How Healthy is your Enterprise Social Network?

At the heart of any Enterprise Social Network (ESN) are the groups or communities formed within them. Understanding the health and productivity of these groups should therefore be front of mind. For ESNs we can look again to the more mature experiences with consumer and external customer communities for guidance. We have written previously about the need to take care when translating consumer network metrics to the Enterprise. But in the case of community health, we believe the mapping from external community to internal community can be fairly close.

What can we learn from consumer and customer networks?

Arguably the gold standard for community health measures was published several years ago by Lithium, a company that specialises in customer facing communities. Lithium used aggregate data from a decade’s worth of community activity (15 billion actions and 6 million users) to identify key measures of a community’s health:

  • Growth = Members (registrations)
  • Useful  = Content (post and page views)
  • Popular = Traffic (visits)
  • Responsiveness (speed of responsiveness of community members to each other)
  • Interactivity = Topic Interaction (depth of discussion threads taking into account number of contributors)
  • Liveliness (tracking a critical threshold of posting activity in any given area)

march-blog-1

march-blog-2

At the time of publishing, Lithium was hoping to facilitate the creation of an industry standard for measuring community health.

Other contributors to the measurement of online community health include online community consultancy Feverbee with their preferred measures as:

  • New visitors – a form of growth measure
  • New visitors to new registered members– conversion rate measure
  • % members which make a contribution– active participants
  • Members active within the past 30 days– time based activity
  • Contributions per active member per month– diversity and intensity measure
  • Visits per active member per month – traffic measure
  • Content popularity-useful content

Marketing firm Digital Marketer health measure recommendations include:

  • Measuring the total number of active members, rather than including passive members.
  • Number of members who made their first contribution as a proxy for growth.
  • A sense of community (using traditional survey methods).
  • Retention of active members i.e. minimal loss of active members (churn rate).
  • Diversity of membership, especially with respect to innovation communities.
  • Maturity, with reference to the Community Roundtable Maturity Model.

Using SWOOP for Assessing Enterprise Community/Group Health

SWOOP is focused on the Enterprise market and is therefore very interested in what we can usefully draw from the experiences of online consumer and customer networks. The following table summarises the experiences identified above and how SWOOP currently addresses these measures, or not:

Customer Community Health Measures SWOOP Enterprise Health Measures
Growth in Membership Measures active membership and provides a trend chart to monitor both growth and decline.
Useful Content Provides a most engaging posts widget to assess the usefulness of content posted.  We are currently developing a sentiment assessment for content.
Popularity/Traffic SWOOP does not currently measure views or reads. Our focus is more on connections that may result from content viewing.
Responsiveness Has a response rate widget that identifies overall response rate and the type of response e.g. like, reply and the time period within which responses are made.
Interactivity Has several rich measures for interactivity, including network connectivity and a network map, give-receive balance and two way connections. The Topic tab also identifies interactivity around tagged topics.
Liveliness The activity per user widget provides the closest to a liveliness (or lack of liveliness) indicator.
Activity over time The Active Users and Activity per User widgets report on this measure.
Contributions per member The Activity per User widget provides this. The New Community Health Index provides a 12 month history as well as alarms when certain thresholds are breached.
Sense of community Requires a survey, which is outside the scope of SWOOP.
Retention Not currently measured directly. The active members trend chart gives a sense of retention, but does not specifically measure individual retention rates.
Diversity Not provided on the SWOOP dashboard, but is now included in the SWOOP benchmarking service. Diversity can be measured across several dimensions, depending on the profile data provided to SWOOP e.g. formal lines of business, geography, gender etc. In the absence of profile data, diversity is measured by the diversity of individual membership of groups.
Maturity The Community Roundtable maturity assessment is a generic one for both online and offline communities. Our preference is to use a maturity framework that is more aligned to ESN, which we have reported on earlier. How the SWOOP measures can be related to this maturity curve is shown below.

march-blog-3

Thresholds for What’s Good, Not so good and Bad

We know that health measures are important, but they are of little use without providing some sense of what a good, bad or neutral score is. In the human health scenario, it is easy to find out what these thresholds are for basic health measures like BMI and Blood Pressure. This is because the medical research community has been able to access masses of data to correlate with actual health outcomes, to determine these thresholds with some degree of confidence. Online communities have yet to reach such a level of maturity, but the same ‘big data’ approach for determining health thresholds still applies.

As noted earlier, Lithium has gone furthest in achieving this, from the large data sets that they have available to them on their customer platform. At SWOOP we are also collecting similar data for ESNs but as yet, not to the level that Lithium has been able to achieve. Nevertheless, we believe we have achieved a starting point now with our new Community Health Index Widget. While we are only using a single ‘activity per active user’ measure, we have been able to establish some initial thresholds by analysing hundreds of groups across several Yammer installations.

march-blog-4

Our intent is to provide community/group leaders with an early warning system for when their groups may require some added attention. The effects of this attention can then be monitored in the widget itself, or more comprehensively through the suite of SWOOP measures identified in the table above.

Communities are the core value drivers of any ESN. Healthy enterprise communities lead to healthy businesses, so it’s worth taking the trouble to actively monitor it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridging the Knowledge Sharing/Problem Solving Divide

problem-solvingWorking across organisational boundaries

One of the most frequently cited reasons we hear for implementing an enterprise social network platform is to “enable our organisation to better communicate and collaborate across organisational boundaries”.

The real objective is to let information and knowledge flow more freely to solve challenge business problems. This is the point where the focus changes from generic SHARING to business focused (problem-) SOLVING:

ps

We’re previously introduced this maturity framework that incorporates the 4 stages of Simon Terry’s model, and in a recent discussion with Simon he shared with us with some constructive insights that he has drawn from the application of his maturity model.

