Apr 8, 2009

Putting a Price on Social Connections - BusinessWeek

Looking forward to reading the entire study (link in article).

Researchers at IBM Research and MIT's Sloan School of Management found that the average e-mail contact was worth $948 in revenue. To unearth that and other data, they used mathematical formulas to analyze the e-mail traffic, address books, and buddy lists of 2,600 IBM consultants over the course of a year. (Their identities were shielded from researchers, who viewed them only as encrypted numbers, known as hash codes.) They compared the communication patterns with performance, as measured by billable hours.

The last section of the article discusses how IBM is looking at ways to direct or manage higher-value outcomes. In business it's natural to do so. However, as with all social endeavors, the outcome is dependent on the whims and perception of the participants. The matchmaking efforts of IBM researchers illustrate this issue:

In their matchmaking efforts, the IBM team tried a variety of approaches. One used a tool favored by Facebook, recommending friends of common friends. Others analyzed the subjects and themes of employees' postings on Beehive, words they use, and patents they've filed. As expected, some of the systems lined up workers with colleagues they already knew. Others were better at unearthing unknowns. But fewer of them turned out to be good matches. To the frustration of the researchers, some of the workers noted that recommendations looked good, yet they didn't bother contacting the people. "They put them aside for future reference," Geyer says.

While, it's good to know the value of a connection and try to enhance that relationship, social relationships can not be wholly dictated or managed. As Clay Shirky points out in his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, the value of social tools is to provide a "service that lets groups set out on their own." The transaction cost for directing social software behavior is high. A systematic approach to social software ups the ante for success which usually ends up in a bias towards substandard usage. So like many other systems that require human input, it's best to take a middle-ground approach, provide guidance without dictating usage.

Putting a Price on Social Connections - BusinessWeek

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