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What Should be Done About Holes in an Enterprise Social Network?

by Craig Roth  |  January 24, 2011  |  2 Comments

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.

Category: social-software  

Craig Roth
Managing Vice President: Communication, Collaboration, and Content
4 years at Gartner
25 years IT industry

Craig Roth is a vice president and service director for Gartner Research, in Burton Group's Collaboration and Content Strategies service. Mr. Roth covers a wide range of knowledge and Web-related topics at the intersection of collaboration, content… Read Full Bio


Thoughts on What Should be Done About Holes in an Enterprise Social Network?


  1. I don’t like the term “lonely” to describe people off the grid. In my consulting one of the points I make is that people communicate and collaborate in different ways. Some are willing to use transparent social networking, some prefer the inefficiencies of email and attachments, and some prefer meetings and phone tag.

    That’s just life in the big city. Overemphasizing one channel without addressing another in the realworld mix of stakeholders leads to confusion and failure. And it ain’t just the grey hair folks that are the sticks in the mud, either.

    (PS — your Capcha is illegible)

  2. Craig Roth says:

    Good point – too often social network analysis is about crunching the data that’s easy to get. Meetings and phone calls are tougher to feed into the database, but are necessary to get a full picture of social activity.



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