By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on February 21, 2014
Part 4 of the Social Business For Real Work series
Sales and Marketing departments in large companies (and even not-so-large ones) often fail to communicate as effectively as they should. Marketing teams work on promotions and launch them without informing Sales, while Sales fail to give marketing insight into their pipeline. In the worst cases, this leads to mistrust between the teams and differing priorities.
The Social Business Advantage
An enterprise social network provides an environment where sales and marketing can exchange knowledge and details about their current projects. But it needs to be accompanied by a real desire to collaborate across departments. Marketing should give sales greater insight into work-in-progress, and actively solicit input from Sales. Sales should provide regular feedback on how the marketing messages are received by customers and prospects and on changes and additions to the library of marketing collateral.
Sales teams who are often out of the office are able to access the latest marketing material and contribute to the discussion of new material via mobile devices.
Carol in the Marketing team has been tasked with improving the flow of information between the corporate marketing team in the US, and the sales teams in US, Europe and Asia. While the US team has usually kept up to date with the latest marketing messages because they work in the same office, the European and Asian teams have often continued using out-of-date material, and regularly complain about new promotions being launched on the global website which they knew nothing about.
To enable this she chooses to create two separate communities in the company social network. The first contains all published marketing material that is suitable for distribution to customers and prospects. In the past, this material had been stored in a shared folder on a file server. But it was often hard to be sure whether this was up to date, as many files were owned by people who had left the company. As this material is moved to the social network, Carol ensures that each file has a designated owner who is a current employee – someone who is responsible for ensuring the content is up to date, and who will respond to questions from sales about it.
The second community Carol creates is for marketing work-in-progress. Anything here is strictly for company internal discussion only as has not been fully reviewed. The sales team are invited to join this community so that they can keep up to date with what marketing are currently working on, and can contribute their opinion while promotions, datasheets, white papers and other documents are being created. Sales are reminded that nothing here can be used outside the company until it is moved into the first community.
The leaders of the sales and marketing teams also agree that the private sales communities, where each regional sales team shares information about the deals it is currently working on, are opened up to allow marketing to join. Carol joins each of the regional communities and monitors them to gain a better understanding of Sales’ current challenges and how Marketing can help.
Make It Real
By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on February 11, 2014
- More than any of the other examples in this series so far, success in connecting sales and marketing is dependent on changes in behaviour. Establishing communities for exchange of knowledge will not succeed unless it is accompanied by a willingness to share. Managers of sales and marketing teams need to lead by example and actively encourage this willingness.
- Make a clear distinction between “customer-ready” marketing content and “work in progress”. Marketing reluctance to share work-in-progress content often stems from previous incidents where Sales have failed to respect this.
- Ensure that all customer-ready material has a designated owner, and files owned by employees who leave the company are reassigned.
- Make sure the communication is two-way. Giving Marketing insight into current Sales activities is just as important as giving Sales information about planned Marketing initiatives.
- There may be a temptation to create one big sales and marketing community, but this is not always the most effective approach as it can lead to everyone being deluged with more information than they need. It is better to create smaller working communities for each group, but allow the other sales and marketing teams to “drop in” and see what’s happening.
- Don’t assume that just because the other teams have access to what you’re working on they will always know when to “drop in”. When a piece of work needs review or input, use tasks to draw the attention of the wider sales and marketing community to it.
Part 3 of the Social Business For Real Work series
Companies with employees distributed around the world find it hard to schedule a time for “all hands” company meetings – it always results in an inhospitable timezone for many employees. Even smaller companies can struggle to find a time when everyone is available, especially if employees are often out of the office visiting customers.
The Social Business Advantage
- An enterprise social network can host an online, interactive, asynchronous meeting. A video recording of the presentations can be made available to all employees to watch when it is convenient, and these can be combined with questions from the audience before, during and after the event.
- These are often far more effective than live Q&A sessions, because as well as reaching more employees, they give greater opportunity for both questions and answers to be more carefully considered.
