Take your time. A lesson for starting your enterprise social network.

Slowing down seems counterintuitive in today’s fast and furious times.

In particular, if you are trying to launch or build anything online.

Starting a social network in 2012 you expect success = rapid growth. Social media gets people excited! Especially when it makes your job easier. It is very tempting to just switch the ON button.

The promise of an enterprise social network (ESN) to revolutionise the way you work is real and tangible. Once you open up to a social network’s possibilities at work – real time collaboration, connecting everybody up and across the organisation, the ability to ask a question to anyone, from anywhere – you immediately grasp the enormous pot of gold in front of you. And now you wish you had it yesterday! Hurry! Let’s get this social thing going. 

Yet growing a social network requires patience – nowhere moreso than inside the enterprise, where legacy technology and legacy mindsets oft reside.

I was relieved to read an interview with Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr (and now, Pinwheel) spruiking the value of slow growth. (Bear in mind, Fake’s idea of ‘slow’ is measured against everything else in the social technology bucket which is growing at break neck speed.)

Like so many “overnight success stories” – Pandora, Lady GaGa, Lana Del Rey, the CrossFit to name a few random ones – when you actually peel back the curtains, there are some core pieces of behind-the-scenes preparation you need to consider.

What is the intention behind the social network you are launching? Why? How much space do you have to entertain your users? Is everyone ready to embrace social media?

There is rarely a consideration beyond pressing ‘invite all’.

What are you going to do with the ensuing avalanche of inviting hundreds of new users to a network? When those people turn up at your ESN front door, you need to make sure you’re ready to host them, not running around like a chicken with your head chopped off.

Once you invite your users in, there will be a blizzard of information and data. Are you ready for this? This is the fast part, connecting people. By having prepared for this, you can manage the flurry of hyper-connectivity, direct traffic to the right groups and connect experts to the right problems, and then get out of the way so the culture can happen.

Which brings us back to Fake’s slow down point;

“It takes time for the culture to grow. You need time to develop antibodies to spammers and trolls.”

Be mindful that moving toward openness needs time to incubate. Users will create their own customs and norms all at their own pace.

As much as fast-paced activity is valued in techland, changing pace to do some critical thinking (and let others do the same) is paramount. My advice is to be sure you have thought out precisely your long-term goals for the network. When you shepherd users into a network with a clear overall vision you can connect people quickly and then build growth by giving people space and time to grow.

‘You can’t sprint through a marathon, you have to pace yourself.’

– Buzz Bishop