When an Enterprise Social Network Gives More Tricks than Treats

But what if I told you that I knew the secret to changing your workplace identity the other 364 days of the year? What if I told you that I can help you create a costume so convincing that, even without doing much work, you will appear to be a Corporate Rockstar -- Mr. Popular or Ms. Helpful? It’s time to share the secrets of gaming your enterprise social network this Halloween.

There are many social technology vendors who offer data and analytics tools (either native or add-on) that claim to measure meaningful activity inside your community. Legend has it that this data can be used to find influencers, popular topics, important details and even experts. So in the spirit of Halloween -- and with a ghoulish grin -- I’d like to offer three easy steps to building an enterprise disguise by manipulating your activity inside an enterprise social network.

1. Share. Everything.

Your enterprise social network measures how many messages and comments you post on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. It’s common for site administrators to generate a report to find the top posters or commenters for a given time period, since nearly all analytical tools offer this. Some companies go as far as publishing the list of the most prolific sharers each week. Clearly, you need to be in the top 10.

Make sure to post all of your knowledge all of the time, and comment furiously on other peoples’ messages. Going to lunch? Post it. Just ate lunch? Share a photo. Still hungry after lunch? Comment on someone else’s lunch post. You’ll be a top poster in no time, making you visible to executives and your boss as someone who’s clearly working hard at adding value.

Some platforms analyze data around who has answered the most questions recently. Have a spare hour? Find all the unanswered questions and answer them. A few words will do. After all, your goal is to make sure the data shows that you know a lot of information and freely share it in your corporate social economy. If you can’t come up with enough unique information to share, try getting your pageviews up on a single thread. Sometimes the most viewed discussions are used to show skeptical leaders that the community is valuable -- “See? This post received 1200 page views. People are reading community content!” Send cryptic emails or @mentions with a link to your Very Important Page in order to generate more views and visibility for yourself. Monthly reports will make you shine when your content is the most consumed.

2. Go Group Gangbusters

Groups (also called Communities or Spaces, depending on your tool of choice) are excellent resources for completing project-based or departmental work that isn't relevant to the entire company. Your company’s analytical tool also provides a weekly overview of the “top” groups -- and by “top,” they mean “groups with the most activity.”

So, what are you waiting for? Get posting in your group! You definitely want to be in charge of the most active group because more posts mean more work is getting done. Ban emails about the Acme Project and shame non-compliant team members with an “Email Fail” icon. Require status updates three times per day. That project will get done in no time, and you’ll be the hailed as the middle manager who figured out how to make things happen using your social network. Huzzah!

3. Become Interesting

I don’t always share opinionated musings with 100,000 coworkers, but when I do, I do it on my enterprise social network. Maybe you don’t have time to share updates all day and night. Lucky for you, social technology data analysis tools often highlight the most “interesting” or “influential” members of a community, and you don’t have to actually do much to earn those titles.

There are two ways to define these notable members. First, it’s by the quantity of interactions with messages you post. That is, you’re considered interesting if people are liking and commenting on your message or group of messages. In order to make yourself “interesting,” say something popular, like, “I am so lucky to work for Acme Health because we’ve truly changed the world for orphaned baby zebras. Thanks for your leadership, @insertCEOnamehere!” Instant “like” appeal.

You could also say that one questionable thing that nobody else wants to say, but is secretly thinking, like, “Why do we get unlimited vacation days but due to layoffs, I am not allowed to actually take any time off?” In this situation, it’s not the content of your post that matters, but rather its ability to generate reaction that will push you to the top of the charts.

In your quest to create the cloak of popularity, don’t discount the “cool kid” factor, where you seek to be the most followed individual in the network. This one is easy. Spend some time following everyone in the entire company. In most cases, they’ll get a notification and then follow you back. Send some private messages or @mentions to personally introduce yourself. Do whatever it takes to get more followers. Soon, you won’t even have to post anything to show up on the monthly report: you will simply materialize as one of the most influential people. Leaders and anyone analyzing the data will see that you’re followed by thousands of employees -- second only to the CEO -- making you a mysterious and clearly promotion-worthy dark horse on the fast track to management.

The Data Monster Under the Bed

OK, all joking aside, it’s these kinds of scary measurements that, when evaluated in a vacuum, show only a small slice of what’s truly lurking in the shadows and cobwebs. Just because your enterprise social network gives you data doesn’t mean that it’s valuable, actionable or totally accurate.

Influential people or hot topics as reported by your ESN data tool may be interesting, and may lead you down a path of investigation to find a real trend or expert. But because your company is a full ecosystem of people, relationships and interactions, you cannot take significant action on the reports that come from your social technology tool alone. You might find a monster hiding under the bed, but be aware that it’s easy for individuals to dress in disguise by manipulating the kind of activity that an ESN can measure. Value is created and measured in many ways, but enterprise social network data lacks a solid foundation and thus should only be considered as part of a bigger picture.

Leading Digital Workplace strategist Jane McConnell makes this important point in her recent post arguing that efficiency is not the best metric or driver in a company’s digital strategy. Her post illustrates the concept that measuring what is easily measurable (in an ESN, it’s typically units of quantity) can come at the expense of what is LESS measurable (in an ESN, it’s nearly everything else, like relationship strength or offline conversation value). Using McConnell's reasoning, I believe that enterprise social network data demonstrates that value can be created, but that the numbers provided cannot be used to accurately or effectively measure how much tangible and intangible value is created.

How value is measured is a topic that McConnell hopes to explore further in her 2015 Digital Workplace Report, and you can participate in the research here.

This Halloween, don’t fall for spooky ESN data slights of hand. Instead, go ahead and dress up as a Village Person or a zombie CEO, but leave the tricks and treats out of social network data analysis. Use the data for what it’s worth, and continue to quest for enterprise value in a holistic way.

Title image by James Jacobo-Mandryk (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license