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Social networking - extracting and measuring the BUSINESS value

These days, most companies have some sort presence on big public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. But whereas most business use of social networking so far has been external-facing, a fascinating report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that two thirds of that the potential value lies inside the company.  Furthermore, it estimates that social networking could potentially contribute between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion in annual value in just four industry sectors and that the use of social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing and collaboration can enhance the productivity of knowledge workers by 20-25%.

Therefore, many companies are now exploring the application of social networking inside the organisation as a way of improving communication between employees. Critical to the success such an initiative is the necessity to manage and measure its adoption.

Surely everyone can remember a workplace initiative that flopped because of the assumption that people will embrace and use a tool, process or report just because they are told to? It is not enough simply to build your network and assume everyone will use it well, or use it at all. Tracking and measuring adoption and use is required for real success, as are mechanisms to drive behaviour in a positive way. There are a number of indicators that can and should be tracked to give a proper understanding of how the network is functioning, but the most basic (but simultaneously most complex) is user activity. Here are four recommended activity metrics to monitor during an enterprise social network implementation.

Of all the people you’ve invited to join your social network, how many are actually logging in, and how often?

This is the most basic indication of whether your network is successful. If people aren’t logging in, none of the other metrics matter. The regularity of logins is also important – it is hard to claim that your network is a success if everyone logs in, but only once a month. Experience shows that for networks to become truly successful business tools, users needs to login in on at least 12 or 13 days each month.

Volume vs value of contribution

Some users will contribute much more than others. In the early stages, praise and encourage these “community champions”. However, activity alone is not enough. Simple activity metrics can mean that a person who uploads a large number of non-work-related photos is shown as equally valuable a contributor as someone who provides content that, for example, helps close business. When launching a new network you will care most about people simply using it, but as the network becomes better established, your attention should shift to ensuring members are using it correctly and in support of business goals.

Which groups or communities are most active on the network?

Active communities can serve as illustrations of best practices and templates that can be applied to less well-developed communities. Viewing activity by community or group over time can highlight opportunities for incentives or education. It is also important to monitor whether these active communities support real work. While discussion about sports and social events can help drive initial adoption and add to the social fabric of the network, if they end up dominating the network this can turn a collaborative business environment into a chat forum, and the value is lost.

Social reach

Social networks are all about connecting people. If members are not commenting on and rating each others’ content, they are not really being “social” and are not likely to achieve the potential benefits of social networks. Or perhaps they are communicating, but still doing so outside the social network. Measuring the number of people of each member interacts with, and comparing it against their overall activity levels gives an indication of whether they are using the network as a means of communication, or just an old-style intranet content repository.

While there are many other ways to look at behaviour, using these metrics as a starting point should get the organisation moving in the right direction.


Richard Hughes

Director of Social Strategy, BroadVision

Twitter (@_richardhughes)

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