He indicated to us that:

“Up to SHARING, people are just engaged in social exchange. It is chat. That can be entirely internal to the ESN and not connected to the business. Beyond that point they are delivering benefits from collaborative work. Moving over that transition and understanding the behaviours beyond that point is essential.

Simon then proceeded to describe the key things to consider in the ‘SOLVING’ stage as:

“Value chains and projects and their relationships to the silos captured in your Cross-team collaboration widget”.

In this post we will therefore review the SWOOP ‘Cross-Team Collaboration’ widget and give you insights about how this can help you in your enterprise social adoption efforts. Together with the recently reviewed Influential People and Response Rate widgets they collectively support the ‘SOLVE’ Stage.

solve

The Cross-Team collaboration widget identifies the levels of interaction between selected organisational dimensions. The most common use is to identify interactions between the formal lines of business.

Two representations are offered:

  • The matrix view shades the intersecting squares by the relative interaction levels. The diagonal represents intra-unit interactions.
  • The map view (see below) more succinctly illustrates the degree to which different units are interacting.

collab

If you have created a cross-enterprise group, or community of practice, it will tell you the degree to which all divisions have been engaged. If you have a corporate initiative that has been launched with a topic hash tag, it will also tell you the degree of cross-divisional engagement.

In a typical hierarchy, we would anticipate that most interactions would occur inside the formal structures, or between divisions along a defined value chain e.g. marketing interactions with sales. Cross organisational groups or teams are usually formed to facilitate interactions across the formal lines of business, for example a Supply/Value chain.

The Cross-Team Collaboration widget provides a view into the degree to which these cross organisational teams are effective. While interactions between formal departments is the most common, geographic location is also a popular dimension to explore interaction levels.

What is the Business Imperative?

It is the apparent inflexibility and poor responsiveness of the formal hierarchy that motivates many organisations to adopt enterprise social networks. Formal hierarchies are designed for efficient execution of pre-determined processes. However, CEOs are now looking for more than this. David Thodey, the former CEO of Australia’s largest Telco, summed up the sentiment by indicating that he wanted to short circuit the entrenched communication channels. He wanted his management team to be able to have authentic conversations with staff at all levels. Similarly, we recall a statement made by a former CEOs at BHP Billiton, an industrial resources conglomerate that was very process driven:

“Silos are not bad, this is how we get work done. We just need to dig some holes in the sides!” (please excuse the mining analogy)

Another of our favourite thought leaders is Heidi Gardner, a former McKinsey consultant and Harvard Business School professor now lecturing at Harvard Law School. She has spent over a decade conducting in-depth studies of numerous global professional service firms. Her research with clients and the empirical results of her studies demonstrate clearly and convincingly that collaboration pays, for both professionals and their firms. In her book Smart Collaboration, she shows that firms earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, attract and retain the best talent, and gain a competitive edge when specialists collaborate across functional boundaries. The Cross-Team Collaboration widget enables you to measure if this is actually happening, and is one of the most important widgets connecting business outcomes with the adoption of your enterprise social network.

Specifically, in terms of problem solving, there will be problems that traverse the business unit boundaries. For example, a customer support problem may appear to be an operations problem, but perhaps the genesis of the problem is with Sales or Marketing, by how a product or service was represented to the customer in the first place. Also, supply chain problems are by definition, inter-dependent and cannot be solved by a single business unit. The Cross Team Collaboration widget can signal whether these cross-business unit problems are being addressed as a shared problem. If a cross-business unit problem has been hash tagged, it is also possible to use the SWOOP Topic tab to identify where the participants in the tagged problem solving activity are coming from. Are they appropriately cross-business unit?

Summary

Bridging the ‘sharing’ to ‘solving’ divide requires a stronger focus on what the business is trying to achieve. What are the key problems or challenges that must be met? What are the specific and identified collaborative interactions between the different organisational units, that will be required to solve them? The SWOOP Cross-unit Collaboration widget, along with the Response Rate and Influential People widgets have been designed to help you bridge the ‘Sharing’ to ‘Solving’ divide.

This post continues our series on key SWOOP indicators.

 

Why we Should Worry about Response Rates in Enterprise Social Systems

Why we Should Worry about Response Rates in Enterprise Social Systems 

response-rates-cartoonThis post continues our series on key SWOOP indicators. We have %Response Rate as a key performance indicator for organisations embracing problem solving and innovation within their Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) platforms. Difficult problems require deep dialogue, discussion and debate to be effectively solved. A response to a posting is hopefully the beginning of a constructive discussion, hence an important indicator of the degree to which an organisation is predisposed to solving problems online. Our ESN benchmarking of close to 50 organisations has the average response rate at 72%, but with a large range from a low of 32% to a high of 93%. response-rate-chartresponse-rate

The Response Rate widget identifies the percentage of posts that have received a written ‘reply’ and/or a ‘like’, for the period selected. It will also identify the % posts that have received no response; a measure that community managers need to monitor closely. The timeliness of the response is also reported.  

The Response Rate widget is available at all SWOOP reporting levels, from the individual, right through to the Enterprise overall. While not all posts are framed as problems, the response rate does reflect how responsive an organisation is overall. A response is a tangible signal of value received. In the absence of specific value stories, it is the most direct measure of value being facilitated on the ESN platform.  

For the individual, a poor response rate can indicate that your postings are not framed appropriately for attracting a response. For a group, a poor response rate may indicate a lack of a critical mass of members, or inadequate community management. 

