So you've decided that some form of enterprise social networking application would be a good fit in your business and help keep employees connected and improve collaboration? Great, but once you've done this, you should make sure that you have some view into how well your employees are embracing social networking.For a while now I've been sold on the potential benefits of social networking tools within businesses. When I first saw Twitter, I wasn't that excited for its potential with regular people (which despite early enthusiasm I think I've been proven right on), but I did think it had a lot of potential within a company, making it much easier to keep track of the work and activities of colleagues and business systems.
The same holds true for classic Facebook-style social networks, which have the same status update features of Twitter but also provide more in the way of collaboration tools and expert and knowledge management. And the market seems to agree, as the last few years have seen the launch of many social networking systems designed for the enterprise.
So far so good. And, for the most part, I've been impressed by the tools I've seen, whether they've come from small startups like Socialcast and Yammer or large companies like Cisco and Salesforce. Most of the tools I've seen do a good job of taking the capabilities of classic social networks like Facebook and Twitter and adapting them for use within a business.
But there is another step in the process. Once you've deployed a social networking system in your business, you really need to know how well it is working, where it is delivering value and what it can tell you about your organization.
This means providing better analytics, and many companies in the enterprise social networking field have begun doing just that, building detailed analytics into their products. One company doing this is Socialcast, and I recently had the chance to speak to CEO and founder Tim Young about the issue of analytics and enterprise social networking. He said "The real value to companies is not necessarily how many people use these tools, it's actually what people do with this information and how are they building relationships via these tools. Not just getting counts but actually applying social network analysis. If you understand who your information brokers are, who are the information connectors, you can disseminate an effective message quicker if you understand the social graph of your business."
So the point seems to be, it's not just about if people are using the new social networking software you've acquired, but what their use of the software tells you about your organization. This can be potentially valuable information, however, at least to me, it currently has a couple of weaknesses.
The first and most obvious is that it is heavily reliant on the social networking platform. If someone doesn't use that system much, their info will be under-represented in the analytics.
I would also be worried about businesses making personnel decisions based on this data. It might be easy to look at it and decide "Hey, Jane looks like she barely does any work" when in reality she just prefers using the older, tried and true systems and is actually very productive and valuable, whereas another worker could look really active in a social networking system but not be a very effective employee in reality.
Still, I think this data can be very valuable when taken in context with other company data.