Social Media in the Workplace – How do you measure ROI?

April 1, 2011 0 By Tad Reeves

In quite a few of the companies and government agencies I’ve worked with, nearly all of them say that in their Internet and intranet strategies, they want to “…be doing more Web 2.0” or “…maybe some Twitter or something” or other eager-yet-naive statements of that nature.  Unfortunately, due to the fact that social media has finally hit every last major mainstream news channel (“Twitter” was 2009’s most popular word, according to the WSJ), it’s become an urgent priority for agencies & businesses to somehow “get into the Social Media space”.  However, and rather unfortunately, most people and agencies don’t even know why they would implement social media features on their Intranet or external-facing sites, never mind how or in what way. 

Social media is tough to measure, and is easy to just get “sucked into”, so is there actually a real, tangible business case for using social media on your network?

I wrote a fast blog post on this subject following an excellent talk on the Business Case for Social Media at the SharePoint 2009 Conference in Las Vegas, but wanted to expand on this as it is still-salient topic that continues to confound all too many IT planners and strategists.

Now, as a note, much of the content below should be credited to the profound Daniel Rasmus, Director of Business Insights at Microsoft.  His job is to utilize advanced crystal ball technology to give as best an insight as is possible on the future of tech and IT trends.  Hats off to thinking people like that – it’s what makes the world go ‘round.

You Can’t Stop Social Media in the Workplace

The first lesson on social media in the workplace is that it is a fruitless exercise to try to stop social media in your enterprise.  Myth #1 on enterprise social media is that it’s even possible to firewall-off Facebook, Twitter and the like.

If nothing else, smartphones make such a feat impossible, with Facebook & Twitter clients on nearly every wireless device sold today.  So, firewalling off Twitter and Facebook and such is a silly exercise, unless 100% of your workforce resides under a mountain or in a ballistic missile submarine.  And I’m almost willing to bet it’s a matter of time before Ohio-class SSBN’s have wi-fi.

So, if you can’t stop it, how do you use it?

Myth #2: Measuring ROI from Social Media is Impossible

Apparently, per studies that Mr. Rasmus brought to our attention, 84% of people don’t / can’t measure ROI from social computing.  Why?  They probably don’t know how, as it’s quite a bit different than the traditional ROI calculation.

So how do you measure ROI for Social Computing?
Measuring ROI from Social Computing

It’s not just pure numbers you’re going to want to quantify on this.  It’s also qualitative enhancements to your organization’s operation which can indeed be qualified & quantified:

  • Quality of dialog: There’s a big difference between someone just clicking through onto a product-display page on your website, and someone being able to interact & get their direct questions answered via Twitter.   The former is just a page view, the latter is close to being a bonafide micro-conversion, in Avinash Kaushik’s terms.
  • Communal information – tap in to corporate knowledge better:Having corporate wikis and searchable, social knowledge means that smart people that “know all the answers” can then be efficiently “tapped” by other individuals throughout the enterprise.
  • More rapid peer-to-peer computing: There are many ways that employees can interact and communicate that are faster & more efficient than the de facto, “…just send me an email.”
  • Collaborative problem solving:  Internal social media platforms enable collaborative problem solving in the team.  Compare the clumsiness of email to to the dynamics of using an internal Facebook-like app to post questions like, “…we’re trying to get a blankety-blank done in Lower Slobovia.  Does anyone know how to do that without needing to apply for it through the government?”  The answer will manifest itself much faster with an internal social media platform.
  • Abstract BI questions: There’s a lot of BI that you can’t easily abstract with a chart or a spreadsheet – it’s a question that gets answered by SOMEBODY and that’s social networking to solve that.  “Who knows where to find who our top reseller was in the late ‘90’s?  I need it for…”  — data like that might take days of research & data mining, or 10 minutes if posted to an internal social media app.
  • Decreased time-to-value for new employees:  Retail shops commonly talk about “time to value” for new employees – meaning how long it takes before a new hire is trained up to the point where they are actually making more money for the company than it’s costing to have them on the payroll.  Social media (wikis, accurate & complete internal tagging & search tools, etc) make it faster for someone to get up to speed, and less expensive to train them.

Myth #3: Twitter will save the planet

The uninformed will sometimes think that just by opening a Twitter account and putting a big Twitter icon on your homepage, that this will somehow make you “Web 2.0 compliant” and thereby drive millions to your site.

In reality, there’s a proper social media tool for many things, and there’s a ton of applications where social media has no place.

First off, posts in the social media space are usually what Mr. Rasmus referred to as “small atoms”.  For example, you don’t usually see someone pop up on Facebook and say, “Dude, here is the 67 page strategic plan for my company, what do you think?”  It’s usually more like, “OMG WTF??

As such, there are a number of differences between social media uses within the Enterprise, and social media uses to interface with your customers, suppliers and business partners.

Mr. Rasmus’s slide illustrates such differences between Enterprise & Personal Social Media:


Myth #4:  We May Not be Ready for the Investment in Social Media:

There are biiig differences between what it takes to dive into the external world of social media, and what it takes to retool an internal enterprise IT ecosystem to deal with social media.

If you decide to make  yourself a presence on Facebook, you don’t have an infrastructure problem in “migrating data from MySpace to Facebook”.  You just do it.  However, migrating from legacy systems is a big deal in the enterprise.  Enterprise systems are generally very document-centric, so one then does have much more of a hump to cross to implement in the business space.

The bigger hump to traverse in the enterprise, generally, is a need to manage how social media is regarded in the corporate culture.  The two biggies are, (a) a fear that if in corporate knowledge management, if you share all the goodies you know, then you are “not doing your job” as you’re ‘not working’, or (b) an aversion to sharing your hard-won knowledge, as then you “won’t be necessary anymore”.

Both are factors that in your business, you’ll need to traverse in one fashion or another.  The solution to this generally boils down to smart enterprise policy on social media, and validating & rewarding those people that make the job easier for the rest of us by sharing their knowledge & expertise.

The Bottom line:

Be strategic about implementing social media.  Don’t just do silly & random experiments, work out a strategy and do it.  It may not work the first time, but as the overhead for implementation is relatively small, just work out a sensible first project and do it.

The risk for not doing so?  If you don’t build it, they will go someplace else.