smoke and mirrors

Carrie Basham Young issued an ominous warning to enterprise social network community managers in her 2013 CMSWire article.

“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," she wrote.

And she knows of what she speaks: she was a founding member of Socialcast, a provider of social collaboration solutions for the enterprise that was acquired by VMware in 2011.

'A Serious Mismatch'

Today we are starting to see this play out in earnest. We are finding a serious mismatch between what the C-Suite is looking for and what has traditionally been measured in enterprise social network settings.

We think it is related to the heritage of social analytics developed in the consumer world — and believe lessons learned there should not be simply copied and pasted into an enterprise collaboration context.

Activity measures are typically available “out of the box” with Enterprise Social Networks (ESN). And that's the problem.

Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) evolved from consumer social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. These sites generate revenue from advertising, so the measure of choice is number of readers and number interactions with the content —a like, a retweet or some other activity.

Activity based metrics have migrated to the enterprise along with them, with little thought to their effectiveness. ESN vendors commonly promote these activity measures as “measures of engagement.”

Collaboration, Empowerment, Relationships

So here is the problem. When highly acclaimed management consultants and researchers surveyed top executives at the world’s largest organizations, here is what they found about expectations for internal social platforms.

  • McKinsey: “According to executives, the social tools that enable employee collaboration — through real-time, group-based interactions that can be accessed across platforms — are most valuable.”
  • HBR: “The bottom line: the most important impact of social media technologies comes from who — and what — they empower, not just the information they exchange”
  • IDC: “The critical point of success is ultimately how well relationships with customers, partners and suppliers are managed and maintained”.

Collaboration. Empowerment. Relationships. Nothing about brand messages, social media views, likes, follows or other common activity measures associated with consumer social media.

This, we believe is why we are seeing such a serious mismatch between what the C-Suite is looking for and what is currently being measured. By using analytics designed for media consumption and not collaboration, efforts to drive adoption are misplaced.

Analyzing the Mismatch

We’ve been able to more precisely assess the real impact of this mismatch. As a part of running our SWOOP social network analytics platform, we’ve been able to develop benchmarking database for Microsoft Yammer installations.

Using data from more than 135,000 people across more than 20 organizations, we have uncovered the following relevant key insights:

  1. There is no association between activity levels and response rate. We expected that the more activity a network has, the more likely it is that posts are replied to. Getting a response to a post is obviously essential for collaboration — otherwise you are talking to yourself. So it was a big surprise for us to discover that there was no association between activity levels and a response.
  2. Social Cohesion (measured as the intensity of reciprocated interactions) is the single measure that most differentiates the organizations in our benchmarking sample. Measuring social cohesion is equivalent to measuring your blood pressure — it is an essential health indicator. There is no association between activity levels and social cohesion. We found examples of highly active networks with poor social cohesion. That’s like having lots of people at a party, but the dance-floor is empty.
  3. After the initial launch hype, the average adoption rate is around 24 percent with the highest being 63 percent. C-Suite executives are looking for a fully inclusive collaboration solution. Adoption rates are still a major challenge.

You Can't Force Employee Participation

Adoption rates are the number one early concern of community managers on launching their ESNs. And the "out of the box" activity measures provide some good insight into the early engagement with the platform during and after launch.

However, an enduring pattern that we have observed from the data is that once the activity levels settle down to a ‘business as usual’ level, this is the point where the value of these coarse adoption metrics diminishes dramatically. The chart below is an indicative example of the patterns we find during and post-launch.

ESN weekly

Drilling into our data even further, we started to look for collaboration patterns within individual community groups. In the chart below we show how we analyzed the most active groups in a large global IT services organization:

ESN report

In this chart, the 132 groups are sorted by their Social Cohesion score. We can see from the graph that Total Activity (the sum of all activity measures i.e. posts, replies, likes, mentions, notifications) has no association with cohesion.

In fact, there is even a slight negative correlation. When we added an accepted measure of value — Response Rate — it’s the same story. Total Activity is negatively associated with Response Rate.

ESN Activity Measures Don't Cut It

In essence, if you are relying on activity measures to guide your collaboration and relationship building efforts, then you might as well not bother. In fact, it’s possible, as Basham Young suggests, that you will do more harm than good.

In our view, it is the measure of Social Cohesion that is most representative of collaborative performance.

It is not hard to accept that a more socially cohesive group is a more collaborative one. In fact, this has been confirmed when we have conducted follow up interviews with some of our benchmarked enterprises.

By focusing on amplifying social cohesion, you will generate a more sustainable collaboration performance.

The choice is clear.

If you define engagement as engagement with the technology, then activity measures will suffice.

But if you define engagement as people engaging with each other in productive collaboration, then social cohesion and related relationship centered measures are essential.