One of the best ways of understanding precisely how your enterprise social network is being used is to visualize the activity using a social graph. This two part series will look at ways presenting the activity and connections in your social network to illustrate where it is working well, and where further work is required.
The term social graph was popularized by Facebook’s use of it in 2007, but the principles of illustrating networks in this way is nothing new. The basic principle is that members of the network are represented by a nodes or vertices, and the connections between members are represented by edges. So the connections between 9 members of a network may look something like this:
This is useful, because it shows who is well connected (Molly) and who is less so (Ginny and Percy). But it doesn’t tell us much more than that, because it doesn’t describe the nature of the relationships between each member. Indeed, this is the major failing of LinkedIn’s InMaps, which although beautiful, are of relatively little use because my connection with someone I have worked with for 10 years is represented in exactly the same way as someone I met once. An enterprise social network has much richer information about the relationships between members, so let us consider how best to illustrate this.
Firstly, we need to decide the type of relationship we want to represent. Most people initially think of showing who follows who, but I find that this is little more useful than InMaps; following relationships often bear very little relation to how people actually communicate. I find that a far more meaningful relationship to show is the number of comments exchanged between members, as this more accurately represents the extent to which members are collaborating.
It is easy to extract this comment activity from a Clearvale network using the API. These can then be analysed in a variety of different tools – in the examples here, I am using Gephi. Detailed analysis of the data is something our consulting team helps customers with through our Social Engagement Analysis Service.
In the graph below, the weight of the lines between members indicate the number of comments they have given to and received from other members.
We immediately see the most active relationships in the network (Molly/George, Molly/Ron). We also see that some seemingly well-connected members (Bill) are actually weakly connected with several members, but not strongly connected with any.
Of course, not all relationships are equal, so it is valuable to distinguish between comments created and comments received. You may notice that in the previous graphs there are two lines between some nodes. This is because it is a directed graph, with incoming and outgoing indicated separately.
In the next graph, each node is coloured based on the number of comments created – green represents many comments, red represents few, yellow and orange somewhere in between. The edges are coloured to match the source node, making it easier to see the direction of the comments.
Here we see that although Molly is the centre of the network, the vast majority of her comments are directed towards Ron. We also see that it is George who is the most activer commenter, and Bill’s weak connection with the rest of the network becomes more apparent.
Finally, we can change the size of the nodes to represent the number of comments received.
Now, at a glance, we can see the rather more complex nature of relationships between network members. George creates a lot of comments but receives no more than Ginny or Percy. Molly receives a lot of comments, but creates few except on Ron’s content. We can use this deeper understanding of network member behaviour to help formulate our network adoption strategy.
In part two of this series, we will look at how these principles can be applied to much larger networks, and how different layout techniques can be used to highlight communication between departments and regions within an organisation.
Last Wednesday, December 12th, BroadVision presented a webinar on InformationWeek.com & The BrainYard channel, entitled “Reimagining Business Processes for Enterprise Social Networking.” The webinar featured thought leadership from from Richard Hughes, BroadVision’s Director of Social Strategy, as well as Philip Weiss, “Hyperthinking” author and founder of ZN, a leading eCommunications agency that works with multinational companies such as Toyota, Microsoft, Sony, and Sanofi Pasteur.
The webinar kicked off with Philip discussing the role of today’s consumer social media and how influential it has been to affect current world events. This moved onto discussions on how new and social technology can also transform the way we communicate and do business. Philip offered 7 tips on from his “hyperthinking” model on how to adapt to the rapid change and innovations of today’s technologies. In the second half of the webinar, Richard discussed how companies can apply the same consumer-social behaviors into a business social network to take full advantage of social technology tools. Richard presented the different types of environments that would be most conducive to moving traditional business processes into business social networks, providing examples of email/task collaboration, customer service and product development business processes. In summary, companies will need to rethink how to adapt traditional business processes within the social network in order to become a truly successful business social network.
3 Key Takeaways:
Enterprise social networks that don’t host real work will wither and die as they become an unnecessary, neglected extra communication channel
A business process does not become social simply because it is in a social network – reimagine and refine to reap the full benefits of social networking
Unstructured processes are the easiest to implement on social networks, but the “sweet spot” is semi-structured processes
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Everyone has heard the adage that on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Until recently, I hadn’t realised that the original source of it was a cartoon by Peter Steiner published in The New Yorker in 1993, making it a remarkably prescient observation for one made so early in the life of the internet. Not, of course, in the literal sense (although the number of people who create Twitter accounts for their dogs continues to be one of my pet peeves), but because of what it says about the benefits and drawbacks of anonymity on the internet.