Business Imperative 

It sounds obvious, but before problems can be solved, they need to be shared. Sharing a problem can be construed as a weakness. When senior management openly share a problem, they run the risk of ‘losing face’. Isn’t solving difficult problems what they are being paid to do?  Yet it is the senior management that need to lead the way in generating a culture for collaborative problem solving. As David Thodey, the former CEO of Telstra told us,Management don’t know everything…we have been guilty of releasing poor policies that have taken us years to recover from’. Thodey used the ESN to share problems that new policies were required for, and then getting feedback before finally releasing a new policy. 

The first challenge therefore is to develop a culture which respects that sharing a problem is not a weakness but a strength of character. Think about using hash tags to monitor problems posted, and their journey to a hopeful resolution. Once problems are shared freely on the ESN, the Response Rate measure can be used to measure problems solved. Many of the online technical forms are established specifically for tracking problem resolutions. There is no reason that the ESN cannot be used in a similar way. 

 

Data-Driven Collaboration Part 3: Sustaining Performance through Continuous Value Delivery

In Part 1 of our series on Data-Driven Collaboration, “How Rich Data Can Improve Your Communication,” we identified how to plan for collaboration by ensuring that goals were established and aligned with our organizational strategy. We then moved on to Part 2, “Recognizing Personas and Behaviors to Improve Engagement,” to explain how you can build engagement by managing behaviors. In this, the final post in our series, co-authored by Swoop Analytics and Carpool Agency, we will identify how to sustain the momentum to ensure that value is continuously delivered as a matter of course.

Previously, we identified the importance of migrating from simple activity measures to those that signify when collaborative relationships are being formed. It is through these relationships that tangible outcomes are achieved. Therefore, it is not surprising that analytics—as applied to sustained relationship-building—plays an important role in continuous value delivery from collaboration.

For example, a CEO from one of Carpool’s clients had been using Yammer to receive questions for a regular Q&A session, but they’d grown concerned that the CEO’s infrequent posts in the group were creating an echo chamber among the same small group of contributors. Careful analysis showed that this was more perception than reality, and the group showed a great deal of variety in cross-organization conversation. As this was precisely the executive’s goal in forming the group, the team doubled down on their investment in this executive-to-company relationship.

Monitoring Maturation Using Analytics

At SWOOP, we have been benchmarking Yammer Installations from start-up to ‘normal operations’ for some time. With Yammer, the typical pattern of start-up is a bottom-up use of ‘Free’ Yammer, which for some, lasts for many years. Without exception, however, sustained usage only occurred after a formal launch and the tacit approval of senior management. We observed different patterns of start-ups from the ‘big-bang’ public launch, through to more organic, yet managed approaches. Whatever strategy is used, organizations always reach a stage of steady-state operations or, at worst, a slow decline.

CLASSIC YAMMER

For an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) like Yammer, we have found that the average engagement rate of the 35+ organizations in our benchmark set is around 29% (i.e., non-observers) with the best at around 75%. It is evident from our benchmarking that for larger organizations—for example, more than say 5,000 participants—it can be hard to achieve engagement levels above 30%. However, this doesn’t mean that staff aren’t collaborating.

We are seeing a proliferation of offerings that make up the digital office. For a small organization, Yammer may be their main collaboration tool, where team level activities take place. For larger organizations, however, Yammer may be seen as a place to explore opportunities and build capabilities, rather than as an execution space. Increasingly, tools like Slack, HipChat, and now Microsoft Teams are being used to fill this space for some teams that depend on real-time conversations as their primary mode of communication.

A Collaboration Performance Framework

As organizations mature with their use of collaboration tools, it is critical not to be caught in the ‘collaboration for collaboration sake’ cycle. As we indicated in “How Rich Data Can Improve Your Communication,” collaboration must happen with a purpose and goals in mind. The path to achieving strategic goals is rarely linear. More regularly, we need to adopt a framework of continuous improvement toward our stated goals. For many organizations, this will take the form of a ‘Plan, Do, Check, Act’ cycle of continuous improvement. However, in this age of digital disruptions and transformations, we need a framework that can also accommodate transformational, as well as incremental innovation.

At SWOOP, we have developed a collaboration performance framework drawn from Network Science.

DIVERSITY GRAPHIC

The framework balances two important dimensions for collaborative performance: diversity and cohesion. It identifies a continuous cycle of value delivery, whether it be radical or incremental. Let’s consider an innovation example, with an organizational goal of growing revenue by 200%:

Individuals may have their own ideas for how this radical target could be achieved. By ‘Exploring’ these ideas with others, we can start to get a sense of how feasible our ideas might be, but also have the opportunity to combine ideas to improve their prospects. The important ‘Engaging’ phase would see the ideas brokered between the originators and stakeholders. These stakeholders may be the key beneficiaries and/or providers of the resources needed to exploit a highly prospective idea. Finally, the ‘Exploiting’ phase requires the focus and strong cooperation of a smaller group of participants operating as a team to deliver on the idea.

The performance framework can be deployed at all levels, from enterprise-wide to individual business units, informal groups, teams, and right down to the individual. In a typical Carpool engagement, we work with smaller teams to demonstrate this cycle and then use the success stories to replicate the pattern more broadly. A current client started with a smaller community of interest of 400 people, and is now expanding the pattern to their global, 4,000-member division.

