Social software has been on the rise over the past few years and has dramatically changed the way that people share ideas, solicit feedback and collaborate across dispersed locations. So far, most of the measurable success using social software to improve operating metrics has been confined to small teams and other outliers.

In many instances, social software has not effectively demonstrated how it can drive real operational benefits and get real work done. While social technologies have been employed by 70 percent of organizations today, Gartner sees the success rate of these initiatives at a low 10 percent. Clearly, interest in social software is high, but this does not necessarily translate into meaningful use or purposeful engagement. Just as we don’t expect a car to drive without gas, or a computer to function without it being plugged in, simply deploying a social network and expecting automatic engagement and a culture of social collaboration from employees is an optimistic laden exercise in futility.

Many organizations have failed in the quest for social adoption as they have either mandated social activities (“thou shalt Tweet this”) or dictated constrained social policies (“thou shalt use Twitter for work purposes, but thou shalt not use Facebook”). While other businesses have attempted to provide incentives to drive positive social engagement, the focus should be on social technologies that deliver business context and relevance, to drive purposeful collaboration and get real work done.

As competitive pressures rise and as business leaders demand a more agile, innovative and engaged organization, how can you find the right ideas to drive growth? The answer lies in not just another social software investment, finding the best platforms and mechanisms to unleash the creativity and ideas of employees to build an innovative culture and drive engagement. Below are a few tips on how to make ideas and innovation count.

1. Seek Out Diversity

Innovation management is exceptionally valuable because it most successfully connects people with diverse opinions — and in disparate locations — with the mechanism to communicate, collaborate and deliver transformative business growth. Time and again, studies have shown that diverse inputs generate superior solutions fast, for more challenging problems and opportunities. This means the standard operating procedure of seeking ideas from your tried-and-true set of cohorts fundamentally limits the generation of top solutions needed for a vibrant organization. There are benefits to obtaining a diverse perspective, particularly from those on the front line and edges of your organization. Don’t be afraid to tap into your crowd’s aggregate knowledge in order to drive incremental and transformational ideas that will drive growth.

2. Understand the Motivations of the Crowd to Participate and Engage Your Audience

Know your crowd’s skills, geography, demographics, dynamics, etc. And not just dynamics but how might they interact. Make employee, customer and partner interactions more social, streamlined and fun by incorporating core elements and rules of games. Game mechanics makes sharing contributions and ideas a richer, more engaging experience and delivers real business outcomes. Identifying and tapping into intrinsic motivators is key, for example, for the professional development of an employee, the greater good, the socially responsible cause, etc. By enabling employees to connect and collaborate more effectively, you can boost idea development and accelerate innovation outcomes.

3. Successfully Identify and Pursue the Right Ideas for Business Outcomes

It’s critical to have an efficient, effective and transparent process to evaluate and progress promising ideas. Compromise on either of these three elements, and it effects employee engagement and decreases your odds of finding the winning solution to your business problem. By leveraging crowd and expert input, you can systematically discern the ideas that are most likely to lead to desirable business outcomes. This will focus the innovation effort and identify the best ideas and decrease idea/social noise.

4. Get the Outcomes You Want Through Rewards and Recognition

Your employees are naturally competitive, and achievements and recognition are part of work life. Once a business problem has been defined, structure a rewards and recognition program to achieve the outcomes desired. Allow your employees to have fun, share feedback and keep track of their achievements via social software. This will foster a collaborative, emergent and results-oriented culture.

5. Measure Effectiveness and Usage

Social software is only effective if your targeted users (i.e., your employees or your customers) are actually using it for communication. Employees’ cognitive surplus is the most valuable, most under-utilized asset organizations have. Tap into that surplus and encourage the best ideas to come to the forefront in your business through more targeted, specific innovation management platforms.