One might initially think that this has little relevance to social networks within a business, used for communication and collaboration between employees. Few companies would (I hope) tolerate employees participating anonymously in such a network, or portraying themselves as a dog. But many employees have subtly (or not so subtly) different personalities in online communities to real life. This isn’t necessarily a deliberate affectation, merely a reflection of the way they communicate. This presents both opportunities and challenges for community managers – reluctant communicators may be more comfortable interacting online, whereas others may shun the community in favour of face-to-face discussions. So while a company social network may not be full of dogs, there are several other species to watch out for.
A proverbially wise creature, but very hard to spot. The owl may work different hours to the rest of us, and be easily scared away. A social network provides a great way of unlocking some of an owl’s wisdom by allowing them to contribute their knowledge in their own time and own way.
A very social animal, and therefore a natural adopter of a company social network. But prone to becoming rather loud and irritating, which can alienate other members of the network due to over-sharing. Community managers need to harness the monkey’s natural social enthusiasm, but stop it getting out of hand.
The Giant Panda
Shy and notoriously reticent to engage, even with their own species. The panda is valued immensely by everyone, but is endangered because of its apparent inability to consummate its relationship with co-workers. A social network may be the ideal way of unlocking the panda’s potential.
A terrible hoarder of information, the squirrel is inclined to bury what it knows in places that only it can find. The squirrel needs to be encouraged to share its nuts with the rest of us.
Undisputed king of the jungle, the lion struts around the company, delegating the hard work of hunting to his pride of lionesses. He may feel that participation in a social network is beneath him, a job for his lionesses. But all animals look up to the lion at the top of the food chain, and success of the social network may very well be dependent on encouraging him to participate to set an example to the rest of the animals.
With such a range of species, your enterprise social network becomes a veritable Animal Farm. And this highlights another challenge for community managers. The best social networks are self-governing, but, as all students of literature know, life down on the farm doesn’t work out quite so well. So a carefully balanced network governance and moderation policy is required; without it the network ceases to be useful as it becomes full of animals trying to overthrow the farmer. But if the governance is too heavy-handed, life on the network becomes too close to an even better-known Orwellian allegory. And that is equally disastrous for the success of the network as it deters participation.
So managers of successful social networks need to take their inspiration not from literary classics, but from Disney, whose animals all live together in perfect harmony, respecting each others’ talents rather than trying to architect new societies or eat each other.
I’ve been at the HR Performance 2012 conference at the London ExCel centre this week, talking about the benefits of and implementation strategies for employee social networks, and HR’s role in these projects. In a slightly surreal twist, elsewhere in the ExCel at the same time, the auditions for Britain’s Got Talent were taking place, so mingling with HR Directors were teenagers in leg warmers, and emanating from many of the bathrooms was the sound of singers rehearsing enthusiastically. To add further to the incongruity, there were reports of dancers performing their acts in front of the HR exhibitors in to earn company-branded pens.
But think a little harder, and these two colliding worlds are not so very different. Indeed, one of my presentations was entitled Nurturing your employee talent on an enterprise social network. HR professionals and BGT judges are all trying to identify, develop and harness talent.
It doesn’t take too long to exhaust that particular metaphor, and perhaps the biggest difference, is that BGT sets this talent against each other in competition, whereas HR strives to make it work together as a team. This is one of the reasons I have always been uneasy about the term gamification – it inherently aims to set teams members against each other. Some people do find this motivating, but many others consider it contrary to everything a good workplace should be.
However, I do think that members of enterprise social networks could learn a little from BGT hopefuls in the way they promote themselves and their work. Too many network members focus more on how they consume information from others, rather than how they display their knowledge and experience for the benefit of other members. They are too quick to complain about not finding others’ work while failing to present their own in a way that makes it easily consumable by other network members. Social network profile pages provide an ideal opportunity to lay out your work in a way that benefits other members, to narrate your work to help your colleagues understand your current projects.
Of course, nobody likes blatant self-promotion from colleagues, so there is a balance to be struck here. But everyone employed by an organisation is being paid for a reason and must have some skill, knowledge or experience of value to offer. Your social network’s got talent, so take a few moments to make sure you are using your profile to explain to other members what your particular talent is.
I’m at the E2Innovate conference in Santa Clara this week with the Clearvale team. Later today I’ll be presenting alongside Paul Karazuba of QuickLogic on the topic of Beyond Adoption.