Deploying Analytics and the Performance Framework

Like any performance framework, it can’t operate without data. While the traditional outcome measures need to be present, the important predictors of collaborative success are relationship-centered measures. For example, your personal network can be assessed on its diversity by profiling the members of your network. Your personal network’s cohesiveness can be measured, firstly, by how many of your connections are connected to each other; and secondly, by how many of these connections are two-way (reciprocated). We can then add layers provided from HR systems such as gender, geography, organizational roles, age, ethnicity, etc. to provide a complete picture of diversity beyond typical dimensions.

In the example below, we show the collaboration performance of participants in a large Yammer network over a 12-month period. You can see how challenging it might be to become an ‘Engager’, maximizing both diversity and cohesion.

BUBBLE GRAPH

We profiled their personal networks for their diversity, cohesion, and size, and plotted them on the performance framework. Interestingly the data exposed that the nature of this Yammer network is a place for exploring and, for some, engaging. There is a gap, however, in the Exploiting region. This is not to say that these individuals were poor at putting projects into motion. More likely, at least in this organization, the ESN is not the usual place to collaborate as a team. If there is no easy transition from the ESN to a team environment, then we have a problem that many ESNs experience: lots of activity but a perception of few tangible results directly from the ESN. Carpool’s approach puts this data together with data from other services and sources to create a holistic picture of the results and impact of the organization’s collaboration evolution.

Continuous Monitoring

For many organizations, continuous monitoring simply means monitoring activity on digital platforms. As we indicated in “Recognizing Personas and Behaviors to Improve Engagement,” activity monitoring can be a poor predictor of performance. At SWOOP, we look at activity that establishes or strengthens a relationship. In the screenshot below, you can see measures such as the number of two-way reciprocated relationships; the degree to which relationships are forming between the formal organizational departments; and who is influential, based on the size of their network, not how frequently they contributed. We identify key player risk by looking at how polarized a network may be among a selected few leaders. Even the Activity/User measure inside groups predicts how cohesive that group may be. By providing this data in real-time, we have the best opportunity for both leaders and individuals to adapt their patterns of collaboration as they see fit.

COLLABORATION CHART

At Carpool, our engagements use a set of such dashboards to regularly check in on all the various channels and stakeholders, and make recommendations on an ongoing basis that accounts for the holistic communication picture.

Final Thoughts

In this series, we have taken you on a journey from planning for, launching, and productively operating a digital office. At the very beginning we emphasized the need to collaborate for a purpose. We then emphasized the need to ‘engage’ through relationships and adopting appropriate behavioral personas. Finally, we have explained the importance of adopting a collaboration performance framework that can facilitate continuous delivery of value.

In order to do all of this effectively, we not only need analytics, but interventions triggered by such analytics to improve the way we work. Analytics on their own don’t create change. But in the hands of skilled facilitators, analytics and rich data provide a platform for productive change. Collaboration is not simply about how to get better results for your organization, but also to get better results for yourself, by helping you to be a better collaborator.

Want More?

We hope these insights into data-driven collaboration will give you new ideas to innovate your own approach to internal communication. If you have any questions, or would like to learn how to establish, nurture, and grow deep internal communities, Carpool and SWOOP has a team who are ready to help you grow your business and drive collaboration today.

Diversity is Essential but not Sufficient

diversity-imageDiversity is a big word in business today. We are preached to continuously about how important having diverse leadership is to improving your performance. HBR in their article on ‘Why Diverse teams are Smarter”, identify studies showing that diversity based on both ethnicity and/or gender can lead to above average returns. In our own work with networks, research has shown that individuals with more diverse personal networks are more likely to be promoted and succeed in their occupations. Although I’ve always thought that my own personal network was quite diverse, I received a wake-up call from the recent US elections. I was not aware of any of my fairly extensive US citizen network that were voting for Trump! So it does take a conscious effort to build and sustain a diverse network of connections. It’s far too easy to fall back to the comfortable relationships with those just like us.

But diversity alone is only a pre-condition to high performance. One must be able to exploit the diversity in one’s network to actually deliver the superior results that it promises. In a previous post we introduced our network performance framework, which identifies a balance between Diversity and Cohesion in networks, for maximizing performance:

swoop-diversity

In this framework we identify that high performers are those that can effectively balance their diverse connections i.e. identifying high potential opportunities, with their close connections, with whom they can collaborate to exploit those opportunities. From our project consulting experiences these people are either recognised as organisational ‘ambassadors’ or are completely invisible i.e. the quiet achievers. The fact that we find so few people in this quadrant is testimony as to how hard achieving this balance can be.

UGM Consulting explores this tension in their recent article on Innovation and the Diversity Paradox. They nominate the following attributes for those diverse networks that can successfully exploit the opportunities that they identify:

They have a sense of shared common goals and purpose;

  1. They know how to genuinely listen to each other, seeking out elaboration and novel combinations;
  2. They have high levels of mutual trust, so speaking up and disagreements can be had, risk free;
  3. They have the skills to constructively explore alternatives and agree on a direction; and
  4. There exists a strong co-operative atmosphere at both the team and enterprise levels.

For leaders this will mean actively enabling or creating such conditions. For the individual it could boil down to simply developing a diverse network that you actively consult with.  At times you may leverage these relationships by enrolling others in selected joint activities, to bring about positive change in your own areas of influence.

Top Image credit: http://www.ispt-innovationacademy.eu/innovation-research.html

What do Customer Communities have in Common with Employee Communities?

