More recently, the corporate world has turned these same tools inward. Large companies like Accenture, Intel, IBM, and Twitter have started using the software to understand how their own employees feel about their jobs, and identify problems that might escape a harried supervisor during annual-review time.
Twitter, for example, hired a company called Kanjoya to analyze employees’ responses to regular surveys about their workplace experiences. The surveys used to be administered twice yearly, and included just one or two open-ended questions, The Wall Street Journal reported last year. But with Kanjoya, Twitter started sending the survey to one-sixth of its workforce every month—and increased the number of open-ended questions it asked. Kanjoya’s analysis tools ran through the narrative answers, extracting patterns that were then shared with executives.
Other companies have focused on analyzing employee chatter outside of formal reviews or surveys. To catch grievances that might not surface in structured responses, or identify policies that are working, IBM has for years been scooping up employees’ posts and comments on the company’s internal social networking platform.
That platform, called Connections, is available to all of IBM’s 380,000 employees in 170 countries. It functions like Facebook, Dropbox, and Wikipedia bundled into one package, allowing employees to publish posts, comment on others’, or collaborate in smaller groups. (IBM also sells a version of Connections to other companies.) An internally developed sentiment-analysis tool called Social Pulse monitors posts and comments for trends and red flags.
Last year, IBM used the program to engage its employees in a revamp of its performance-review system. Its HR department set up a forum to solicit feedback on proposals for a new system, and received tens of thousands of responses. Instead of assigning a team of analysts to comb through the reams of feedback, IBM set Social Pulse loose on the data.
The software helped surface a widespread complaint: Employees were unhappy that their performances were graded on a curve. The company promptly did away with the method, says Sadat Shami, who manages IBM’s Center for Engagement & Social Analytics.
“Without our social listening capabilities, we wouldn't have been able to surface that in time to make that decision,” says Shami. “What traditionally happens in a month or two, we did in real-time.”
Kanjoya, the company that helps Twitter interpret its employee-survey results, also offers a service that piggybacks on workplace social networks. A page on its website advertises that the company’s sentiment-analysis tools work with Yammer, a social network that was acquired for more than a billion dollars by Microsoft in 2012. (Microsoft announced this week that it’s combining Yammer with its Office 365 Groups service.) Kanjoya’s product offers “employee engagement tracking,” which promises to trace positive or negative emotions over time, and a search function that responds to queries with an analysis of the sentiment surrounding it.