Social cohesion is synonymous with ‘community’. Intuitively we experience social cohesion when we participate in high performing communities. Experienced ‘networkers’ lead these communities. New members are made to feel welcome. Community objectives are met through active engagement between members. High performing online communities are a fertile field for knowledge sharing amongst its members. While qualitatively we can experience and differentiate a good community from a poor one, what measures are available to assist leaders in monitoring social cohesion in their communities? How can these measures be used to help grow social cohesion?
How is this Measured?
Two-Way Relationships calculates the average number of reciprocated connections each community member has. An example of a reciprocated connection created is if you reply to a post by person A and then person A replies to a post of yours. A community rich with members having a high number of two-way connections is going to be a highly cohesive one. On the other hand, a community with a low Two-Way Relationships score will have created few sustainable relationships between its members and therefore much less cohesion.
Two-Way Relationships is our measure of social cohesion. For the majority of communities, the higher this score, the better. A high score means that it is highly likely that strong relationships are being developed amongst the membership. We know that strong relationships underpin trust, and with trust we get speed and tangible results - as Stephen Covey elegantly represents in his book ‘The Speed of Trust’. Where we have been able to compare online communities within the same enterprise on this measure, we have found qualitative reinforcement that the more cohesive a community is, the more value it is creating for its members and the enterprise.
Importantly, the social cohesion measure was the result with the greatest spread from best to worst in our benchmarking studies. The following chart shows the relative spread of results amongst a selected set of 21 enterprises:
In essence, this chart indicates Two-Way Relationships is the measure that most differentiates good from poor performance. It is also therefore the dimension that offers the most potential for improvement.
There is however an upper limit for social cohesion within a community. This point is where a community reaches what we commonly call ‘group think’. In these circumstances, highly cohesive communities become immune to ideas from outside the community. Innovation stagnates, and while the community may still be successful, it will find it increasingly hard to deliver further improvements, without introducing more diversity within its membership.
What should this mean to you?
As an individual, one should always be looking to maximise the number of reciprocated relationships one has. Having a high number of 2-way relationship connections should result in your being seen as an 'Engager', the most productive behavioural persona. Engagers are able to effectively manage their ‘give-receive’ balance - they become the glue that binds a community together.
As a community leader, a high average Two-Way Relationship score means that your members are actively engaged in community activities and delivering value for the community and its sponsors. On the other hand, a low score indicates poor social cohesion and therefore much work to do. To build up social cohesion in your community, you need to start with identifying a few important tasks that selected groups of members can actively work and collaborate on. Traction is gained around these activities and value stories are shared amongst the broader community. You will see the Two-Way Relationships score grow as the community becomes more engaged in its activities.
In summary, social cohesion and its specific measure of Two-Way Relationships is seen as, arguably, the clearest measure of a successful community. Social cohesion is synonymous with community. Our benchmarking studies have shown that it is also the measure that most differentiates excellent from poor community performance. For those communities exhibiting poor social cohesion, the task is to develop activities that encourage members to reciprocate. There is, however, a price for too much cohesion; and that is a lack of diversity and innovation, which could lead to eventual stagnation if not managed properly.