Back in 2013, I left the world of social media monitoring because I was becoming tired of telling my clients how many likes they had on their posts on Facebook, or how many new followers or retweets they had on Twitter. None of this was really connected to a business strategy and to me and these are really just vanity metrics.

The reason I joined IBM was that I wanted to harness the power of social technologies and strategies inside the enterprise.

There are a number of corporate social networks available today – you may already be using one at your place of work.

They include IBM’s own Connections as well as Slack, Chatter and Yammer, and now Facebook has launched @Workplace.

With Facebook entering the internal social world, the issue of social networks at work are now firmly on the agenda. Soon it will become a case of why don’t we have a way to collaborate internally rather than “should we adopt an internal social network?”.

My experience with a range of clients over the last 3 years in the collaboration space though has taught me that the issue of adoption is key in ensuring the success of these networks. With the “freemium” models employed by Slack and Yammer, what usually happens is someone (often from IT) signs up with their work email address to these networks, and starts using it on a small scale with their immediate teams. As more and more people find out about it, and how useful it can be for collaboration between diverse teams, then more and more sign up.

The network use reaches a peak, because the network is “unofficial” and hence no-one has thought about a solid adoption strategy.  This is key. Adoption beyond this is very hard as few people past these “early adopters” can see the business benefit of the network so it stalls. In some cases I have heard of a decree from above that the network is shut down “because there is no business benefit”.

And here is where companies are missing a trick. Just as in 2016 most companies have some sort of social media presence, and hence monitor and measure (normally presented in weekly reports that no-one reads), few of them are monitoring or measuring what is happening on their internal networks.

In 2015, I presented to the CEO of a major telecommunications company about the power of internal networks and collaboration. He showed me his iPad Chatter app where messages from across the company were whizzing by. He said to me “I am sure much of this is interesting and important but how do I make sense of it?”.

I immediately suggested to the CEO that he look at harnessing the same tools and techniques that he is using to look at what is happening on social media inside his own network.

One simple, and “executive friendly” way to show what is happening in your company is to develop an internal social dashboard which will quickly show the top themes, issues, messages, and influencers inside your own company.

If you have an internal social network and you are not measuring and visualising it, then you are missing out.

Shown below is a typical “social media dashboard” – imagine the power of seeing real-time feedback on your company from your internal network presented in the same user-friendly way. I’m already providing this to clients, and they feel empowered knowing what is going on inside their company in real time.

Continuous feedback

Most firms regularly survey their own staff. What I am suggesting here can complement these surveys, and become continuous feedback.

This works well if your company is open to feedback. If you don’t want to hear constructive criticism, then perhaps this is not for you.

The key message of this post is that I firmly believe that the data and insights derived from an internal social network is more powerful, and more measurable than external social networks.

Consider this. What is the value to your company of a like or a retweet? Don’t know? I’m not surprised.

However, ask a CEO what is the value to your company of knowing about possible attrition, process issues or something wrong with a company policy, and they can probably put a figure on that straight away.

In April 2015, Max Black, a consultant for IBM in New York had an issue with claiming an expense for an Uber ride. Rather than going to his manager, as a millennial he went straight to the IBM internal social network and started a petition. In Max’s own words, watch what happened next. (30-second clip)

When I play this short clip at conferences and to clients, they all ask “What happened next? Was he fired for speaking out?”.

Quite the opposite. Not only did the IBM Chief HR Officer Diane Gherson personally post a reply on the network, committing to investigate and change the policy, and he was also featured in a news article.

This shows the power of a company that not only encourages constructive criticism, it also actively listens and goes looking for it because it uses the power of the internal social network.

If your company has an internal social network, are you harnessing the power of the data being derived from it? If not, why not?

Into 2017 I believe that the value of internal social network data and insights will outweigh that collected from external social networks.