Friday, January 14, 2011

Return on Networking

An interesting incident happened couple of months back. Before I describe that, let me tell you about our social networking site we use in our organization namely Yammer. Yammer has a free version and can be adopted by any organization which wants to have an internal social networking site for its employees. Once a site for an organization is created, employees of an organization can join in using their official email id. What Yammer allows us to do is provide an environment to post what we want to share / ask with our fellow employees and in no time you get different perspectives / answers to your queries etc. Of course what you post is there for everyone to see, search and respond to. Users can also create a room or a group for a discussing specific interest area, etc. I hope by know you have a brief idea on how Yammer works. We have more than 18,000 people on Yammer currently and it has turned out to be the go to place for our employees if you do not know who can help you with some information on a specific subject.

Let me now describe the incident. A colleague of mine who was also a member of Yammer but who was relatively new to the organization and also who wasn't actively involved in social interactions using this tool approached me and asked to help him by asking a specific question on his behalf. I was initially a bit surprised to hear the request because I knew he was on Yammer and he could ask the question himself. When I asked him why he wanted me to ask the question instead of he doing it himself. His reply was that I might get more responses to the question than he would if he posted the query. That made me think. Yes I too had noticed the fact that some people get better response from a network than others would. Even when the network is exactly same (for e.g. in an organization) some people tend to get better response than others. Who are these people? And why do people respond to them and not as much to others? When I looked at the interactions happening in the yammer community, I noticed some specific charateristics of these people:

1) They are accepted Thought Leaders in the organization. So when they ask something, you can be assured they are closely tracked and people who respond to get noticed too.

2) They are senior people in the management. Many of us like to help someone senior in the organization when they are looking for something, don't we! :-) Again this is a way to make yourself more visible to the top management. Well on this point, I did notice that not all senior people get the same level of response. Social networks also have been noticed to break down hierachies in organizations.The ones who were active contributors in the network tend to get better responses.

3) They are regular contributors to queries, so helping these people will be useful as they might respond back when you post a query for something you are looking for. These are well-networked individuals who have the knack to be in present when things happen! This is a point that needs to be noted. The response one gets from a social network is very much linked to how much one contributes to it!

4) Anyone with an interesting profile! - Cases where they are not the above but have an interesting profile - content, photo, etc. But then to sustain the attention that networks pays to you, this individual needs continuously be creative!

5) Anyone who asks an interesting question which many in the network find interesting or can contribute to (broader scope). In this case even if you don't know the person, you don't might helping out as he/she is talking about a space that you are interested in knowing more or can contribute in greater extent.

I guess the writing on the wall is clearer now. If you really need to benefit from a social network in an organization, you need to contribute too! There are of course one of exceptions but for sustained benefits from the network, get involved as much as possible. We all can try to become thought leaders and become senior too, but this does take time if you aren't one already! Interesting profiles etc may help bring initial interactions but later its all of about the content and the network you bring to your followers!

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