- This more open, transparent approach to company meetings makes employees feel better engaged and more motivated.
With employees in US, Europe and Asia, the company has decided to hold its quarterly meeting online in the enterprise social network. The HR team creates a community for the meeting and posts the details for those people in the US office who are able to attend in person.
In advance of the meeting, the agenda is published, and employees have an opportunity to provide feedback on additional topics they would like covered.
The meeting is recorded, and after a quick bit of editing, the IT team post the video in the community. Employees in Europe and Asia are able to watch the recording and review the presentations when they get into the office the next day. US employees who are out of the office can watch it on their mobile devices.
The HR team also schedules two online Q&A sessions that fit with the European and Asian working days. Carmen, the VP of Products, goes through the discussion forums and activity stream in the community answering questions raised before and during the Q&A sessions.
Make It Real
By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on February 03, 2014
- Create a community for each meeting
- Prior to the event, use it to post logistics details and to solicit suggestions about the agenda and topics to cover.
- Record the presentations, with particular attention to capturing good quality audio – although video gives a sense of “being there”, the audio is more important to following what’s going on in the meeting.
- Publish the presenters’ slides to the community, as it can hard to record video of both the slides and presenter well.
- Ensure the recording is in a format accessible to as wide a range of devices as possible – many conferencing applications record in an awkward, proprietary format that doesn’t work well on mobile devices.
- Encourage employees who watch the recording to post their questions, and ensure that the presenters make some time available to respond, either asynchronously or in a scheduled online Q&A session.
Part 2 of the Social Business For Real Work series
Starting a new job can be a daunting experience. New employees are usually bombarded with information but are still often left with lots of unanswered questions. And existing employees are left wondering who this new person is that they haven’t been introduced to.
The Social Business Advantage
- A dedicated community for new starters helps people joining the company access all the policy and procedure documentation they need, and digest it at the right time.
- It also provides a place to ask any questions they have, and see what other new starters have asked.
- A well-constructed welcome community can convey the company culture far more effectively than traditional induction meetings.
- Member profiles enable other employees to find out about new starters and what they are working on.
It’s Carol’s first day at the company in her new job as a marketing manager. The HR team adds her as a member to the company enterprise social network, and invite her to the “Start Here” community. As well as containing the usual policies and procedure documents, it helps Carol get a much greater sense of company culture.
The welcome message from the CEO sets out the company’s vision. The HR Director’s welcome guides new starters towards other useful resources and communities in the network, including the “Employee Library” which holds a wider range of procedure documents.
Before she started at the company, Carol had a vacation already booked. She can’t find details about how to book vacation days, so asks in the forum. The HR team monitors this forum regularly to ensure everything gets answered.
One of Carol’s first tasks is to set up her member profile page. This is a useful exercise in learning how to use the enterprise social network, providing a checklist of getting started items and making suggestions on content, communities and network members to follow. It also helps existing employees find out who Carol is, and what she’s going to be working on.
Make It Real
By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on January 27, 2014
- Create a induction community for all new starters.
- When new members are added to the network, don’t add them to too many communities straight away. Direct them towards the new starter community, and use this to lead them towards other important areas of the network.
- Ask senior managers to contribute welcome messages to the community, and keep them up to date.
- Encourage new starters to ask “dumb newbie” questions in the starter community, to avoid cluttering other parts of the network. Keep these forums so that subsequent new starters can learn from them.
- Ensure the HR team regularly checks the new starter forums to ensure questions get answered.
- Assign tasks to new starters for any items where explicit confirmation of completion is required (e.g. agreement to key policies).
- Make sure all new employees fill out their member profile, including a bit of information about themselves and what they’ll be working on.
Part 1 of the Social Business For Real Work series
When hiring new employees in distributed organisations, it’s increasingly common for candidates to have multiple phone or Skype interviews with people from across the company. Collecting the feedback from each interviewer for each candidate often leads to chaotic mass of email communication, making it hard for everyone to see each other’s opinion.
