A guide to evaluating Enterprise Social Networks (Part 1)

This is a series of posts we’re going to give you some insight into the usefulness of social networks beyond the marketing department; how they can change the way you operate your business for the better.

We meet a lot of managers and often we have to do a ‘Social networks 101’ presentation or workshop. Everyone knows that Facebook or Twitter is a social network but that doesn’t really tell you what they are.

Kaplan and Haenlein split media into social presence, as defined by Short, Williams & Christie, 1976, and media richness, as defined by Daft & Lengel, 1986.

Social presence theory describes how media has different levels of interpersonal capability; the more intimate, synchronous, direct the media then the higher the corresponding social presence. So email spam lacks social presence, a telephone call is much better, whereas face-to-face contact rates highest of all.

Media richness theory describes how the goal of a communication is the resolution of ambiguity and reduction of uncertainty. Therefore the richer the media, the higher the rate of information transfer and the higher the quality of the communication. Hence, as with social presence, a face-to-face contact is a much richer experience than, for example, a telephone call.

Using the social presence & media richness definitions above the social capability of a representative number of platforms can be plotted as seen here:

Grouping Social Platforms

We’ve added the shading to show how these platforms can be seen to fall into six broad groups.

Ubuntu and Firefox are included as examples of the output of collaborative projects rather than socially capable platforms themselves. They are positioned in the low/low category as it’s possible to deliver high quality product without a particularly social, or particularly rich, environment.

Second Life features in the high/high grouping as it’s a rich social environment, promoting self-disclosure and self-presentation, yet it’s also a rich 3 dimensional, immersive environment.

Categorising Social Platforms

The figure above shows descriptions for each of the groupings identified in the previous figure. Each of these categories can briefly be described thus:

  • Blogs & Microblogs – Immediacy (microblogs) and depth (blogs) permits self-disclosure and self-presentation; interaction often limited to text discussion; media limited to signposting to other platforms.
  • Social Organisation – Emphasis on relationships, activity ranking and user grouping; the social organization platforms are about making existing processes frictionless, incorporating rich media sharing and communications.
  • Virtual Social Environments – Rich and immersive environments which focus on self-presentation and user’s social experience.
  • Collaborative Projects – Platforms focused on enabling collaborative projects through data and information exchange. Social presence linked to expertise, communications capability limited or complex to configure.
  • Content Communities – User generated content is central and often rich; self-presentation often in the context of subject matter expertise or authority. Therefore self-disclosure is content dependent.

In Part 2 we’ll look at how these categories fit into your business.

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