Enterprise Social Graphs - Techniques to Avoid Disruption and Maximize Value

By John Brunswick posted 09-03-2010 19:30


There is a common misconception that enabling social activity graphs within corporate communities will somehow save us from information overload, exposing only relevant information to help get our jobs done and helping us to make important discoveries within our networks.  Unfortunately, activity graphs natively act like air conditioning capable of running on one setting - during the summer it makes sense, but for the remainder of the year it is freezing.

The premise of the graph is appealing, but in order to obtain benefits from this entperise social technology it is important to examine three fundamental concepts that can help provide a thermostat, allowing social graphs to become an enterprise enabler, opposed to an irrelevant or overloaded distraction.

Affinity - Keep it High
Have you ever received an email from that was directly aimed at your needs?  It invokes a magical feeling, as it appears that they have somehow read your mind.  Have you ever received emails from on items that have lost relevancy to your life?  In contrast to our prior example, it is a frustrating feeling that drives you further from allocating attention to their future communications with you.

The value from the display of a social graph or "activity stream" resides in its level of affinity with the recipient.  Furthering the seasonal analogy above, 75% of the information contained in an activity stream, even when dedicated only to a department (sales for instance) is generally noise. 

This is contrary to our goal for enabling social technologies to personalize the enterprise.

Timing - Does it Need to be Now?
Is the consumption of real-time activities important?  Does the true value of activity streams resides in consuming them throughout the day OR are trends and upvoted entries the jewels of this social technology?  I would argue the later based on the following examples.  Social graphs should augment our existing tools, staying out of communications channels required for notification about actionable items like email and SMS.

Importance - Fluff or Substance?
Imagine if each one of your colleagues called at the end of each day and uninterruptedly rattled off everything that they did over the course of the day.  Even though this personal is organizationally related to you, only a minor fraction of their activities may be beneficial to keep abreast of, but your time is unfortunately consumed to every detail of each activity.  There needs to be a way to seperate the wheat from the chaff.

Thermostat - Put it on "Self Centered"
Being self-centered is the key to success in the land of social graphs.  Perhaps it is counterintuitive, but...

The purpose of an displaying an activity graph is not to provide a list of what your colleagues are doing... it is to see what activities are related to you that may impact you work

Thankfully, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when looking at strategies to create a thermostat to increase the relevancy of information displayed in our activity streams.  Social news sites, email and other technologies have pioneered approaches that can be directly applied.

  1. Allow users to upvote / downvote / rate items in the stream (reddit, digg)
  2. Make it possible to set a "reading level" (a la slashdot)
  3. Enable items on the graph to be tagged for later filtering and retrieval (delicious)
  4. Let users set search criteria over what is displayed in the stream based on type, author, etc driven by directory service information and meta data
  5. Activities that enter the stream should have some basic meta data that illustrates their origin
  6. Employ a system that learns what makes sense for a given user (
    Will Gmail Get a Magic Inbox that Can Analyze Your Social Graph to Organize Mail?
    - yes)
  7. Allow users to subscribe to a digest format (linkedin)

Social graphing in the enterprise holds great promise.  With the right balance amongst affinity, timing and importance it is possible to maximize the return on your implementation efforts - enhancing the enterprise, instead of distracting it.

#ROI #SocialGraph #value