The Social Business Advantage
- Private, invitation-only communities allow HR, the hiring manager and other interviewers quick access to all information about the role, hiring guidelines and resumes of candidates. They can use the community to give feedback about each candidate, safe in the knowledge that this remains confidential.
- Members of the team who work remotely or travel often retain access to the hiring process wherever they are, via mobile applications.
- If, in the future, it becomes necessary to justify the hiring decision to people not involved at the time, a full record of the discussions leading to the decision can easily be made available simply by inviting other people to the community.
Paris is the Marketing Director. She is hiring a new marketing manager who will support the sales teams in US, Europe and Asia, so she wants the Sales Directors for each of the regions to also interview the candidates.
Pam is the HR Director, and she facilitates the recruitment process by creating an private community to which she invites Paris and the Sales Directors. She uploads the resumes of each of the candidates, the job description and she posts the interview schedule. She also shares the hiring guidelines document with this community.
As each interview takes place, feedback is left in the community. Brad, the European Sales Director, was delayed prior to his interview with one of the candidates, but using the mobile app, he is able to get access to all the necessary documentation while he is out of the office, and can provide his feedback.
The team all agree that one candidate clearly stands out, and recommend that Carol is hired. Using a predefined task template from HR, Paris submits an approval request to hire Carol. This is a two-step process requiring first HR due diligence and reference checking, then final CEO approval.
Making It Real
By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on January 27, 2014
- Create a private, invitation-only community for each vacancy you are interviewing for. These communities should typically be managed by HR to ensure consistency in the hiring process. Invite the hiring manager and other interviewers. You need to ensure the community is private and cannot be accessed by any uninvited members. For some particularly confidential hiring processes (for example, replacing an employee who is still in place), it is also important to ensure that the community is even not visible to other network members.
- Upload the candidate resumes, job description, and other hiring guidelines. Hiring guidelines should usually be stored centrally in an HR community, not uploaded separately into each hiring community. This is to ensure that any updates are automatically propagated to all hiring teams, and no one is left with out of date policies.
- Ask each of the interviewers to provide feedback on each candidate by adding a comment to their resume.
- It may also be useful to start discussion forums if the interviewers need any clarification of the job requirements, and for an exchange of views of which candidate should be chosen.
- Use tasks to complete the process by going through the formal approval stages.
Over the last few years, more and more companies have explored enterprise social networking, using social applications to improve communication and collaboration between employees, customers and business partners.
Yet few companies have really integrated social networking into their processes to transform the way they do business. Most implementations of enterprise social networks have been somewhat experimental, and many have failed because they have not made the link with “real work”.
This has led commentators to two disparate, but equally incorrect conclusions. The first view is that enterprise social networking has failed, and companies will fall back on email-dominated collaboration environments. The second is that social business is so now so well established, it’s inherent in all business communication. But if you talk to real people at real companies, the truth is somewhat different. There remains a great deal of interest in social business applications, but perhaps a frustration at the lack of practical advice for implementations that align to their overall business objectives.
It is important to remember that social business is a means to an end. Our ultimate goal is not “to become a social business”; our goal is to communicate more effectively both inside and outside the organisation. Too many social business projects concentrated on adoption – how to get people into a network – rather than what they will use it for once they’re there. In our experience, this is the wrong way round – by clearly identifying the business processes a social network will be used for, adoption follows automatically, because people are compelled to use the network to get their job done.
This series offers pragmatic and practical advice on how to make the journey towards embedding social collaboration in the way people work. Each article will:
- identify a specific business process or challenge
- highlight the potential benefits a social network offers to this process
- illustrates what the implementation would look like, using characters from a fictitious company
- provide a list of action items to implement the process for real in your own company
Inevitably, BroadVision’s own Clearvale product will be used to illustrate these examples, but the focus is more about good practices, not products or platforms; many of these scenarios could be implemented on other products (albeit rather less easily in some cases). The business processes will be drawn from across the departments of a typical company, including examples from sales, marketing, customer service, HR and finance.
