Social Should Be Able To Demonstrate Business Value

By Christian Buckley posted 06-30-2014 19:51


In the never-ending search for improving customer adoption and engagement -- which social promises, and I do believe can deliver -- the difficulty for most (if not all) organizations is demonstrating business value amidst all of the marketing and promises of the OEMs and vendors. For social (which equals Yammer in the Microsoft domain) to become effective, it must also become measurable, repeatable, and optimized. Simply put, there must be some kind of connection to business process, a direct correlation between collaboration and both qualitative and quantitative data.

Far too many social tools out in the echo chamber tout an impressive resume of features, but cannot seem to demonstrate their ability to drive business action. Defining the return on investment of social is a hot topic. Microsoft worked with author and social collaboration influencer Mark Fidelman (@markfidelman) to create a whitepaper on the topic which does a great job at defining the qualitative benefits (which I highly recommend that you read here), but lacks guidance on the quantitative benefits, IMHO. And that lack of guidance is clear each time I attend an event where social ROI is being discussed. People are looking for practical guidance on building key performance indicators (KPIs) around their social activities. They want (and need) help in demonstrating to their management teams and to their employees that social will deliver on its promises.

Social has the ability to pull together ideas, discussions, and activities from across internal groups -- which would otherwise sit in data silos, such as email, or even restricted SharePoint groups or sites. The entire culture of the Yammer team (historically speaking) has been to unlock data silos by including everyone in the dialog, allowing people to join a discussion and share expertise that may or may not be part of their current job descriptions. This kind of unstructured collaboration allows teams to create, and maintain, a threaded conversation synchronously (in real-time) or asynchronously (which is great for working with teams in different time zones or who travel extensively) so that everyone has a chance to participate. I'm seeing conversations within my own company that had otherwise ended months prior suddenly re-emerge as someone searches for a topic, finds the threaded discussion, and adds a spark to start it again, leveraging what was old for something new. I love that.

But are we supposed to simply accept this anecdotal evidence for improved collaboration, and go with our gut feel that its good for business, or is enterprise social something that can be measured? The two most common KPIs discussed in this context are Adoption and Engagement, but most approach even these concepts simplistically. Tracking the number of unique visitors only tells you so much. What did they actually do while on the site? Engagement is more than just time spent within the social environment. How many times did they comment, share content, upload content, Like something, rate it or otherwise engagement in social activity? Even if you have robust measurements in place to capture these movements, how well are you able to track this activity over time (to watch trending) -- or correlate this data to changes you've made to the platform, new features you've added, or other steps to encourage stronger collaboration? Very few organizations have even begun to look at social collaboration at this depth, but that is where the industry must go to show the business benefits of social.

The next step in social productivity should closely match the way we work today -- and its business benefits should be measurable. Social in the enterprise should be more than real-time connectivity, more than an unattached conversation. Social  should enable tighter communication across the team, it should have context, and it should be able to demonstrate business value. 

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