Much has been written about the wonders of social network analysis and social graphs, such as being able to locate the social hubs and key employees in a workplace network. That’s all well and good for those highly networked employees, but what can the analyst learn about the “black holes” in the organization? Those people not on the grid?
This starts to touch on an interesting field of academic research: loneliness. Research by psychologist John Cacioppo on loneliness introduces some challenging questions about social media and social software:
“If you’ve got a disability and you can’t get out, social networking is a great boon.” People who use the Internet to generate or enhance in-person relationships also benefit, he says. But when others use online connections to substitute for face-to-face ones, they become lonelier and more depressed. Lonely people are likely to use the Internet as a crutch, the nonlonely as a leverage. “So,” Cacioppo says, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
So what does it mean if your social network analysis reveals people that are “lonely” (from the view of the social networks that are being analyzed)? It may mean nothing, but it could also indicate an employee that could add more value to the company if their level of engagement could be raised. Or an employee who is at risk of leaving the organization since they don’t feel involved or are disengaging in preparation for departure. Cacioppo “hypothesized that the distress they felt if they drifted toward the outskirts of their group served as a warning to reengage or else perish.”
Figuring out what to do about the highly networked employees may turn out to be a piece of cake compared to figuring out what to do with those that are unable, unwilling, or unsuccessful at networking.
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