I’ve been to several of the Enterprise 2.0 conferences over the last few years, and I’ve always noticed that most of the discussion around enterprise social networks concerns “adoption” – how to get your employees, partners and/or customers onto your network in the first place. Surprisingly little attention is typically paid to what is, in my mind, two rather harder questions – how do you keep them there? And what are they meant to use the network for? All too often, once the initial excitement has worn off, employee social networks become deserted wastelands, or just a place for office gossip. But for such networks to survive and prosper, they need to become a place where real work gets done.
I’m delighted to be able present alongside Paul from QuickLogic, because his company has been using Clearvale for over 18 months now. He’s been through the initial excitement phase, the “can’t see the point of it” phase, and has got beyond that and demonstrated tangible benefits to a globally-distributed organisation.
If you’re at the E2Innovate conference, I hope you can join us at 1.30pm today. And if you’d like to know more about Clearvale, come and visit us in the Expo Hall between 12 and 6.
On Wednesday morning, a clear winner emerged from the US election. No, not him – I mean Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger and statistical wizard. In an election universally described as “too close to call”, Silver correctly predicted the result in every single state. Writing in The Guardian, Bob O’Hara asks:
But how did Mr Silver predict the presidential race so accurately? What was this dark magic that he used?
The question of who will emerge victorious depends on whether you ask the priests or the mathematicians
Whatever your religious persuasions, there was really only ever going to be one winner there.
In an unashamedly blatant piece of newsjacking, I can’t help but see parallels between this and the way organisations measure the success of their internal-facing social business initiatives. Social networks, like opinion polls, generate a massive amount of data, yet people are all too happy to ignore that data and rely on their instinct. They use subjective measures such as “does it feel like we are engaging with employees better?”, rather than analysing the data they have and answering the question objectively. Why is this?
I believe there are two main reasons. Firstly, fear of getting an answer they don’t like – a kind of social business “don’t ask, don’t tell”. This is a natural instinct, especially when some organisations are still struggling to make a business case for social networking inside their company. Understandable, but really not justifiable.
This is about the triumph of machines and software over gut instinct.
This is only partially true. Yes, “gut instinct” was the clear loser, but the real triumph was the way Silver described the problem to the machines, and represented his statistical model in software. The machine was simply doing what it was told. (Incidentally, this is why I refuse to use the term “smartphone” – I was always taught that computers are fundamentally stupid, but are very good at doing precisely what you tell them. Today’s phones are not “smart” at all – they are just more powerful, and better-programmed).
Many years ago, a customer said to me “I have a 6 million line activity log from our eCommerce site, what shall I do with it?”. I said, “what do you want to know?”. “I don’t know”, he replied. “Well delete it then” was my, rather flippant, advice. If you can’t describe the problem effectively, then all the Big Data in the world is not going to help you. (Big Data has always struck me as “running before you can walk” because so few people can handle Little Data effectively).
Of course, all this was presciently satirised by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, with the colossal processing power of Deep Thought reaching an answer that merely highlighted how poorly the question was phrased. (Deep Thought was, however, clearly a much better consultant than I ever was, as it successfully sold a massive follow-on consulting engagement to define the question).
Getting back to social business, the point is that many projects start without really understanding which questions they should be asking, which measurements were most important. It is tempting to reel off a list of important things to measure (like this one I wrote), but the truth is that the most important metrics differ from project to project, depending on what the objectives are. The questions we ask need to be described scientifically and aligned to business goals in order to separate (to borrow the title of Nate Silver’s book) the signal from the noise. And that’s not a job for Big Data-chomping machines; that’s a job for humans. Hopefully Nate Silver’s success will inspire a few more humans to embrace this “dark magic” of mathematics.
Enterprise social network solutions, as well as changes in employee expectations regarding communication and collaboration at work, are placing additional challenges on HR Departments as the guardians of organisational culture. Both the desire for and the nature of these social business solutions is here to stay. HR need to navigate their way through the various interests in an organisation to manage both the bottom up ‘viral’ adoption that we have seen from various discussion platforms in recent years as well as the strategic initiatives for employee engagement. The key thing is that your organization’s culture and challenges are unique; blanket approaches such as: ‘Let’s get everyone on xxxxxx’, may not really solve your specific business problems or facilitate the transformation required.
The business benefits of social collaboration are real; unlocking knowledge; driving innovation; faster and more informed decision-making; and improved productivity. However, many social business projects fail to gain wide adoption, either through underuse and a perceived lack of real benefits; or through overuse and a perceived lack of productivity. Ultimately, whether the perception is positive or negative will tie closely to the quality of the interactions between employees and other participants, e.g., the value of the content they contribute. HR has a significant role to play both in the choice of an enterprise social network solution and in setting out a plan for adoption.
