Social Business, Social Collaboration's Analytics Gap
Metrics are the key to driving end user adoption. Unfortunately, social collaboration has an analytics gap. 

This is not to say that there aren't tools out there for capturing and measuring social platform data. There are many.

They vary from deeply technical social graphing and visual networking analysis solutions, such as GephiCentrifugeSocial Network Visualizer (SocNetV) and NetMiner. And there are also the more consumer-friendly tools that capture data from the popular social networking sites and package the results in easy-to-decipher reports, such as SproutSocialSimplyMeasured and Klout.

But what this wide range of tools highlights is the huge gap between what is used for scientific and research purposes, and those that are positioned more for individuals, and mostly consumer-based analysis. At the center of that gap: the enterprise.

Gaps within the “Social Organization”

Many of the platforms we use for enterprise collaboration (SharePoint, for example) contain the data we need to identify, track and measure end user usage patterns, but the problem is that few of us have taken the time to figure out how to compile those metrics. We track basic measurements: number of posts, number of comments and number of "Likes," but we do not take the next step of trying to understand how these statistics affect collaboration.

Managers who own the success of collaboration across their organizations know this intuitively, yet they rarely go beyond the out-of-the-box data points and leaderboards that come with any social collaboration solution. There is very little visibility into what people are doing, and much less data on why they are doing it.

SharePoint provides many data points, capturing details about each social interaction (content access, content shared, status updates, etc), but does not provide a simple, out-of-the-box method for presenting this data to administrators. With the platform’s broad feature set, the complexity of its data, and the customizations required to access and report on this data, few organizations have taken the steps to pull this data out of the platform in a way that can help them improve key social collaboration metrics.

Yammer has the opposite problem: an easy to use and understand interface and a comparatively simple feature set, but it lacks the depth in the data from which to build these same metrics. Even when paired with SharePoint Online, which is the version of SharePoint available through the Office365 platform, Microsoft has simplified the reporting and analytics available through their tools rather than use the pairing as an opportunity to provide a federated view of social activities across Yammer and SharePoint.

The danger with not being able to measure and adequately manage the social activities within the enterprise is that administrators have no way to determine which features, which teams or which collaboration initiatives have been successful. As a result, many organizations will find their end user engagement gains temporary, as users very quickly move past the novelty of anything new if it does not also bring perceived value.

A key to success in enterprise social has been to align social activities with specific business activities -- for example, incorporating polling, threaded messaging and ratings systems common in most enterprise social platforms into the product development processes, allowing the extended team to provide input into the identification and prioritization of features in a company’s product roadmap.

While there are certainly ample scenarios for ad hoc, or unstructured collaboration activities (community building, idea creation), many organizations are recognizing their need for a more robust, structured collaboration model around their social activities. In other words, the ability to be “social” within the context of common enterprise workloads -- such as records management, customer relationship management (CRM) or human resources-related activities.

Yammer recognized this, and prior to the acquisition by Microsoft last year, had reportedly planned to introduce more structured (document-related) collaboration features to fulfill this missing customer need (and had been using Box to fill the gap), which was a major impetus for Microsoft to step in and block a competitive threat. Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer may have duplicated some of their own internal social collaboration strategies, but it enabled the company to develop a more complete cloud-based social collaboration story.

Closing the Gap

The problem is that the category of enterprise social analysis is still in a nascent stage of development. While there are certainly platforms out there that provide some additional reporting and analytics capability, the fact remains that the major platforms do not yet provide turn-key tools for measuring the impact of social in relation to the structured collaboration activities that enterprises rely on. Until these vendors, and their vast partner communities step up and close this analytics gap, organizations must build out their own solutions with the data that is available.

At a high-level, organizations should consider the following five-step strategy:

Analytics, Social business, social collaboration's analytics gap

Some details on this suggested approach:

Collect the right data.

It’s not simply a matter of gathering under one tent all data related to social interactions within your platform of choice. In the case of SharePoint, that could be a MASSIVE amount of data across numerous content databases. Understand the core metrics you want to measure, and the data you believe is needed to accurately report on those metrics.

Identify the metrics that matter.

Identifying “the right metrics” can be a complex task in itself. Your metrics may be limited by the data that you have access to within your tools, but at the very least you can create assumptions, baselines for each metric and refine them as you go.

An important aspect of tracking any metric is in understanding how to take action on the data. A poor quality metric is one that includes no path forward, no way to make an improvement. Understand how to take action on what you learn (positive or negative), and refine your metrics as you learn more about how people are using the tools.

Review the data, and test your assumptions.

You've captured the data, you've created your baseline social collaboration metrics, and now its time to share what you've learned -- or, I should say, what you believe you have learned -- and share the data with your management team and with your end users. Make the metrics transparent, share what you think the data means and fold their feedback back into the testing and analysis process.

It could be that you need to “tweak” the data and your metrics because the results may not show you enough about what you want to know about your end user’s behavior. Iteration is always a positive thing, because it means you’re getting closer to the truth.

Give it some time, watch the trends.

No metric at a single point in time is as valuable as the same metric shown over time. The value of the information is rarely in a snapshot, but in the upwards or downward trends over time. As people adjust to the metrics (when people know they’re being measured, they tend to adjust their activities toward those metrics to make themselves look good -- which is all perfectly normal), you’ll want to refine your analysis, and once again review your data sources, and your metrics to ensure you’re making the right assessments.

Fold what you learn into a strategy.

Finally, with data and metrics in hand, you’re ready to develop an overall strategy for improving social collaboration within your organization -- and by improving social collaboration, enable your employees to be more productive, accomplish more work activity, and collaborate with purpose.

Enterprise social, and the broader collaboration segment, is maturing. And with that maturity, vendors are stepping forward to provide tools and methods for improving information worker productivity. Of course, you cannot improve if you cannot measure.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, metrics are the key to driving end user adoption -- because the metrics will help your organization to better understand what your end users are doing, where they are doing it, and how that activity benefits your company. There are many tools and vendors with various solutions, but they all begin with a goal to better understand basic usage patterns. From there, just iterate.

Title image courtesy of QQ7 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more by Christian in Maximizing Your Social Experience