As social network-infused business solutions continue to grow exponentially, so does the need to analyze the importance of the resulting relationships for better performance and productivity. And yet, Gartner predicts only 25% of enterprises will routinely evaluate these data through 2015. The culprit? Privacy concerns.  

Social Network Analysis

Social network analysis is becoming the talk of the 'net for obvious reasons. With Facebook getting more hits than Google and platforms going as far as implementing their own analytics for social media marketing, learning the intimate ins and outs of what compels us to connect is vital for moving forward.

Skeptical? Consider the numbers Daniel Kraus dropped at last week's SugarCon: "There are 530 million people on Facebook. If it was a country, it would be the third largest in the world." Now imagine being able to predict interaction patters and informational flows between that many co-workers, or that many business partners and customers. 

Unfortunately, Gartner says there are going to be some hangups

"When surveys are used for data collection, users may be reluctant to provide accurate responses. When automated tools perform the analysis, users may resent knowing that software is analyzing their behavior. For these reasons, social network analysis will remain an untapped source of insight in most organizations."

Working Against Us

Dr. Andrew Rixon, Shawn Callahan and Mark Schnek of an Australian consulting firm called Anecdote are seemingly on the same page. The trio laid out the following issues in an article titled, "3 Big Problems for Social Network Analysis": 

Problem 1: Trust

Social network analysis is powerful, and by powerful we mean highly sensitive. The challenge here is to convince people that it's somehow "safe" to reveal and discuss their names, e-mail addresses, relationships with other people, locations, interests, etc.

Problem 2: The Illusion of Accuracy

The truth is that when we don't want to  be bothered, we lie. I myself am guilty of giving a bogus e-mail on a survey or two because I have no interest in spam  or phone calls at 2 AM. Imagine how many others have lied for the sake of a clean inbox, or fear of conspiracy theory/a corrupt government, etc. (blame Hollywood). Rixon, Shawn and Schnek post that accuracy is in fact rare, and missing data is more commonplace.

Problem 3: The "Expert" Mindset

This refers to the role of the researcher / consultant being thought of as the expert. While a consultant can help with number crunching and advice, Rixon, Shawn and Schnek maintain that it is ultimately management that decides what the company will do, creating misplaced expectations and dependency. 

All of these issues can be seen in many of today's Facebook and Google headlines. In fact, perhaps the only problem related to Rixon, Shawn and Schnek's report is that it's from 2006. Struggling with the same issues for four years is no good, friends. 

Fix It

Gartner and the gentleman from Anecdote each  have their own advice for overcoming these issues:

Before undertaking a social network analysis, Gartner recommends that the organization ensure that it has the trust and buy-in of the people it hopes to include in the analysis in advance. "Issues of privacy and confidentiality must be addressed and a determination needs to be made regarding how the information will be used and communicated," the company stated. "Establishing the ground rules upfront will encourage more open and honest participation and reduce the resistance to ongoing relationship monitoring."

Meanwhile, Rixon, Callahan and Schenk suggest making some changes to the team behind the scenes: 

"For social network analysis to move to the next level, moving beyond merely analysis, there is a need to move the role of researcher / consultant from ‘expert’ towards ‘facilitator.’ This move will
open up new perspectives for social network analysis--perspectives focused more on sensemaking approaches within organizations of people."

Interestingly, Phil Kemelor of CMS Watch made a similar point when we asked him about the future of Web analytics at the end of 2009: 

“Enterprise organizations will be taking a more planned and deliberative approach to deploying Web analytics throughout the organization,” he added. "Rather than providing either ‘free for all’ access to the web analytics solution, or tightly managed access in which all report development goes through a few staff, organizations will concentrate on developing trained Power User groups who can fulfill web analytics reporting and analysis needs more directly to individual business units."

How close are we to fulfilling this longstanding need? Or, four years later, how have our needs changed? Let us know what you think.