Enterprise Social Networks, Performance Reviews, and Company Culture
I was first introduced to the idea of businesses using internal, enterprise social networks last year. I was on a wine tasting trip through upstate New York with a friend who works for a big Human Resources company, and she mentioned she thought it would be the next big thing. “Think of the benefits,” she explained. “It will be able to improve processes by replacing long, clunky email chains and hard to navigate intranet homepages. It could encourage sharing and collaborating amongst colleagues in large companies…” At the time, I hadn’t had any experience with behind-the-firewall social networks, so I tucked her prediction away in the back of my mind.
Six months later, the organization I was working for adopted Chatter, the enterprise social network affiliated with Salesforce. As someone who works in social media and presumably has an idea of how such networks work (I’m no guru!), I was asked to be as active as possible on the network to help encourage less social savvy staff to participate. Keeping my friend’s ideas of potential benefits in mind, I tried to show my colleagues how the platform could be used in a professional, interesting way: I shared links to the company’s external newsletters; I mentioned notable activity on our company’s external social networks; I used hashtags to help sort posts into relevant categories, encouraging others to do the same and; I welcomed new users by name because I knew a mention would send them an alert email, which would hopefully encourage them to come explore and participate.
Before long, I was one of the most active and “influential” people on our Chatter network. Unfortunately, this may have been all or in part because many of my colleagues chose not to participate at all. I can’t be sure, but I believe part of the reason for this may be because they weren’t used to using social networks for anything more than “fun,” and weren’t sure exactly what type of content they could/should be posting. A few staff members and I tried to make a silly hashtag trend on Chatter once and were reminded to keep the network professional, even though it did seem to be encouraging participation. It doesn’t take much to scare people away.
Chatter, like Klout or other tools that measure social influence, uses a secret algorithm that applies different weights to the number of posts from a user and the interaction (likes, shares, comments) content receives from others. This kind of algorithmic magic is supposed to ensure that someone who posts sixty “junk posts” (devoid of comments or likes) per day will be scored as less influential that someone who posts four posts a day that each receive a lot of interaction from their network.
Earlier this month, Fast Company published an article on using employee’s influence score on enterprise social networks as part of performance reviews. This is an interesting idea, as companies certainly want their staff using the tools they’ve invested in. However, I believe all influence measurements ultimately result in a number of “false positives,” where someone may be deemed influential numerically, but a review of their content reveals nothing truly worthwhile. In other words, the algorithm can be “tricked” or “skewed” towards undesirable results. These “false positives” would need to be manually weeded out if influence scores were going to be used as part of a performance indicator in employee reviews.
Look at Twitter trending topics, for example. At time of this writing, #TheDateWasOverWhen was trending worldwide. Since its influence is worldwide, this hashtag clearly “wins” the Twitter algorithm for being a top performer (high use/engagement), though most people would dispute this particular term’s value compared to others that may be “lesser performers” (algorithmically). In theory, people who use these hashtags may have a higher likelihood of reaching a larger network, prompting retweets, mentions and new followers—thus increasing their overall influence score.
In the same sense, someone could be a top influencer on an enterprise social network like Chatter or Yammer if they are always the one to alert people to free food leftover from a meeting in the kitchen. A post like this would undoubtedly elicit likes and comments (“yay, free food!” …”I LOVE cookies!”) from fellow employees. If this kind of content was regularly posted by one user, it would likely increase their overall influence score. Network administrators or employee supervisors would have to stay closely attuned to these kinds of posts and somehow tare them out of the staff member’s overall assessment. This could get tricky, though, because it would require making a subjective value judgment on what is and is not worthwhile to post on firewalled social networks.
The flip side, as Steve Radick addresses in his blog post, If You Want a Culture of Collaboration, You Need to Accept the LOLCats Too, is maybe these kinds of “fluff” posts on enterprise social networks DO have and add value to workplace communications. In a TED presentation, Clay Shirky, a writer on the social and economic effects of internet technologies, discusses LOLcats in relation to more traditional, “newsworthy” content. He notes (emphasis mine), “The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing. And someone who makes a LOLcat has already crossed over that gap. Now it’s tempting to want to get [serious content] without the LOLcats, […] but media abundance never works that way. Freedom to experiment means freedom to experiment with anything.”
The way I see it, it’s important to remember that digital communities often don’t exist in a vacuum. Sure, you may participate in an international WoW forum with people you’ve never and will never meet, but more often than not, your digital networks overlap with your real life networks. Actions, speech and the overall way people present themselves online will often carry over and influence the ways people view and interact with one another offline, and vice versa.
While a post about free food in the kitchen or trying to make a silly hashtag trend may not be an obvious business-related way to use an enterprise social network, it’s important to try to see how this canbenefit an organization. Perhaps the hashtag gets someone who has never used the network to try it. Maybe the free food post gets people from different areas of the organization together in the kitchen, where they have the opportunity to share what they’re working on, get to know one another, etc. I can’t imagine any business would want to discourage this kind of relationship building and collaboration between colleagues within its walls. If this inter-office camaraderie begins on an internal social network, rather than around a water cooler, is it any less valuable in the long run than sharing a project timeline or highlighting important media coverage on the network? It’s hard to say, but my gut says no. Influence algorithms are interesting and, of course, helpful when making broad, general assessments, but it’s impossible to “math-out” subjective value.
I’m curious to know what SMCDC readers think about enterprise social networks and using influence algorithms as a performance indicator. If you’ve got a comment, let us know!