Review of HBR's A Practical Guide to Social Networks

I read an interesting article on social networks on my flight home from the SharePoint 2014 Conference in Las Vegas. The article was titled A Practical Guide to Social Networks in . The story was originally published in the March 2005 of Harvard Business Review and was republished in the Spring 2014 edition of HBR OnPoint.
I was surprised how it seemed relevant to what is happening today in the social platform market.

You can find a preview of this article online at

What I liked about the article was how it described three types of social networks. I will provide a very short description here.

1. Customized Response
Frames ambiguous problems involved in innovation, ideal for strategy consulting firms and new product development groups.
Value is delivered in the problem's rapid framing and innovative resolution.
Trust is placed in others' expertise.

2. Modular Response
Works best when parts of the problem are known, but not the sequence of those parts in the solution, as in surgical teams and law firms.
Value is in establishing and delivering the correct constellation or sequence of expertise.
Trust is placed in role occupant.

3. Routine Response
Optimal when problems and solutions are predictable but collaboration is still needed, as in call centers.
Value is delivered through efficient, consistent responses to a set of established problems.
Trust is placed in process execution.

I hear more about how social networks provide Customized Response: people working together online on a problem. They collaborate and share decision-making responsibilities. However, I feel like we should consider the business value of the other two networks. That is, modular networks can provide much-needed structure around collaboration. I'm sure that there is a concern that perceived constraints on collaboration may be too restrictive. Yet most workers know their decision-making boundaries. They know that at some point they need a higher-level manager to make a decision. The Modular Response social network describes a collaborative effort where decision-making does reside with specific roles. In turn, I believe that senior managers do not want to abdicate their role completely by letting their subordinates make all of the decisions. I think that they want a balanced approach. They want communication to flow faster and more effectively using a Modular Response social network. However, the people communicating want the decision maker responding quickly, too.

Finally, I have seen call centers use the Routine Response social network. Call center workers used an internal social network application to post questions and answers to customer issues. I observed that the workers could not possibly know all of the answers to customer requests; nor could they find the answers in the call center documentation quickly enough. Instead, they could post a question and other workers could quickly respond if they knew the answer and point to the correct documented response. I was surprised how quickly the process worked - it was much faster than searching for the information in their documentation! Their documentation could consist of hundreds of documents spread across multiple call center applications. This Routine Response social network was much faster than escalating a call to an expert, too.

Obviously, the article goes into much more depth than I have here. Ideally, I would like to see a follow-up article that researches if current social network platforms support the three networks described in this article.

Randy Rempel
Senior Product Manager