In June we wrote a blog post “Is Bridging the Enterprise-Consumer Social Networking Divide a Bridge too Far”, which went to some length in describing why these two worlds appeared to be operating in different solar systems.  In fact, we pointed out that blindly adopting the media centricity and activity measures from consumer social networking into the Enterprise, could actually cause more harm than good. In this post we want to explore what might be common and potentially useful adoptions from the consumer world to inside the Enterprise. I must say that this post has been influenced by Michael Wu  coming to town and telling us a little about his perspectives on the ‘Science of Social’ . Michael is the chief scientist at Lithium, an organisation that specialises in customer communities. While my interest in customer communities is somewhat less than my interest in Enterprise communities, Michael Wu is well regarded in the world of data science, so I was sure to learn something from him; and I wasn’t disappointed.

The two key insights I took away was that Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) are not social networks as we have come to perceive them; and secondly there is some useful commonality between customer communities and employee communities.

On the first insight, this is how Dr Wu characterised the customer engagement journey:

customer-community

In his commentary he positioned Facebook as a social network of pre-existing relationships, of which only some were based on shared common interests. In his view social networks were good for building awareness and reach, but not in influencing a purchasing action. For this level of influence, he promoted the role of the customer community; where actions could be more effectively influenced by those with a shared context. In essence he was arguing that each played their respective roles at different parts of the engagement funnel. When I look at ESNs like Yammer, there is no explicit connections being built like in Facebook or LinkedIn i.e. connections being sought and accepted. We do have Twitter like ‘Follows’ which can be interpreted as a network; but follower networks are more like one-way subscriptions trails and therefore would only weakly imply a relationship exists. So in essence, ESNs do not have the benefit of an authenticated social graph in the way that Facebook and LinkedIn do.

The point in common is in Figure 2, showing the customer community. The lack of a social network to create ‘reach’ is less of an issue for the Enterprise, as they have corporate directories for that purpose. The Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action phases in the funnel could equally be applied to the multitude of employee communities established in the ESN. Having an ‘Action’ as the end point we feel is entirely appropriate for an Enterprise community. As we have written previously, without actions, tangible value from an ESN is questionable.

dr-wuA key new message that Dr Wu provided was on his recent work with Geoffrey Moore on a four gears model for viral adoption. Wu suggests that those joining a group or community (acquire gear) immediately gain a ‘weak tie’ with all other members on the strength of their shared interest. The ‘engage’ gear helps turn some of these ‘weak ties’ into ‘strong ties’ and eventually trusted relationships; through the vehicle of online discussions and conversations. The ‘enlist’ gear acknowledges that there will be ‘super users’ who will drive the conversation and facilitate many of the connections. In SWOOP these are our Catalyst  and Engager  personas. In the Customer community, these people become the influencers and advocates. The final gear is ‘monetise’, which means making a sale and earning some revenue. Some would suggest that this is totally appropriate for the Enterprise as well. However, it is fair to say that Employee communities can be much more diverse than a customer community and therefore the action isn’t always as easily connectable to a monetary return. That said, this ‘performance gear’ should be able to connect actions taken by the community members, to the Enterprise’s mission and goals, as a minimum.

So there we have it. While Consumer and Enterprise Social Networks do appear to work in different solar systems, there is just enough of an overlap to make the learning worthwhile.

Tyranny of the ‘Long Tail’

Longtail

The advent of Internet enabled e-commerce brought an increased focus on ‘Long Tail’ distributions . Internet organisations like Amazon are able to exploit their low marginal costs by selling low volumes to the Long Tail of buyers with unique non-mainstream needs. The Long Tail has therefore been celebrated as the new opportunity of the Internet age. Even knowledge sharing systems e.g. blogs, podcasts, video have celebrated the increased reach that the Internet facilitates. The ubiquitous 90/9/1 rule acknowledges that 90% of participants are simply consumers of content.

The Pervasive “Long Tail” Distribution

Our own work with communities and social networks identifies the Long Tail effect. Our benchmarking of ‘Key Players’ with ‘off-line’ social networks identified that the majority of those with large personal networks is confined to a selected few. Our Key Player index identifies how concentrated the core of the network is by measuring the % of participants that represent 50% of all connections. For off-line communities we found that the key player index is typically between 11% and 32%. However, when we applied this measure to online Enterprise Social Networks (ESN), this range drops to from 4% to 12%, meaning as little as 4% of the community members are responsible for 50% of all connections, accentuating how online communities amplify the Long Tail effects. To further demonstrate how pervasive this long tail distribution is, in an earlier post we showed how the social cohesion within Yammer groups in one Enterprise followed the long tail power curve distribution. In a follow up analysis we dug deeper into the group we identified as the most cohesive, to better understand what was happening inside. And what we found was another long tail distribution. Of the 243 staff who had been active in this group, over a period of 18 months since launching, 70 had only a single interaction, while 12 members (5%) were responsible for nearly 68% of all interactions. So even in what are perceived the ‘best’ community groups, most of the connecting is being done by only a selected few.

Knowledge Sharing is not Enough?

Here is the issue. Just because more people are exposed to new information and knowledge, can we assume that new enterprise value is being generated? Perhaps for those organisations that measure their success through increased readership, this is fine. But I would argue that increased readership, if it doesn’t result in increased actions, is a shallow benefit at best. We experienced the same issues with Knowledge Management (KM) in the 1990s. In those days KM solutions were largely content centric. It was common to celebrate shared content. Those of us at the centre of KM programmes of the day were however continuously challenged by our executive to demonstrate real value. I can still recall our CEO addressing the knowledge team by saying “I’m not interested in awards or newspaper articles about how great our KM programme is. What I want to see is real, on the ground, impacts”. While we could see a real change in the level of knowledge sharing that was happening, evidence of real impact was limited to selected anecdotes and one off case studies. As impressive as some of these were, they were far from representative of a sustainable enterprise wide change. Interestingly, this is where many Enterprise Social Network community managers now find themselves today.

