Articles / Successful social media system characteristics

When choosing a tool to support social media, it’s less important to consider its functionality in isolation. Instead, it’s far more important to consider the characteristics of the tool that will make it become an important part of each individual’s daily life.

I’ll start by looking at the characteristics of successful, consumer-facing social media tools, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

This will provide a key set of characteristics against which other, more corporate, tools can be measured.

Characteristics of successful social media tools


When people started to use Twitter, Facebook et al on their mobile devices that increased usage tremendously.

Any social media platform must be able to operate where people are, whether at their desks, at their kitchen table, waiting for a bus, or in the queue at the bank.

People use social media tools in the brief moments of time when they can’t do anything else. They are generally unwilling to use them for purely “social” (ie. Around the water cooler) reasons during “work times”. This is particularly true when there is already a group of people around to talk to. It’s less true of remote workers who find that social tools reduce the isolation of working alone.

This means that a corporate social media tool must have a mobile interface. Ideally a native app (for speed), but if this isn’t possible, then at least a mobile browser compatible interface.


Different social tools will have different but overlapping audiences.

Overlapping Audiences


Sometimes, a post, message, question or status update will only be applicable to a particular audience (eg. A message about a potential client to work colleagues).

More often, though, people are sharing ideas, questions and links that are relevant to multiple audiences.

Having to post the same message to more than one system is the fastest way to stifle usage, as people will quickly choose which is the most valuable network to build. (See: Twitter and LinkedIn fallout breaks your automation)

Ideally, any work-related social network should therefore be able to, at least, receive messages from external networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

In this way, people with a large external network can continue to communicate there, whilst, at the same, time feeding the corporate network.

People who are content to simply work within the corporate network can do so, whilst also receiving the benefit of those with external networks.


Successful social media tools reduce the barriers to contribution as much as possible.

They allow site owners to place buttons which let you “like” or “tweet” about the site. They provide browser extensions so people can quickly, without breaking their flow, add something to their network.

They give you client applications which integrate with the operating system so that posting becomes as simple as sending an email.

It’s unlikely that a corporate social media tool will have the “reach” to integrate with external sites. But it should, at least, be able to integrate with your other tools, such as enterprise wikis or content management systems, and even with your primary business systems such as sales management or issue tracking. What that means, in practice, will depend on your context, but it may mean enabling people to quickly raise a question for their network about a client, or automatically updating a status when someone has opened an issue (or closed one!)

The one, essential, integration is with email. It should be possible to not only receive updates by email, but also make initial posts or replies through email too.

With an integrated system, you are more likely to see continued and growing usage, as the communication tool becomes integrated with the daily work.


There are any number of social systems that have been developed, released and then failed through lack of use.

Many have been so open and free that it becomes difficult to know quite how they should be used. (That’s true until they become part of the culture, such as Twitter, and therefore not requiring any explanation.) This is like putting a group of people with blindfolds into a large, empty hall without explaining why, or how to get the best out of the experience.

Systems, such as LinkedIn, get over this problem through an onboarding process, which gradually encourages users to add information and demonstrates good practice.

This can be achieved via internal communications that highlight key features and good practice, but the ideal is a combination of company-specific communications, and system-generated ones which encourage users at the point of using the software.

Posted: 26 July 2012

Tags: Technology