Social networks only deliver value if you know how they're being used
For a long time, enterprise social software has been operating without any way to measure exactly what was happening on the network. That's unfortunate, as those data streams contain interesting ideas and bits of knowledge that could otherwise be lost in the deluge of information.
But that's beginning to change.
At the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, I spoke to Jeff Seacrist, who is VP for partner solutions at Webtrends. They were one of the web site analytics pioneers back in the 90s, but today they are helping firms measure enterprise social usage, and announced a partnership with Microsoft to provide social analytics for SharePoint customers.
Seacrist told me that most organizations aren't even trying to measure usage on enterprise social networks, and he believes they are missing out on an untapped source of information. For example, Seacrist says you could begin to look at individual contributors to the network to see who's answering questions and contributing content and what expertise they bring. This could help surface expertise you didn't even know was there, which can have tremendous value for an organization.
Daniel Kraft, CEO at NewsGator, a social software company that announced a partnership with Webtrends at the conference, says companies looking to add analytics tend to be further along in their deployments. It's not something companies typically think about up front when implementing an enterprise social network. "Going with analytics requires a sophistication that's not standard," he explained.
Analytics is about more than counting users, posts, searches, and so forth. You can get to a point where you have justified the cost of the system when you have a certain percentage of engagement, but if the only reason you're doing it is for pure numbers sake, you are never going to see the true value of an enterprise social system.
Kraft says successful organizations put people at the center of the process. Once you make that decision to put people at the center, you can layer analytics on top of the system to begin to learn more about those people and how they do their jobs. The idea, he says, is to find ways to connect people to the employees and business processes they need to do their jobs and to provide context about what's happening in the organization, where the conversations are happening, and why.
How many relationships are forged? How many experts are identified? How much more innovative is the company? How much is communication improved? These are harder numbers to quantify, yet they are the ones that get at the heart of the value of implementing a social network in the first place.
For instance, are conversations happening within departments or people they reaching out beyond their department? Do they follow typical reporting lines or are they crossing reporting lines? You can begin to see on a very fundamental level how information moves across your organization and you can use that information to adjust your organizational structure in ways that may make more sense.
What's more, if you can tune the system to have approval and informational channels that tied to real business processes, it becomes easier to see value because people can perform tasks without ever leaving the social stream. He uses a vacation approval as an example. Instead of moving between an email and SAP, you can make the request and get the approval (or find out why your request is denied) in one step and one interface.
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