BroadVision is proud to be sponsoring the ‘HR Innovation and Technology’ Arena at the HR Performance 2012 event November 21st and 22nd at ExCel in London where we will be presenting two key sessions on driving value out of your investment in an Enterprise Social Network.
The first session on Wednesday November 21st (10:15) will examine the way employees’ online behaviour may differ to real-life behaviour. This presents both opportunities and challenges in developing employee engagement strategies to unlock the knowledge of all participants in your enterprise social network.
The second session on Thursday November 22nd (14:15) will look at how to get the best out of your enterprise social network solution. Your social collaboration platform must be more than an additional discussion channel. To be truly effective your solution needs to be a place where real work gets done. To achieve that, the network needs to be the host of real business processes, whether they are new processes or existing processes migrated into the social network from elsewhere. Simply taking an existing business process and hosting it in a social network fails to take advantage of the inherent benefits of a social environment. This session will examine what is a “social business process”, and how does it differ from what we have seen before.
For HR, the opportunity to help drive superior business performance by designing and implementing strategies to increase and reward effective collaboration has never been more apparent. If you believe your organization can achieve significant competitive advantage by more effective internal communication, collaboration, and teamwork, then you as an HR practitioner will definitely benefit from both these sessions. To book please see the HR Performance 2012 event seminar sessions.
Reputation may be the holy grail of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN). Understanding reputation, measuring it, and setting goals accordingly are essential for your network(s) to add real value to your business. But how do you measure reputation?
Most social networks have some sort of activity measurement. But activity alone does not adequately measure the value of contributions to the network or the network’s value to the business. Activity metrics alone mean that a person who uploads countless cat photos is as valuable a contributor as someone who provides content that (for example) helps close business.
At BroadVision we measure three separate categories of interaction in our social network – when viewed together, we believe these metrics approximate reputation:
Connectivity: Measures the people or communities with which each network member interacts
Activity: Measures activity and contribution of each network member
Popularity: Measures the value of contribution of each network member, as measured by something such as “likes” or “was this useful” voting
Using these metrics together it is possible to group individual network members into archetypes or personas for the purpose of encouraging contribution:
True, humans are complex and often defy categorization. These categories are simplifications, to be sure. But every persona can add value to a network, and understanding the personas can help you craft specific strategies for encouraging adoption and contribution. While the examples below draw from a social intranet use case, they can easily be adapted to an extranet use case (for collaboration with partners, customers, etc.).
Let’s look at each persona in turn.
Highly Connected, Not Very Active: The Networker
The Networker is connected with others, but isn’t particularly active. This person may be an executive who has a wide purview and interacts with many others in the network, but who feels too busy to contribute. Or this person might be simply hesitant to share their knowledge or “work out loud.”
Encourage your Networker to shift important email discussions to the network.
Encourage The Networker to create a weekly “work diary” blog post to share projects and priorities each week to keep their team(s) up to date.
Use gamification techniques to acknowledge (and encourage) the Networker’s contributions
Is this person in Sales or Business Development? Encourage them to create “war room” communities for collaboration around critical deals. Encourage them to post sales trip- or meeting reports as blog posts to the appropriate regional Sales community. These actions earn them activity points, but more importantly might solicit insight from a colleague that helps to win the business.
Highly Connected, Not Very Popular: The Dilettante
The Dilettante has bought into the idea of social networking, but has not yet adapted their work habits to contribute in a meaningful way to the network. This person may simply be uploading content not particularly relevant to your business or their network contributions are largely limited to commenting or clicking the ‘like’ button.
Remind this person that the network is a business collaboration platform and that something they contribute has the potential to make an impact on the business. (A reminder to keep the postings of cartoons and pet photos to their Facebook page wouldn’t hurt either.)
Suggest that The Dilettante aim to eliminate one recurring meeting on their colleagues’ calendars by creating and managing a community for asynchronous collaboration around that topic (i.e. perhaps a weekly project status update meeting can be made virtual). This is likely to be very popular with colleagues.
Encourage The Dilettante to create a blog post with their notes from an industry conference their colleagues weren’t able to attend.
Highly Active, Not Very Connected: The Hidden Talent
The Hidden Talent is ripe with potential. This is someone who is active in the network, but who is very narrowly connected. This might be someone in a very specialized job function. Or they might work in a remote, international location with limited understanding of the “official” written language of the network. But with the right encouragement they can become valued contributors.