We hope that the series will provide a valuable library of examples for kickstarting social business within your company, and will enable you to start using enterprise social networks for real work.
The first article in the series, “Choosing The Right Candidate” is available now. By BroadVision Administrator in Uncategorized on September 26, 2013
FRANKFURT–September 26, 2013 - BroadVision, Inc. (Nasdaq: BVSN), a leading provider of e-business and engagement management solutions, today announced at the IDC Directions: Social Business 2013 the availability of local cloud hosting in Germany for the Clearvale®enterprise social networking platform. The new hosting options are delivered in partnership with InTouch NV, a Clearvale PaasPort Partner, and are designed to host various instances of Clearvale in-country through a secure environment to fulfill requirements related to data control and security for Germany and German-speaking countries.
Clearvale helps businesses around the globe address the critical needs and complexities of real business collaboration by enabling users to meet, build relationships, share ideas, create content, and learn from one another for improved business agility and productivity.
“Cloud-based software-as-a-service is fast becoming a key part of the way enterprises do business, from sharing files to tracking work flow,” said Rager Ossel, Founder and CEO of InTouch. “Through our partnership with BroadVision, Clearvale customers can reap the benefits of business social tools and techniques, all with greater hosting flexibility. Now, organizations can collaborate seamlessly and securely within a Clearvale network that is locally based in Germany.”
To meet the growing needs of enterprises to engage more efficiently and effectively, BroadVision and InTouch have teamed to create two new cloud hosting options for Clearvale. With these options customers have total control over their data and its location while still retaining the flexibility of a cloud-based solution.
- Cloud hosted facility in Germany: Clearvale application runs on a dedicated, secure instance on the InTouch platform.
- Cloud connector for on-premise deployment: The cloud connector is installed onsite at the customer’s premise which connects to a private, dedicated cloud to the Clearvale application. This allows access to the hosted Clearvale application while retaining all data behind the customer’s firewall.
“Businesses are increasingly using cloud technologies to unify communication and collaboration, making it easier and faster for employees, partners, and customers to engage with each other,” said Ian Heggs, EMEA Director Business Operations at BroadVision. “By introducing local cloud hosting and on-premise options, we are providing a progressive way for German and German-speaking companies to securely share information while upholding complete control of their files and data.”
Related Links and Additional Information:
InTouch is a provider of reliable and collaborative environments based on innovative ICT solutions. Founded in 1974 and operating under the name InTouch since 1994, they are a leader in the utilization of Business Social Media and Technology. Business Social Technology is the latest in a long line of technologies developed by InTouch to enable a more effective and natural cooperation between people and systems in sectors as diverse as banking, local municipalities, national health services, and even space stations and submarines. InTouch delivers a platform of engagement based on design, implementation and maintenance tailored to customer needs. “We believe BST will be even more radical in its impact than the internet, potentially transforming enterprises at every stage of the value chain.” – Rager Ossel, InTouch Founder and Chairman
Driving innovation since 1993, BroadVision (NASDAQ: BVSN) is a provider of e-business and engagement management solutions for organizations seeking to transform their communication and collaboration efforts within and outside the enterprise by embedding valuable social behaviors into business relationships and processes. BroadVision® solutions – including the Clearvale enterprise social networking solution – deliver a virtual, mobile, and social platform of engagement for sharing expertise, enhancing business agility, and tracking accountability to deliver clarity in decision-making and improvement in both productivity and business results. Visit www.BroadVision.com for more details.
BroadVision and Clearvale and all their case-sensitive permutations are trademarks or registered trademarks of BroadVision, Inc. in the United States of America and other countries.
