For the past six months, Mat Morrison, Global Head of Digital Planning at Porter Novelli has been developing a network analysis tool called Rufus.
Rufus aims to map online “influencers”. This means that a client can, for example, see who’s talking to who in about a certain product – and, more importantly, who’s listening. What the tool has been great at, says Mat, is in demonstrating how peripheral a company’s influence can be, particularly where its own products or services are concerned.
Rufus works by processing information freely available on the web. Starting with a keyword (eg, diabetes), Rufus acts like a smaller version of Google, using a spider to go through the search results looking at links, and reciprocal links. From this, it can see who the key stakeholders in a conversation are, and who’s listening to who.
This is the first time I’ve started thinking about social network analysis tools. Matt tells me that the free app, Netdraw, is probably as good at visualising Twitter relationships as Rufus. There are no doubt dozens of other apps out there I’ve yet to get familiar with.
I’m wondering how this type of mapping can help organisations learn more about their own internal communications. Any corporate org chart can show who reports to and who oversees who, but the real power (ie: influence) can often lie outside these lines. Tracking relationships on social networks could be one way of learning about these informal structures.
Years ago, when I worked at BSkyB, I remember the Facilities Manager had a tremendous amount of control. Partly because she had a gatekeeping role, but also because she had been with Sky Television since the day one, had watched everyone else come in, and was acutely aware of who talked to who and what else was happening in the company. If Facebook (or an internal version) had existed then, Mandy would no doubt have had the most friends.
Mat cites the example of the only bi-lingual guy on the production line in a US factory employing a large number of Spanish-speaking workers – if this one person goes off sick, productivity inevitably falls.
In her book, “The Stone Age Company”, organisational behaviourist Sally Bibb calls it “the network versus the hierarchy”.
In “The Starfish & The Spider”, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom even go so far as to question the whole idea of the pre-eminence of hierarchy compared to informal networks, saying that it’s the strength of the one-to-one personal networks that actually define a company’s success.
Understand these informal patterns, know who these people are, and you’ve got a great map to start knowing how to really get things done in your organisation.
I’m wondering what different organisational maps might look like. Two of Mat’s Rufus maps caught my eye. One showed the conversation flow between educational policy makers, the other showed conversations around research into diabetes. Each data set generated a very different graphic. Without bringing up the titles, can you guess which is which?
These Rufus maps remind me a bit of that great French book introduced to me by Cliff Prior, Notre continent intérieur: L’atlas imaginaire (The Atlas of Experience), by Jean Klare and Louise van Swaaij which shows imagined relationships between thoughts, emotions and feelings. How about a mash-up between the two?!
But now I’m stepping into that realm that Arie de Geus currently inhabits, with his quest for more research into the way decision-making processes at work actually make us feel.
Mat tells me that back in “the days of Enron”, before email (and Enron) became much-maligned, he used to refer to a a study of Enron’s inter-office email flows carried out by Jeffrey Heer at Stanford University as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s investigation into Enron. This study found that a “healthy” organisation benefited from the communications through informal relationships and weak ties.
One of the first things Mat did when he arrived at Porter Novelli was send around an email with a surveymonkey survey to find out who’d been talking to who about digital in the previous two months. This helped him map out the influencers and get a sense of the network he needed to connect with.
I’m going to try and pick out some more tools in the coming weeks to see which work best in mapping – and thereby better understanding – internal corporate communications.
Any suggestions appreciated!