Social Business, The Enterprise Social Networking Data Party is OverEnterprise social network community managers, step away from the data. Walk backwards slowly, one step at a time, and take a deep breath. It’s time to realize that the metrics and data displayed to you inside your analytics dashboard aren't creating value, and in fact, might be causing you harm.

Quantifying Community Engagement

Inside most enterprise social networking software, administrators have access to a set of measurement tools that quantify basic activities such as the number of users, messages posted, comments, likes and so on. As these numbers grow and shift over time, companies often use them to gauge the value of their community.

More posts this month than last month? Success. More and more users joining? We must be doing something right.

Community managers like using these numbers because they clearly quantify the efforts and results of something intangible -- usage and communication inside of a virtual tool. Without basic data and analytics provided by the software vendor, it’s often very difficult to explain to the powers that be that an abstract enterprise social network can offer value. How else are community managers to demonstrate success when companies demand that the data justify the annual license fee?

Sorry kids, but if this were an enterprise social network analytics party, I’d be the cranky neighbor who just called the cops to have it shut down. I’m the mean mom putting you on time out in the corner. I’m the bearer of bad news: the numbers and analytics that you see aren’t worth much on their own, and they in no way can reflect the actual value of your community.

Reading in Between the Data Lines

In fact, the data that you see in your analytics dashboard might actually be leading you astray, causing you to draw conclusions that are not true.

In a typical example, when the SVP of HR receives 50 “likes” on a post, but an equally well-connected IT manager only receives 10, it doesn't necessarily indicate that the content of the SVP’s post is better or more interesting, as the numbers might lead us to conclude. Research has shown that the hierarchical level of an employee is positively correlated with the amount of interaction that his or her posts receive inside a social network.

In this example, the available analytics may lead you to believe that your SVP has made a very good and popular point that should be investigated further, but in reality, the quantity of interactions around her message may be nothing more than a reflection of our natural tendency to want to interact with someone more important and powerful than ourselves.