How to value our social participation?

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Gia Lyons, back in 2008, asked a question that is still front and center in the discussion of social business today. She points out that her organization — like most — measures her value to the firm primarily based on her individual results: her sales, the results of activities she’s been asked to take on, or her leadership. But in a social world, there is a secondary pressure to participate in the company’s social network. And the very human response is to wonder, ‘what’s in it for me?’ Or, turned around, how can management — or the individual contributor — judge the value of participating? She suggests something is missing.

Gia Lyons, Individual measurements in a social world – adoption obstacle?

What’s missing is a measurement of how well I use my network. […]

If we can measure this, it will improve.

But, how do we measure a person’s prowess at making their individual contributions better because they knew who knew what, and had a relationship with them such that they could tap their expertise […], whether directly or through their social contributions, at a moment’s notice?

To network, one must be social, must participate in online communities as well as offline, must spend time getting to know others and letting others know them.

Aha. Being social requires a stiff price: spending our most precious commodity, Time.

So really, we are asking people to spend precious time to do something for which they are not measured.

I will quibble a bit, because time is not a commodity, truly. But time is increasing a shared resource: our time is not our own in a social world. It has more the nature of a commons, a shared place, since the web doesn’t have a physical reality: time is the new space.

But her question still stands. And I think that in a role-based, process-centric, slow-and-tight business setting contributors are measured on personal performance, almost totally. Making quota, bringing in leads, claims processed, lines of code.

But in a social business, things are different, and people’s value has to be based on what flows through their connections. That means both outflow — what you send along to others — and inflow, too. If a person has spent time and energy building links to people outside and across the business, they may be the first to learn of opportunities for or threats to the business, for example, or they might be the one that introduces two people from different parts of the business, leading to a new product idea.

We do need to determine ways to effectively measure that, but some measures from social networking theory may help. For example, betweenness is a measure of how well-connected someone is within a network. In particular, how many connections away is an individual from all others in the network? People with high betweenness, in effect, make the network smaller: they make the world smaller. So, novel information is likely to reach these people earlier than others, which is immensely important. And they are more likely to introduce people who might work together on something innovative.

Not too long ago, I wrote

In a connected world, the most important decision you can make is who to follow.

So, we should reward people for making the world a smaller, more socially dense place. And follow them.

It is also true that social worth has to be calculated more like Google page rank, where each page’s value is determined not only by the number of inbound links, but also taking into account the page rank of the pages  from where the links originate, because not all links are equal.

Such calculations will be a commonplace in the near future, once we learn a few more things, like this:

I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.

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