BroadVision Contact: By Richard Hughes in Uncategorized on September 04, 2013
Public & Analyst Relations Manager
At BroadVision, we have always aimed to help companies improve communication between their employees and with their partners and customers. Indeed, one could say that this is the primary purpose of our Clearvale enterprise social network product. But we also recognise that simply throwing software at the problem of inefficient communication is unlikely to improve the situation. The “human factor” is a major consideration, as any significant improvement to communication efficiency requires people to acknowledge and address their own bad habits that have become engrained in the way they work.
Over the last 8 weeks, I’ve have been been writing about this subject in a 15-part series entitled The Business Communication Revolution. I’m up to part 9 now, and the series will continue until late October.
Here’s a quick summary of the story so far:
- The Business Communication Revolution - an introduction to the series
- Overload! – describing how an overflowing email inbox is not the only information overload problem
- Push and Pull – explaining the concept of push- and pull-based information flows and how to get the right balance between the two
- What’s So Bad About Email Anyway? – email is often depicted as The Great Evil That Must Be Destroyed, but the truth is a little more complicated
- Mobile Manners - the growth of mobile communication technology is a fantastic business asset, but we must learn how to use it properly.
- The Failure of the Corporate Intranet - 10 years ago the intranet was seen as the solution to our knowledge management problems. So what went wrong?
- The Rise of Social Networking - social media has changed the way business communicate with their customers, but consumer-oriented services like Facebook and Twitter have done little to change the way employees communicate.
- The Promise of Enterprise Social Networking - enterprise social network has the promise to revolutionize business communication, but that promise is, as yet, largely unfulfilled.
- The Enterprise Social Backbone - many people argue that all enterprise apps will become social, making a dedicated enterprise social network unnecessary. Maybe… but that’s missing the point.
New articles are published every Tuesday, and there’s also an audio edition. You can follow the series on Twitter at @BizCommRev.
We’d love to hear your thoughts as well, so please do subscribe to the blog and comment on the articles. By BroadVision Administrator in Uncategorized on July 04, 2013
This post originally appeared on Our Social Times. I will be joined by speakers from HSBC and Sony at OST’s FREE Webinar – Social Business; Moving Beyond Engagement’ on the 11th July (3pm BST). Book a place here.
Now that we are about seven years into the social media era, most of us now have stories about successful or unsuccessful interactions with brands via Facebook and Twitter. For every “I asked them on Twitter and got a much better response than their customer service phone line” anecdote, there are plenty of “I posted on their Facebook wall but they never replied”.
Companies who fall into the first category are held up as shining examples of businesses that “get social”; those in the second category are corporate dinosaurs whose very existence is threatened if they don’t change the way they work.
But what if this is actually precisely the opposite of the truth? What if those companies who are delivering the fastest response on Twitter are endangering their sustainability by neglecting traditional customer service channels, while those who are ignoring Facebook comments are doing so in order to focus on real customer issues instead of non-constructive moaning from customers who are just looking for somewhere to air their grievances?
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Ignoring comments on social media is foolish, but it is important to understand what drives those comments. 23% of people who complain on social media do so purely out of vengeance, and 71% do so because of failure to get an adequate response from traditional customer service. So rather than celebrating your success in responding quickly via Twitter, consider what drove the customer to complain on such a public forum in the first place.
At a series of Social CRM events over the last couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of listening to and speaking to a number of companies who are trying to get this balance right.
Two stories of “social media success” have stuck very vividly in my mind:
Firstly, a speaker who recounted his personal experience of accidentally filling his car with petrol instead of diesel and complaining about it on Twitter. The petrol company saw it and arranged for it to be sorted out free of charge.
Secondly, a speaker from an airline who had several anecdotes about how unhappy customers with very large Twitter followings had their travel problems rapidly resolved by the airline.
On the surface of it, these two stories look like examples of companies who are listening to customers and providing a great response. But ask yourself this – could they provide the same service to every customer? How many Twitter followers do you need to get preferential airline service? Or to get the oil industry to compensate for your refueling errors? Both are, on a less spectacular scale, similar to the story of Peter Shankman (156,924 followers) being greeted by a Morton’s steak at Newark airport. Nobody suggests that was “customer service” – it was a PR stunt. A very good PR stunt, but a stunt all the same.