Engaging the ESN “Long Tail”

It appears that we cannot escape the ESN “Long Tail”, so what can we do to engage them in more active collaboration? We will be addressing this more comprehensively in future posts, but its suffice to say that simply appreciating the extent of its existence and then creating some targeted interventions is a good start. Taking a leaf out of Amazon’s play book, we need to accept that the needs of the “Tail” are not the same as those at the core. Likely their needs will be more diverse and unique. It’s therefore incumbent of the community leaders to ensure that there is a sufficient richness and diversity in the conversations they seed, to attract greater participation from the ‘Tail’.

Image citation: http://www.longtail.com/about.html

Corporate Communications: Talk or Tell?

“Communication” is a powerful word with a multiplex of meanings. The dictionary throws up definitions like “…a document or message imparting views, information etc…”; “the science or process of conveying information especially by electronic or mechanical means…”; which in the world of corporate communications, its all about crafting and sending the message. But if we look at some other definitions we see a concession that communication can also mean a two-way interaction “… the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions or information…”.  Now we often hear from corporate communications and their sponsors of wanting to ‘engage’ with their stakeholders, whether they are external or internal. The complication with this however is the sheer number of stakeholders that have to be ‘engaged’ with.

I recall many years ago, when working for a large corporation, I was asked to attend a ‘focus group’ being conducted by the corporate communications folks. The organisation was going through some significant changes at the time and corporate communications had been enrolled into the whole ‘organisational change management’ effort. As we were ushered in to take our seats in the meeting room one of my fellow attendees asked of the organisers as she was taking her seat: “Is this a Talk or a Tell Session?”.  I was initially amused by the question and I expect the organisers were less so. But there was a serious side to the question. If this was a “Tell Session” then basically we could just sit back and ingest the carefully crafted PowerPoint slides, perhaps ask some clarifying questions, and then quickly go back to our workplaces feeling better informed about what our leaders were looking to do. Corporate Communications could tick the box on another focus group having been ‘communicated to’. On the other hand, if it was a “Talk Session” where we were genuinely being engaged for our opinions, with a realistic expectation that actions might be changed or adapted because of our feedback, then this would be different. Our hearts and minds would be elevated to another level and we would actively look to engage in constructive dialog with our corporate communications brethren, who would then faithfully report the results back to the leadership for review and action. Unfortunately in this case it was the former, rather than the latter.

The above episode was before the age of social media and social networking. There were some practical reasons why the Corporate Communications staff at that time was more about crafting and sending the message with little or no feedback opportunities. Today social technologies are facilitating a real interchange of thoughts and opinions. We have seen corporations seriously damaged by negative feedback from their clients.  We have seen Governments overthrown with the help of social media. As public social networking migrates into the corporate world, with the advent of Enterprise Social Networking systems, all of a sudden the vast numbers of staff that Internal Communications is tasked with ‘communicating with’ now have a voice. For the Internal Communications officer it is no longer simply about publishing. It really is now about engaging in two-way dialogues. In other words its now “Talk, not only Tell”.  As intimidating as this may seem to someone who has mainly dealt with the publishing side of communications; it can also be seen as a real opportunity for Corporate Communications to become the key change agents in organisations.

The opportunity exists for them to become the critical link between senior leadership and both internal and external stakeholders at large. It will however require a significant change in perspective and capabilities; “from Teller to Talker”

Specifically here are some insights/indicators that I think the Corporate Communications folks should take notice of in making this transition:

  1. Social Media and Social Networking are here to stay and will give a substantial voice to the organisation’s stakeholders; so embrace, don’t ignore.TorT growth graph1TorT Growth2

If you are of the view that social media/networking is a passing fad; then this data might influence you otherwise:

  1. Staff ‘Engagement’ cannot rely on ‘Top Down” communication. Our research indicates that staff engage, and are influenced by, a multiplex of peers and leaders, far in excess of their own line manager. The trick is to identify the real influencers at all levels of the organisation; and target them for engagement. The chart below shows an extract of a social network analysis we conducted recently, showing the networks that exist at only the bottom two layers of a financial services organisation. TorT Network MapTypically, staff at this level are the most client facing and therefore should be a clear target for internal communications. The network map shows the peer connections. The larger circles represent people who have been multiply nominated as influential by their peers. The chart on the left shows the 80/20 power law of networks in operation, whereby engaging with the most influential 20% only can potentially reach the remaining 80% through a trusted connection. Hence they are important people for Corporate Communications to target.
  1. Communications professionals need to assess their own personal networks. Are you truly acting as a link between the leadership and staff/clients? Or do you find that the majority of your connections are within your own function? Ideally Corporate Communications professionals should aspire to be the corporate ambassadors, or at least very effective agents.TorT Archetypes
  1. Do your stakeholders see you as an authentic individual, or simply a mouthpiece for the executive?

Its no longer enough to plead “don’t shoot the messenger”. Corporate Communications needs to be viewed as a “conversation leader”, facilitating an authentic interaction between the leadership and their stakeholders.TorT Engage

  1. How balanced are your ‘sends and receives’? Researchstudies have shown that productive conversations (Talk) would see a 50/50 spilt. Whereas “Telling” is 100% Send. Try monitoring your own conversations. What proportion of the time are you “telling” versus “listening”.TorT conversation

So what’s it to be ….Talker or Teller?

Will Fitbit ever be able to get you Net-Fit?


