There is more to enterprise social networks than locating a colleague€™s phone number

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Recently, we’ve seen much wider adoption of Social Networking tools in business: Business leaders seem to understand the benefits of these tools in a professional environment. They’re realising that they are a useful tool for searching colleagues with a specific skill set or to establish some common ground between a stranger in a different office before making a “cold call” to request information or favours.

But in addition to these directly tangible benefits, social networks provide a wealth of information that often lies buried deep within their structure built of people and their connections. The typical org chart does not necessarily provide adequate information on who does the work and who collaborates with whom.

Social networks give employees the opportunity to discover people outside the realm of personal acquaintances. According to the sociologist, and founder of social network analysis, Marc Granovetter (more on that on the usual Wikipedia page) these “weak ties” are potentially more valuable for information and knowledge sharing, because the contacts of these people open up a completely new set of information resources that was previously out of reach. Every user of a social network represents one node in the network.

Together with our close colleagues we form a densely connected cluster because everyone knows everyone. Because we only have a limited number of people we regularly interact with, a company network might potentially be formed of several clusters that are more loosely connected.

Social network analysis defines several metrics (e.g. betweenness, centrality, bridge) that help to answer questions like: Who are the central and presumably most important people in our network? Who are the people that connect different clusters in our network? Identifying those people can help to discover the crucial information holders or the key intermediaries between otherwise unconnected groups.

There is a wealth of valuable information hidden in company’s social networks that needs to be mined to harness the full potential of a company internal social network. The traditional social network analysis approach is just one way to lift those hidden treasures from the ocean floor. For further steps in that direction see the recent announcement of the partnership between SAP and Jive.

In order to gain insight on how information and value in a company are created and distributed, companies must recognize the value within these social communities and start to expand their current analytics with a focus on user generated content.

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