Unfortunately, most of what currently passes for customer engagement or social customer service is actually either brand protection or PR. There’s nothing wrong with either of those – both are essential parts of doing business. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking they represent the future of customer service. When you find that you have set up a parallel customer service operation in your marketing team, you should know that something is wrong.
So, instead of priding yourself in how much faster your social team handles a customer problem than your customer service team, ask yourself why your customer service team is failing to respond as effectively as the social team. Giving preferential treatment to those who complain the loudest and most publicly is not sustainable, because this policy will become very apparent to customers, and soon everyone will be complaining loudly and publicly.
Instead, you should be providing consistently high customer service levels across all channels, making it easy for a customer to get a resolution to their problem whether they choose to report it by phone, email, or social media.
It is also not particularly meaningful to assess how successful you are at resolving customer issues on social media sites. Facebook and Twitter are great places for making contact with customers, but they lack the depth required to address all but the simplest issues. It is more important that you are seamlessly integrating these highly visible social channels with your own customer communities and CRM systems so that the customer journey towards the right place to get their problem resolved is as smooth as possible.
The true champions of social business are not the companies who have the most eye-catching presence on big public social networks – they are the companies who are most successful in integrating the strengths of social media into their business processes to deliver the best overall customer experience. By BroadVision Administrator in Uncategorized on April 30, 2013
This post originally appeared on Our Social Times. I will be discussing subject in their free webinar ‘How to Create an Integrated Social Business,’ on 7th May at 2pm BST (9am EDT) with Jon Bird of American Airlines and Philip Sheldrake of Euler Partners. Register for free here.
Somewhere between 87% and 98% of companies now have a presence on social media sites, depending on whose statistics you choose to believe. Whichever figure is more accurate, it’s fairly clear that if your company doesn’t use at least one of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc., it is in an ever-decreasing minority. But just because you’re using social media for business, that doesn’t make you a “social business”.
Far fewer companies have applied the principles of social networking throughout their business; in many cases the Facebook and Twitter presence is just a Social Façade, a marketing layer that aims to disguise that in the rest of the company it’s the same old anti-social business as usual.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using social media as a marketing channel. But to see social solely for this purpose means missing out on much wider potential benefits. A report by McKinsey Global Institute in July 2012 claims that “while 72% of companies use social technologies in some way, very few are anywhere near to achieving the full potential benefit.”
To begin to take full advantage of social technologies, it’s important to recognise the three main types of social network, and understand how to engage with the right audience in the right place. Used together, social media, company-managed customer communities, and internal-facing employee social networks can form an integrated social business strategy that turns your company into a true “social business”. That sometimes sounds like rather vague and unattainable goal, so here are five pragmatic reasons why you need an integrated social business strategy.
1. Create more meaningful customer relationships
Public social networks are a great place for making contact with customers. With 200 million users on Twitter and a billion on Facebook, the reach of these services is immense so you would be crazy not to have a presence here. But they’re not great places to have more productive conversations with customers – there’s only some much depth you can go into in 140 characters.
A good example of this is Best Buy’s use of Twitter for pre-sales support. It provides fast, short answers, but needs to redirect more complex discussions to other channels. If you read through the stream of replies sent from @Twelpforce, typically every 4th or 5th response directs a customer towards a traditional email or phone CRM channel. Twelpforce is an effective, but very thin social layer. Integrating it into a Best Buy-managed customer community would enable deeper engagement, and more meaningful customer relationships.
2. Integrate Social and CRM for more consistent response
Customers of many companies have realised that if they complain loudly and publicly on social media they get a faster response. Indeed, some companies seem to be proud of their responsiveness on social media compared with traditional CRM, without thinking this through to the logical conclusion. Setting up a social media team as a rapid-response CRM team is clearly not sustainable – instead social and CRM need to coherently integrated, giving the same speed and quality of service whichever channel the customers uses.