Encourage The Hidden Talent to follow their colleagues in the “opposite” functional area with whom they work with most frequently (i.e. Finance with Contract Administration, Sales with Finance, Facilities with HR, Marketing with Sales).
Assign this person a task to complete their profile, including photo, contact information, specialized skills, knowledge and interests to help colleagues “discover” them.
Set a monthly goal for this person to contribute a blog post or comment at the network level to expose their knowledge to additional colleagues.
Encourage them to create and manage a community around an area of shared interest with colleagues in other functional areas (i.e. ‘Travel Tips for Road Warriors’ or ‘Tips for [Language] Speakers’).
Highly Active, Not Very Popular: The Over-Sharer
The Over-Sharer might be your most problematic and frustrating contributor, but is not without potential. There are two sub-types within this category: the person “gaming the system” and the person simply and innocently creating material or adding commentary of little direct relevance to the business and to their colleagues.
In the first case: unless you want to audit their content and commentary for value or mandate certain activities, you may just be stuck with this person. Every social network is susceptible to this behavior (i.e. clicking on ‘Yes’ when asked if content was valuable without actually reading the item). A sneaky way of “outing” this person would be to create a competition with a desirable prize or recognition. The other members of your network will quickly call out this person for not adhering to the principles of the network and competing fairly.
In the second case: this person may be uploading large volumes of files only relevant to them. Or they might create lots of tasks only for their manager or teammates. In either case this person may not be contributing to the overall value of the network, albeit unintentionally.
Make sure this person has a complete profile, including photo, contact information, specialized skills, knowledge and interests to help colleagues “discover” them.
Remind this person that the network is a vital business platform and that something they contribute has the potential to make a major impact on the business.
Encourage them to think about contributions that would enable serendipitous discovery and consequently more favorable reviews from colleagues. For example, instead of simply bookmarking an interesting industry article, use the comments section to excerpt the portion most relevant to colleagues.
Highly Popular, Not Very Connected: The Specialist
The Specialist is a rare bird whose contributions are valued, though by very few people. Like The Hidden Talent this person may be in a specialized team or functional area. Or they might be in a remote office where a different language is spoken than is the case for the majority of the organization. The goal is to get this person to really embrace working collaboratively, including with people in other functional areas.
Does The Specialist travel a lot or work remotely? Encourage them to use the ESN’s mobile app(s).
Encourage them to build up their network profile, including photo, contact information, specialized skills, knowledge and interests to help colleagues “discover” them.
Encourage The Specialist to follow their colleagues in the functional area their team works with most closely and comment on content as appropriate (i.e. Finance with Contract Administration, Sales with Finance, Facilities with HR, Marketing with Sales).
Highly Popular, Low Activity: The Guru
The Guru might contribute valuable content, but isn’t very active. This person could be a senior executive who considers themselves too busy to actively participate in the network. Or s/he could be someone who is a specialized individual contributor who primarily works alone. In either case, they have probably not embraced the network as the primary platform for business collaboration within your organization.
Encourage your Guru to shift important email discussions to the network for collaboration and later reference.
Does The Guru travel frequently or work remotely? Encourage them to use the network to store and organize (and share) important files. This way they can access them anytime, anywhere from any device.
Encourage your Guru to create a blog to share weekly or monthly insights on industry trends relevant to your organization.
Move as many of your travel, time off, and other administrative approvals to your network as possible and use network tasks to manage the process. This will necessarily impact everyone in the organization. Tasks also ensure that the process is recorded and preserved as an audit trail – something that wouldn’t happen if the approval was done via email.
Set a requirement that all personnel (including your Guru) create a weekly/monthly blog post on their profile page indicating active projects and status thereof. They might solicit valuable, unexpected commentary that will encourage them to be more active.
Why worry about monitoring, measuring and nurturing network adoption? Shouldn’t adoption just happen organically? As the “network effect” would imply, the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it. In this case, the more business-critical collaboration done in your network, the more valuable it becomes to your business. So anything you can do to actively encourage regular, substantive contribution will help to ensure that your ESN contributes to your business goals.
I have always worried that too many people see Social CRM as purely a marketing exercise, and fail see it as a wider business strategy for building meaningful relationships with customers. So my topic yesterday was The Social Façade – the way many companies seem to create a presence on social media services that seeks to disguise the same-old-business-as-usual reality. But true Social CRM needs companies to embrace social networking throughout the organisation and understand how to make best use of three types of social networks – public social media, customer communities and social intranets.
Our Social Times will be publishing my slides on SlideShare, but I always feel that the slides are just half of the presentation. So I’ve recorded a rough approximation of what I said yesterday to accompany the slides. And here it is.