Saved by the Network

February 05, 2010

Saved by the Network

Very cool research study I just learned about in a WSJ blog. FIT researchers’ Ronaldo Menezes and Ben Collingsworth tracked emails between employees during Enron’s shakedown. They examined  nearly 517,000 emails sent by 150 senior managers during the last year and a half of Enron. They found that there was a spike in email exchange one month prior to the Fortune 500 company’s collapse. They learned that “the number of  active email ‘cliques’ — defined as a group in which every member has direct email contact with each other — surged to 800 from about 100.” Due to privacy laws, they could not dig deeper but this research demonstrates that companies may have a built-in early warning system that might be worth noting. The research is covered in New Scientist.
Early warning systems are very important to detecting clear and present danger that can impact reputations. It would be interesting to determine whether customer service teams have spikes in their emails before a problem unfolds publicly or whether some other company functions (compliance, safety) are chatting more than usual.

Reputations are so vulnerable today that any chance of capturing a problem is worth investigating and testing further. I imagine that Enron top managers had alot to talk about prior to its demise. As we all know, it is often too late by then.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

  • Phil Murphy
    Posted at 14:45h, 10 February Reply

    That’s fascinating, Leslie. You always find such interesting things.

  • Valdis Krebs
    Posted at 18:47h, 10 February Reply

    The network map above is from another email study — from a cross-functional project in a Fortune 500 firm. For more info on that email network analysis go to the link below.

  • Paul Seaman
    Posted at 15:03h, 17 February Reply

    I cannot let this pass. The only thing the people at the top of Enron had to learn from their company’s email flows and trends was the extent to which the criminality at the top of the company had been spotted by the honest hard working people below them. Enron was crooked. It had no reputation that was defensible, or even worthy of defence, no more than did Bernie Madoff or Al Copone.

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