Wearable heFitbitalth trackers are the rage at the moment. A thin wrist band wirelessly connected to your smartphone can pretty much monitor your activity and general health, in the same way that only a short few years ago, required a hospital room full of computers, screens and wires attached to you while you slogged away on the walkinfitbit analyticsg machine. People wear them because they want to improve their health and well-being. And they can become positively addictive! Fitbits [1] provide analytics about you and your personal physics. But the other side of you that also has a big effect on your overall health and well-being is your ‘social physics’ , being your social connections. So the question is… will devices like Fitbit ever evolve to help you enhance your social connections, be they work related, or purely personal? i.e. get you ‘Net-Fit’.


Well thSociometric Badgeis may not be that far away. We have already seen the creation by MIT Labs of the experimental ‘Social Badge’ that collects data on your face-to-face
interactions; like your body language, physical proximity and even your conversational style. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see social badge features incorporated into a future versions of wearable fitness devices. Devices like Fitbit already take advantage of social cues by allowing you to share your data with friends, in the guise of creating some friendly competition and motivation to reach and surpass the fitness goals that you might set yourself.

Now lets change contexts a little. Its now a few years on and your Fitbit is now equipped with the latest social physics features, all wirelessly connected to your smartphone, which is also selectively synchronised to your employers’ cloud based servers. As part of the ‘new-age ‘care for your employees’ climate, your employer is interested in your health and well-being. Its not all philanthropic though, there is good commercial reasons for having healthy employees who take fewer days off sick and can come to work with a healthy mindset.  Likewise with social monitoring, there isn’t an enterprise around today that does not have aspirations for its staff to improve collaboration. The senior executive would be equally enchanted by the prospect of monitoring their staffs’ social interactions at work. This is where things start to get a bit uncomfortable. This is when we start to hear the terms ‘big brother monitoring’, ‘privacy’ and the like. All of a sudden we have progressed from a simple self-monitoring device from which I can set some personal goals and monitor them privately, to one where potentially my every move and utterance can be monitored.

Here is the gist of the article. As we move technology from the personal world into the world of work the traditional methods for introducing enterprise wide technology needs to change. No longer will a CEO pronouncement, a raft of carefully crafted corporate communications and a truckload of organisational change consultants be sufficient. We are entering an age of customer and employee empowerment, facilitated by the vast and affordable technology becoming available. For the enterprise to thrive, senior executives can best facilitate staff and client motivations in the desired directions by providing a climate of trust and empowerment, whereby staff and customers choose to work together for communal benefit.

Lets now take a little journey into the future. How could this future customer and employee empowered world look? 

We are clearly now in the ‘bring your own device’ world. I can wirelessly synchronize my personal data at a local, group or enterprise level, if I choose to do so, it’s entirely up to me. I quickly find however that it’s not good to keep all my data to myself. I do need to get my profile out there. Without a personal brand none of the resourcing co-ordinators will know that I exist. It’s not like the old days, where there was always a line manager there to make sure everyone was occupied. I also quickly find out that its not enough to just blast everyone with by profile page. It seems that the people that get the best jobs and get promoted the fastest are the ones in most demand from their peers. I really do need to know ‘who’s who in the zoo’ if I’m to achieve my own career goals (which are privately programmed into my Fitbit).

Network-SwoopMy organisation has provided us with a comprehensive enterprise wide social software platform. I don’t have to use it. There are no managers imploring me to use it like in the bad old days, when these systems first arrived. I find that if I want to progress in this organisation I have to engage with other staff, and they need to engage with me. The platform is my way of exposing the collective value that I am providing by being a part of several high performing teams. I also find that as my network evolves I am having greater success in reaching out to ‘hard to get to’ specialists and experts in our organisation. In the bad old days we were always directed to the ubiquitous “Directory” to connect with people. Unfortunately the directory didn’t have information like ‘how approachable is this person?’; ‘is this person really an expert?’; ‘would they be willing to help me if they don’t know me?’. I find that reaching out through my network provides me with ‘qualified’ leads that can make my job so much easier. In fact my work colleagues are now all thinking the same way. I’m comfortable now sharing most of my Fitbit data, with the knowledge that it would not be misused. The difference now is that I have the choice. It’s my decision.

So what has my new socially enhanced Fitbit done for me?

 Well here are just a few things:

  • We now have a work-based community who I can walk with at lunch times, meeting our activity goals together. It’s so much more fun.
  • I have found out that my work network only gives back on the basis of what it receives. I’m much more careful now with my forum posts and blogs, to write them in a way that they can really provide value and engage others. I also find that I’m much more willing to engage with others’ contributions by actively commenting or sometimes just with a simple ‘like’….but not too much. We are all now attuned to people trying to ‘game the system’.
  • I’ve also learnt to balance my conversational style when interacting both face-to-face and online, so that I don’t talk too much or too little. We now know that high performing teams have balanced contributions from all of their members. The social tag features of the Fitbit monitor this for me.
  • It has helped me make a career move from technical specialist to client service Archetype-Swoopmanager (eventually I want to get into general management). I did have to research the client service area well before cultivating new connections in the area. Over time they started to value some of my forum contributions that drew from areas of my technical expertise; and eventually they offered me a job. I intend to do the same for my next move, but I’m convinced that things will move faster as my network grows. In fact on our platform I have private access to my own network graph, so I can actually see it growing and changing over time.
  • In my new role I find that I’m becoming the ‘connector’ between our clients and my former technology area. I feel good about being able to facilitate the connection between a client need and a technical capability that we have. I note that on the personal network profiling provided on our social platform I have moved from the ‘specialist’ quadrant to the ‘agent’ quadrant now and I’m starting to edge toward the sought after ‘ambassador’ quadrant….how exciting!
  • I’m also monitoring my ‘Network Performance’ score, which I share with a few close colleagues … we like to egg each other on. We understand that the score is based on Gauge-Swoopa combination of how cohesive and yet diverse your network is. It is all about tradeoffs, but essentially maximum performance is gained by achieving the right balance. Too much cohesion might lead to close mindedness and ‘group think’. Too much diversity might lead to ‘wheel spinning’ with lots of ideas but no ability to execute.
  • As a final comment I’m glad we have moved on from the ‘bad old days’. Its now fun to come to work; collaborate and engage with people I like to work with; to be part of energised and agile teams that are delighting our clients, without the threat of the old meaningless targets. I mostly appreciate the ‘light touch’ approach management have these days. They now set the scene and the let us get on with our work. We have the tools to work with, it’s now all just up to us.

