for eBay was going to be NewsGator built on SharePoint.”
According to Sundman, eBay also chose SharePoint because of its ability to easily integrate tools from other vendors (typically through SharePoint web parts). If the tool can’t be integrated, Sundman elaborates, “we then aggregated the content within the Hub. That way, they can see the activity streams from various social networking like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or whatever tool that’s not supported by SharePoint natively.”
Sundman went on to explain how eBay will be the first company to allow its users to post and receive updates from the intranet to multiple internal or external networks at the push of a button.
While a beneficial and significant timesaver, integrating data from people’s external social networks accelerates a discussion about who then owns the employee’s social data? In most US organizations, the company has the rights to all content and messages on an employee’s computer. But I’m not sure this rule holds when an employee’s external social network is being used for business purposes.
In any endeavor involving organizational change, opportunities are missed, mistakes are made, and the right decisions only later become obvious. Against this backdrop, I asked Mobasseri what he would have done differently, given the chance.
“We currently don’t have a mobile device management solution, but we’re working on it. We want to see our social sites via the iPhone or the Blackberry, but it’s not going live for a while. We think in 2012, we will actually roll out the mobile piece,” explained Mobasseri.
“The other lesson learned was around the various browsers that were coming up short in SharePoint 2010. Because at eBay and PayPal, we’re very tech savvy, and people use Chrome on the Mac. But SharePoint is a Microsoft product. It doesn’t always work on Chrome. Some of the stuff does and some of the stuff doesn’t. So we built a browser capability matrix. In it, we highlighted what worked, what kind of worked and things that didn’t work at all. Those are the things that we should have known beforehand,” lamented Mobasseri.
Summing it all up…
Yes, it’s true that in our era of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, employees are able to side-step enterprise IT and use cloud-based social tools to get their job done. That’s been a good thing — so far. But ultimately corporations are in business to solve problems for their customers, so employees need to be working from the same playbook.
So whether you are a corporate salesperson, accountant, paralegal, vice-president or IT professional, you can be the next leader who steps up to the plate and creates your company’s social playbook, designs the plays to have impact, and builds a team to deliver it. These people are called visionaries. Visionaries like Mobasseri and Sundman who don’t just dream about creating a social business. They find the means to create one.
Note: eBay went live with the Hub on 11/11/11