Social networking at your company

George Siemens points to this Ross Dawson article on The state of social networking software for the enterprise.  Dawson's intro is

Social networking software is at the center of technology hype... Yet social networking is not just about friends and personal networks. Applying social networks in the enterprise is a sweet spot that has massive potential value. At the heart of the issue is how you tap the true potential of an organization, by bringing its most relevant expertise and resources to where they can be of most value.

And then Siemens follows with two important issues with respect to software geared to discovering / enabling social networks.  1) Organizations tend to be unaware of their own strengths and expertise, suggesting they are unaware of the power of their own networks.  And 2) Expertise and knowledge are not "database-able."  The first claim almost follows from this one.

There is something very powerful in enabling people to connect with one another on topics about which they have true expertise and passion.  While it is possible to create a database of interests and skills, the nuances of what people are doing that is exciting and that others in the company might want to tap into are very difficult to record in a data structure, as George Siemens suggests.  But what does this mean? 

At some level, a company needs to have that basic interest / skill information in some kind of findable directory.  That part is relatively easy (or at least it is understandable).  The interesting stuff happens when you let people loose with this information.  Someone who needs Y is going to try contacting people with that in their profile.  Then what?  What has the company designed in terms of time an opportunity for people to follow-up on these requests.  Are the connections made one-to-one?  Or are they made through a social network (as these social networking packages tend to arrange)?  Is there a mechanism to monitor the connections, so that if the first attempt fails a longer-but-more-active path could be attempted?  Or does the company set up a more community-centric mechanism, where interested parties choose to participate?  These kinds of questions have to follow any kind of discussion of setting up social networking tools or expertise locators.

A reminder: Social networking and social network software are NOT social network analysis.  They may be related conceptually, but they are different animals.  Social network software helps people make connections across/through social networks.  Social network analysis uses surveys to discover the networks and then say something about the "health" of those networks.

3 Comment(s)

Valdis said:

Jack,

We have actually used social network maps as 'road maps' to various knowledgable people in an organization. The maps were not done for meassurement but for findability.

Sure we can measure the maps and then improve them via network weaving, but the maps alone are great feeback and findability devices.

Valdis

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Ah, right, Valdis. I knew the separation I was making between SN Software and SN Analysis wasn't quite so clear-cut.

The sense I get from SN Software is that it enables ongoing connections via technology. The original connection "map" could be created via an SNA, or it could be created by manually entering my contact list, or it could be created by continual analysis of electronic communications (i.e. Tacit Mail).

David Montgomery said:

Jack

Are social networks for a one-man band, the self-employed, the consultant, the freelancer just an endless series of soliloquies? Of course not and this is not what you have said. In fact, networks are all the more important for the independents since they provide, inter alia, a sounding board, sources of work, and a sympathetic ear when needed.

There should be no separation between social networks within organisations and elsewhere since the lines between large corporations with their own staff and independent contractors are increasingly blurring. It's like the nonsense of talking about worklife balance. The implication in this phrase being that we are not alive when we are at work and that a life only begins when we leave it -- I suspect there may be more than a few people who would be sympathetic to this viewpoint!

If we value human interaction and believe it is central to competitive advantage and also happiness then relationships and how we start, develop and maintain them are of critical importance. If people are spending more and more time at work then it is inevitable that the workplace will become more than a source of interaction but a place where we make friends. if workplaces are only sources of work rather than friendship and we are spending more time there then there are clear and worrying implications. Then again, if most of our waking hours are spent at work and we make most of our friends there, how then do we manage friends if they are also our colleagues? This is another matter to add to the melting pot as the whole face of management changes/evolves into a more coaching/skill enhancing and mentoring/guiding role.

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