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How to measure the success of enterprise social networks

I know it wasn’t meant to feel like speed-dating, but being left at the table every twenty minutes did make me wonder who would sit with me next. Having enjoyed a full day conference, thanks to Simply Communicate, delegates were now deciding what topics to talk about.

I had nothing to fear; although I was assigned a table to talk about measuring success, the people who sat with me had more experience than I to share.

Measuring social communications seems similar to measuring any kind of communication; there are hard numbers, goals, concerns about behaviour change over ‘just reading’ and ideas about happiness.

Graphing people's behaviourGoals and KPIs

I’m sorry to say that I did not record the names of the people whose wisdom I’m about to share. We heard experiences from Homebase,  Argos, Sage and many more large and medium businesses. I’d gladly add your name; I just hope I’ve captured the best ideas for the benefit of us all.

Start with goals: Having a goal for your internal social networking that is aligned with business goals is going to be more ‘valuable’ than simply having the goal of ‘usage growth’.

Monitor usage: Set performance indicators so you can report on activity spikes, community creation and growth, and be aware of regional differences.

Ideation: Empowering community involvement in creating solutions to internal challenges and external changes. Some companies harness employee innovation in ways that drive profit and keep the company ahead of competitors. I’m looking at you, IBM, Phillips.

Topic analysis: Export all the social content and plug it into a word cloud generator. You’ll get a quick and dirty overview of what people are talking about. Might even help you spot morale shifts (sentiment analysis for the budget-challenged). Love this; just be aware of the privacy terms if you use any online services.

Dip-check for on-topic discussions: Take a slice of ‘chatter’ from your network’s status updates or chosen communities / groups and mark each topic as ‘about work’ and ‘not about work’ (or suitable labels). Now you’ve got a simple percentage indicator as to whether people are talking about projects or X Factor. Let’s remember, people use corporate email to chat about naff television too, not just X Factor.

Concrete cost reduction: Take a sterling measure of what it costs to do something and then see if that cost drops or dropped after you improved your intranet or the ESN was adopted. Go look back now! Example; one company saw laboratory bookings (and costs) fall because research became easier to find once internal social networking was adopted. This is brilliant and concrete stuff.

Analytics: Whatever analytic reports your digital workspace offers, select your key indicators and verbally discuss them with stakeholders. Don’t simply forward a PDF report to the CIO and head of comms, go talk about the numbers and people’s behaviour.

Retention: Although external factors (hello austerity) may have huge impact on staffing levels, collaborating with HR may yield interesting stats on retaining employees. Look for differences between departments that are all over the internal social network and those that are hampered by different culture or leadership.

Email reduction: If a goal or perceived benefit (both in my book) then work with IT / Info Security to get the stats. We want to see fewer emails with fewer attachments. Get the numbers; make graphs; share these graphs with everyone you meet and send ‘em to me.

The soft stuff: As the ‘professional’ community manager or communications person shifts to ever greater need of measurement, one attendee was happy to say they felt that too much focus on measurement might obscure the obvious productivity gains enhanced by collaborative working. Collaboration is part of the bedrock of so much of our work, and so community activity is necessary. If productivity is too hard to measure, perhaps it’s reflected in the culture?


Community management is required; if professional full-time managers are not the right fit, then find the in-situ superusers.

When considering the benefits and risks, highlight the cost of not having a social digital workplace.


As I said, these ideas were harvested from three table talk sessions and I would like to thank everyone who contributed. I’m certainly grateful to Simply Communicate for putting on a second SMILE (Social Media In the Large Enterprise) conference as we had a smashing day with great people. More to come on that later.

Do say: “If our people are our greatest asset, let’s give them the tools to work.”

Don’t say: “ESN? E S N? Stop trying to make ESN happen.”

[ Wedge ]

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P.S. Mark Tilbury has some further ideas. P.P.S. Richard Hughes has some specific ideas about what to measure.

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How to measure the success of enterprise social networks: by @Wedge

Should you have intranet challenges or content requirements (internal, website, or social) that I could help with, please see my intranet and comms services and give me a call to discuss your needs.

About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

One thought on “How to measure the success of enterprise social networks

  • Loved the article! I am currently working at implementing an ESN in our company and looking at the measures of what success looks like!

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