Can social networking help increase production and improve operations? Yes, in a word. But, it is not quite as simple as that.
Social networks, for a start, are not limited to, or defined by, the platforms most of us hear about daily—Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr—platforms which can put executives off the use of social networking technology.
According to ex-Chevron transformational information technology lead Richard Morneau, the question is “can and will social networking technology help increase production and improve operations?”
Morneau joined Chevron in 1983, and had a 28-year career covering seismic processing, projects involving NASA, and creating and launching Chevron’s information management for the major capital projects group.
He describes social networking technology as websites where users can communicate with each other through messaging. “The technology is the software that provides the social networking services,” he told the SPE Intelligent Energy International conference in Utrecht in April.
While there are public social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, there are also company private social networking forums, and even networks within companies for specific sub groups.
But social networking is not new, he says. “ARPANET is the oldest, demonstrated in the UK in 1968. There have been computerized bulletin board systems since the 1970s and Usenet since 1980,” he says.
There is of course a catch. Social networking would be beneficial if you agree with the assumption that “if you don’t know the answer, then someone else might,” Morneau says.
“The highest probability of getting the best and fastest answer to a question will be to get it from the people with the expertise and knowledge to answer the question,” he says. “If you do not agree with the assumption, this will not work.”
The next assumption is about how willing people are to ask questions. “Another assumption is that when you were in school, you were not afraid of asking a question,” Morneau says. “Now we are. We turn to a friend or try to work it out on our own. It is a common a pretty fatal human trait, which will make your social network a failure.”
According to research by Nielsen Jakob, participation rates on social networks is not good. Ninety percent of those who participate do not contribute, 9% sometimes contribute, and 1% are most active. To put it another way, Morneau says, 90% of posts come from 1% of contributors, and 10% of posts come from 9%.
“When you look at specialized services, the trend is not on our side,” he continues. “On Wikipedia, the most active 1000 people (0.003% of the users) do 66% of the edits. Specialized social networks have increased participation, but participation is not equally distributed.”
Nielsen Jakob’s research suggested this trend could not be overcome. Morneau thinks it could at least be improved, using “gamification,” or principles used in gaming, in social networks for business or education, in order to engage users and improve user engagement.
An example where it works is a SAP community network, which has been running for 10 years, and has two million unique users per month. To increase user engagement it used a Jive gamification module. Jive gamification modules enables businesses to use game mechanics to increase engagement and productivity through incentives tailored for both individuals and specific groups of users. Activity on the SAP site increased 400%. Activity around generating contributions around content increased 2200% and feedback increased 96%.
“So there are techniques we can use to increase participation,” Morneau says. “But this is not the only thing we need to overcome if we want to increase participation and improve operations. “People have jobs to do and they are not sitting around looking at social networking waiting to answer a question. This is a management process issue. Experts are rare, their time should not be wasted.”
Part of the network has to be getting the right question to people with the knowledge to answer those questions and also finding where questions can be answered through data-mining corporate knowledge before sending out the question, Morneau says.
“Finally, people need to learn how to ask a question, without sparking questions to find out what the real question is being asked.”
It sounds like a difficult task. But Morneau thinks it can be achieved.
“Yes, [social networking can help] but it requires some other issues to be resolved, increasing participation, which you could do by increasing gamification. Probably then roles and responsibilities have to take this in to consideration as you don’t want the most experienced people being hit with every question, so you need question matching and the use of data mining and an ability to ask unambiguous questions.”
Before retiring from Chevron in 2010, Morneau was a focus area manager, where he was responsible for strategic research and technology development for transformational information technology.
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