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The Enterprise Social Network Graph Battle: Who Is Poised to Win?

6 minute read
Laurence Lock Lee avatar

Graphs have been around forever, but the internet has given them new life. It's refocused our attention on the use of graph concepts for information search as an option to traditional hierarchical taxonomic search.

Facebook popularized the concept of search via a "social graph" underpinning social networks of friends. LinkedIn differentiated its graph as a professional connections graph, while the Twitter graph prioritizes accelerated news dissemination.

The Rise of Graph Consciousness

It seems virtually all data we now interact with is described in graph terms — and digital platforms are now effectively competing via the extensiveness and reach of their digital graphs.

In simple terms, social graphs relate you to the people, places and things you interact with online.

In the consumer world Google is dominant. However, Facebook, with its social centered graph, is now making rapid inroads into this dominance. People seem to like looking at content that their friends are also looking at.

Twitter is still struggling to monetize its graph network, but in the consumer world, Twitter arguably provides the greatest reach.

Measuring Graphs in the Enterprise

While the battle of the graphs can be measured in terms of eyeballs and consequent advertising revenue in the consumer world, the situation is less clear in the enterprise. I have previously explained that the success criteria for social networking platforms inside the enterprise differs from consumer social networking platforms.

As that article shows, enterprise value is achieved through enhanced levels of collaboration, more so than simple content consumption. The Enterprise Social Network Graph focusses on people and their relationships with each other.

The contrast to the Social Graph is illustrated below:

Social vs Social Network Graphs

In the consumer context, the social graph provides connections with both people and artefacts. Each connection provides a means for personalizing content and ultimately advertisements.

In the enterprise context, links to artefacts are used to infer indirect (weaker) connections (e.g. How Microsoft Delve infers worker associations). Direct connections can be both one-way and reciprocated two-way (strongest). It is the people to people graph that provides the intelligence for Enterprise value capture.

Consumer Graphs Meets Enterprise Graphs

Two events in 2016 —Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn and Facebook's entry into the enterprise market with its Workplace product —flagged the diffusion of consumer social networking platforms into the enterprise.

It brings to the forefront the need to understand what replaces advertising revenue as the economic indicator for success inside the enterprise.

Given LinkedIn’s business focus, the Microsoft acquisition on the surface appears to give it a lead in leveraging the LinkedIn graph inside the enterprise. Historically, organizations have struggled to keep their internal people directories up to date.

Many forward thinking organizations are now inviting employees to use LinkedIn to maintain their work profiles for sharing internally as well as externally.

The LinkedIn "Economic Graph" looks to connect people to jobs. Finding a job through a prior connection was initially highlighted by Stanford Professor Mark Granovetter’s groundbreaking research on the Strength of Weak Ties.

Granovetter found job seekers were more likely to find a job through their weak rather than strong ties. The basis is that our weak ties create more diverse and extensive opportunities, than our closer ties.

LinkedIn plays well to weak tie networks, given that the majority of LinkedIn users see extending their personal networks as the key benefit.

Learning Opportunities

enterprise power connections

Facebook’s move into the enterprise has been a measured one. With adoption rates for Enterprise Social Networking platforms languishing at the 20 percent to 30 percent, Facebook is looking to its tried and tested familiar user experience to significantly outperform their competitors.

Feedback we have received from some of the early trial participants report high adoption rates. How sustainable these engagement levels are yet to be seen.

There is however one subtler advantage that Workplace brings to the Enterprise that perhaps even Facebook is as yet unaware. Researchers have long connected effective collaboration with what is called "bonding social capital" i.e. the connections that bind us.

Further, those bonds are more likely to exist between close friends — the exact community Facebook best services. Gallup has even created a "best friend at work” survey question to predict workgroup performance.

Now Facebook has gone to great pains to partition its work and non-work networks for good reason. Many of us like to keep a comfortable separation between who we associate with at work and who we associate with outside of work.

That said it appears that the small intersection between our work and non-work networks may just contain the most trusted and collaborative relationships available to the enterprise.

Monetizing the Enterprise Graph

In this article I have introduced two networking concepts; the "strength of weak ties," best facilitated by platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, and the "strength of strong ties," best facilitated by team platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack.

Our preferred language for these complementary concepts are Diversity and Cohesion. The graphic below illustrates the diffusion we are seeing from the Consumer Social Networking world into the Enterprise.

diversity vs cohesion

The assignment of digital platforms is illustrative more so than comprehensive. This Enterprise Network Performance Framework acknowledges the need for open and diverse networks for brokering new connections.

It also acknowledges the need for Enterprises to execute efficiently through cohesive teams. Ideally, the optimal digital collaboration platform should cater for both, to maximize the monetization potential.

Who Is Winning the Battle of the Enterprise Graphs?

At the moment it is a little too early to tell. But here are my current thoughts:

  • Microsoft is best placed, having acquired or developed the most comprehensive suite of networking platforms in LinkedIn, Yammer and Teams. It also has a potentially unifying "people directory." And of course there is also the whole Office 365 suite. There is still much to do in unifying analytics platforms though, to guide staff in making best use of the potential provided.
  • Twitter has proven to be the platform for rapid dissemination of news. As a social platform the people connections are weak and rarely reciprocated. In its current form it is unlikely to play a significant role in the Enterprise.
  • Enterprise team tools like Slack, HipChat, Microsoft Teams and their underlying graph representations have the potential to provide team productivity forensics, if the appropriate analytics platforms can be teamed with them.
  • Facebook is the sleeper. It is the only platform that can leverage the "friends at work" theme and the power networks that they could represent. However, to compete effectively with Microsoft, it will have to partner/acquire aggressively with those that can provide the other required elements in the Enterprise Networking world.

About the author

Laurence Lock Lee

Laurence Lock Lee is the co-founder and chief scientist at Swoop Analytics, a firm specializing in online social networking analytics. He previously held senior positions in research, management and technology consulting at BHP Billiton, Computer Sciences Corporation and Optimice.