 Now back to the present. All wishful thinking or are we on the verge of a big shift? What do you think?

 

[1] I don’t currently own a Fitbit, I’m not promoting them, just using it as an example.

Relationship Mapping and Monitoring with Yammer

Yammer&MicrosoftYammer is a leading social networking platform for use inside organisations. Its recent acquisition by Microsoft is not only good for Yammer, but for the many Microsoft Enterprise clients who have been struggling to ‘connect’ via Sharepoint. What is most exciting for us is that the combination of Microsoft’s Active Directory with Yammer’s conversational platform now provides a real opportunity to implement the ‘Real-time Social Business Dashboard‘ which will enable enterprises to move beyond their current process monitoring to see how people are really collaborating (or not) to meet organisational objectives. 

So what’s wrong with the analytics that Yammer currently provide? Well nothing really, other than the fact that its only using a proportion of the intelligence available from its tracking data. Like most of its competitors, the analytics are what we would call “ego-centric”. In other words they track the activity patterns of individuals and then aggregate the data at team, department, company level to assess the level of engagement (read usage). The knowledge management community learnt a long time ago that activity doesn’t always map to productivity. Setting performance measures against ‘documents submitted’ resulted in lots of poor quality documents being uploaded just before performance appraisal time. But ego-centric measures will still reward this. In the social media space numerous postings in forums or voluminous tweets provide little indication of effectiveness unless they provoke a response. Social network measures focus on the relationship. Relationships are jointly owned. A direct response to a post creates a relationship. A heavy interchange of messages infers a stronger relationship (not necessarily friendly, but still a more established one than  where no interchange has occurred). A ‘like’ is also a connection. Counting ‘likes’ can be good for the ego, but even better when we know who is doing the ‘liking’. 

The Social Business Dashboard has ‘relationships’ at its core. That is not to say that current ego-centric measures would not be included. For example the volume of posts is clearly a useful indicator of activity. However social business is about collaboration. ‘Connected activity’ is what we are looking for, as we know that this form of activity is what leads to high productivity. The key component for a Social Business Dashboard is the Social Network Map. The map makes visible the network connections exposed through Yammer. By analysing the map one can see the flow of knowledge and information across the organisation. Accompanying analytics can identify who your key talents are, not by their CV, but who actually seeks them out for advice. We can identify the level of reliance on key players, the level of cross department collaboration, the areas where there may be bottlenecks impacting on customer service, order to cash cycles, ideas to innovation cycles and/or prospect to client conversions.

We have written previously about how network analytics can predict higher levels of efficiency, effectiveness and innovation, how social business drives ROI and what we are calling Social Analytics 2.0. We think this new relationship between Microsoft and Yammer will pay dividends by bringing ‘Social’ into mainstream enterprises, flagging a maturity in the market that we have long waited for.

Example Yammer Interactive Social Network Map

Below we provide an example Social Network map derived from a Yammer installation. The context was an “open innovation jam” where participants were drawn from across businesses to explore new energy and sustainability ideas and opportunities. ‘Connections’ are drawn from the Yammer discussion forum data. Fictitious organisation names have been added to provide an illustration as to how Active Directory profiling information would be included in the map.

The Optimice Webmapper utility enables one to interactively explore a social network map. The ‘flyout’ menu (use the orange triangle to control) allow you to select what attributes you want to colour (Organisation or Explore-Exploit) and/or filter the nodes by. You can also choose what relationships (Relationship Strength or Time) you want to explore.

[hana-code-insert name=’Yammer’ /]

The initial scenario shows the ‘Relationship Strength‘ map. The strength is determined by the number of posts made between pairs of participants. The size of the node relates to the number of posts received; a possible indicator of influence. Move the strength slider from left to right to expose only the strongest connections. The red links identify reciprocated postings. We like to think of these as another indicator of relationship strength. You can use the explore-exploit selectors to show only the explorers, or only the exploiter organisations. Clicking on any individual node will expose the network for just that individual. Select ‘Show All‘ to restore the map. If you like you can use the flyout menu to change the filter to ‘Organisation‘. You have to press ‘Update Map‘ anytime you change something on this menu. You can now turn on and off organisations.

Now try and change the ‘Relationship Strength‘ to ‘Time‘ and the ‘Strength Type‘ to ‘Strength >‘. Press ‘Update Map‘ to expose the new map. The map shown is the final state map but move the strength slider from left to right and the map will show how the connections built over time. You can now imagine how a dashboard might show this map evolve in real-time, while allowing analysts to ‘replay the past’ to diagnose impending issues and/or opportunities.

We are currently looking for organisations that have successfully integrated Yammer into their Microsoft Enterprise environment and are interested in pursuing a ‘Social Business Dashboard’ strategy, as described above.

Contact llocklee@optimice.com.au or cai.kjaer@optimice.com.au.