Tapping into Enterprise Social Network data: Exploring its potential

Thursday, 30. June 2016
Faisal Ghaffar, IBM, Ireland


With the advent of social technologies, the world has the potential to be a more interconnected and information driven place. The impact of social technologies has changed the way people communicate, collaborate, consume and create information. People have adopted social technologies in their everyday lives and organisations are starting to adopt social networking services as well. Adoption of these services in organisations has introduced the term “Enterprise 2.0”. This term was coined in 2006 by Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at MIT and author of Enterprise 2.0 [1]. Andrew refined the definition of “Enterprise 2.0” as the “emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers”. In this enterprise 2.0 era, Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) has gained momentum and provides a platform for employees of to engage and collaborate at the workplace. ESN platforms are different when compared with traditional social networking platforms. Traditional social networking platforms are used to build social relations among people who share similar interests, backgrounds, experiences and other personal or professional aspects of life. ESN on the other hand, focuses on the use of social networks to promote collaboration among the employees of an organisation to achieve common business goals. Examples of ESN platforms, available from some of the leading technology vendors are IBM Connections, Microsoft Yammer, Jive Software and Salesforce’s Chatter.

ESN platforms leverage the capabilities of multiple enterprise software and services such as content authoring tools, social networking capability and communication software to provide a centralised platform for employees to create and share information. ESN platform features include, but are not limited to wikis, blogs, activities, communities, status updates and file sharing. These features of an ESN platform when used right, can generate a rich dataset about the social activities of an individual. Data on employees’ social activities provides an opportunity for organisations to identify hidden patterns in social interactions internally and assess how these patterns might affect the organisational performance. However, not all business leaders understand the value of social networking within their organisations. Data gathered from enterprise social solution can reveal a lot about employee needs.

For example, ESN data can be used to determine the value of networking for each employee by means of a metric or score. Social Capital is one metric that is widely used in the field of sociology. Social Capital is defined by Putnam, - (1995) as “The Connections among individuals-social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” [3]. Social capital is a metric that gives a value to tangible or intangible resources, their relationships and the impact of relationships on the resources. There are different ways an organisation can benefit from the analysis of social data at the workplace. However, there are two benefits of ESN data analytics that worth mentioning in particular.

Innovation by collaboration

Different studies have shown that collaboration in the workplace fosters innovation [5][6]. In an environment where employees are given a voice and they feel empowered by sharing their ideas, innovation happens. However, how do you prove that collaboration can be valuable to support innovation? A group of researchers from IBM Haifa Research Lab conducted a study in the social analytics domain. Its results indicated that collaboration resulted in innovation [2]. The study looked at an Enterprise Graph built on top of social network platform data, with other structured data such as Patents and Publications filed by IBM employees to provide evidence that employees were more innovative when they were collaborating. There was a significant correlation between employee engagement and innovation and the study concludes engaged employees are “120% more likely to generate measureable innovation” [2].

Collective Intelligence by information sharing

Gaining insight through collective intelligence is another potential benefit that business leaders can obtain by analysing the ESN data. Analysis of this data can help to identify, understand, and improve the flow of information within and/or between teams. Understanding the flow of information is important in gauging the collective knowledge of the organisation and in particular improving the knowledge of the workforce. Social interaction analysis can potentially give insight into knowledge gaps. This can support organisations in identifying learning sources to fill those gaps. ESN data can also, for example help to identify knowledge brokers or information blockers in the ESN.  

“If only HP knew what HP knows. We would be three times more productive.” Lew Platt, Former CEO, Hewlett-Packard [4].

A team or group of people in any organisation usually has a vast amount of knowledge, experience and creative ideas which are captured in some shape or form in the ESN platform data. Now it is up to organisations to tap into this data and benefit from the insights as an organisation.

For example, organisations can tap into ESN data to infer employees’ interests (through communities that an employee is a member of or blogs that the employee is subscribed to) and then identify knowledge gaps by comparing interests with employees’ current competencies. A personalised learning environment with learning solutions can be provided to the employee to fill those identified knowledge gaps.

Our DEVELOP project is exploring how to best benefit from ESN data with regards to supporting employees in their career development. For example, DEVELOP intends to use ESN data to identify the social capital of an employee. Potentially, social capital can contribute to insight in an employee’s transversal competencies, such as collaboration or communication. It is still early days for DEVELOP but it’s exciting to tap into ESN data and explore its potential in career development support.



[1] McAfee, Andrew P. "Enterprise 2.0: The dawn of emergent collaboration." MIT Sloan management review 47.3 (2006): 21.

[2] Wallace, m. (2014). Analyzing your Enterprise Graph to… Increase Innovation across your Organization. Marie's Ramblings & Ruminations. Retrieved from https://allthingsanalytics.com/2014/11/18/analyzing-your-enterprise-graph-to-increase-innovation-across-your-organization/ on 23rd June 2016

[3] Putnam, Robert D. "Bowling alone: America's declining social capital."Journal of democracy 6.1 (1995): 65-78

[4] Lew Platt, Former CEO of HP in Quoteable Quotes. Available at:https://weirdblog.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/quotable-quote-lew-platt/. Retrieved on 23rd June 2016

[5] Soriano, J., Lizcano, D., Cañas, M. A., Reyes, M., & Hierro, J. J. (2007). Fostering innovation in a mashup-oriented enterprise 2.0 collaboration environment. UK, sai: sisn, 24(2007), 62-68.

[6] Ahuja, G. (2000). Collaboration networks, structural holes, and innovation: A longitudinal study. Administrative science quarterly, 45(3), 425-455.