For most companies, the level of integration between their Facebook page and their CRM system is very poor, so is it any wonder that irritated customers hijack the comments threads of the latest faux-cheerful marketing posts to complain? It’s perhaps a little unfair to single out any particular example of this when so many companies are guilty of it, but Three UK’s Facebook page provides as good an illustration as any you are likely to find.
3. Make your employees more efficient
While you’re establishing a more open, collaborative relationship with your customers, it seems rather unfair if your employees are still stuck with email and old-fashioned intranets as their main communication mechanisms. Unfair, and inefficient; the McKinsey report mentioned earlier estimates that use of social technologies inside the company can increase productivity of knowledge workers by 20-25% by reducing the time spent handling emails and searching for information. Indeed, McKinsey estimate that potential value of social inside the company is double that of the external value.
4. Learn how to be social
Employee social networks not only make the workforce more productive, they teach employees how to work in an online social environment. The list of social media disasters caused by inappropriate messages from employees grows ever-longer by the day, and while it’s easy to blame employee incompetence for this, the truth is that if you don’t regularly work in a online social environment, it can be easy to misjudge the tone or content of messages you send. Using a social network for communication with your colleagues gives invaluable experience that makes you a better communicator with customers.
5. Connect your supply chain
Perhaps the least explored area of social business is in connecting the company’s network of supplier and partner organizations. Very few businesses are entirely self-sufficient, so communication with other companies is essential. Yet business-to-business social networking is still in its infancy, with email still used as the lowest common denominator for communication. Establishing cross-company, private social networks can apply the productivity benefits noted by McKinsey to the wider supply chain.
Image credit: Networked Insights By Richard Hughes in Uncategorized on February 07, 2013
The first part of this series described approaches for using social graphs to illustrate the way members of enterprise social networks comment on each others’ content. All the examples in part 1 used very small networks to describe these concepts. Let us now apply these to larger networks, and see how different graph layouts can highlight different aspects of the network.
The graph below shows comments between members of a 200-user network during one month. The graph layout is determined by the Fruchterman-Reingold algorithm, a force-directed algorithm which encourages closely related nodes to be plotted near each other. The effect of this is that the best-connected members of the network gravitate to the centre of the graph, and the least-connected to the edges.
This immediately highlights which members are engaging well, and which are completely disconnected from other members. However, as the network grows, this layout becomes increasingly poor at identifying clusters in the network which represent groups of members who are working closely together. The graph below shows exactly the same data, with a different layout algorithm which aims to identify these clusters.
Here we see one central cluster of usage, with several smaller clusters. However, the clusters remain fairly closely connected to each other, as one might expect in a small company. In larger companies, the clusters are typically more distinctly separated, as shown in the graph below.
It also becomes very obvious from a layout like this how some clusters are too heavily dependent on single members to hold them together.
Another interesting way to lay out the graph is based on geographical location. This highlights the communication across regions in a globally-distributed organization. The graph below plots all the members of the network from the first example based on their primary office location (centred on zero line of longitude).
Of course, the problem with such a layout is that it plots members at the same location on top of each other. This is a useful reminder that the most scientifically-correct graph is not necessarily the most useful. If we force members at the same location slightly apart from each other, we get a much clearer picture of inter-region communication.
What we lose in geographical accuracy, we gain in insight into network behaviour. Here we can quickly see three major centres of activity and three smaller, less active locations. We also see very strong cross-region links, suggesting the network has been successful in connecting a geographically-distributed workforce.
I am often asked which layout is best. The answer, of course, is that it depends on what you want to know. Social graphs can show a wide variety of different relationships – all of the examples covered here and in part 1 have focused on comments between members but it is also useful to visualize relationships such as members viewing other members’ content and members assigning tasks to other members. Members can also be grouped together into departments to see the connectivity between departments within an organisation.