Social Enterprise ROI? You can get there from here!

It’s been fascinating to observe the growing interest in justifying the ROI of Social Enterprise investments over the last three to six months. It’s right on schedule, of course; the Innovators and Early Adopters have been cleared off of the curve with generally positive results, and we’re now staring into the face of the Early Majority. The challenge is that the deeper you get into the adoption curve, the more evidence-driven the adopters become.

When sitting in a roomful of business stakeholders, everyone agrees on the importance of ROI. But just try getting to consensus on what ROI looks like for Social Enterprise initiatives. The fundamental issue with trying to define and calculate Social Enterprise ROI is that the ad hoc processes you’re improving have never been identified nor measured by management. Armies of managers and consultants have spent over a half-century defining and analyzing ERM processes; a quarter-century figuring out CRM processes; and, less than five (5) years focused on the convergence of collaboration, innovation, communications and shadow processes / organizations out of which the Social Enterprise emerges.

The fundamental issue with trying to define and calculate Social Enterprise ROI is that the ad hoc processes you’re improving have never been identified nor measured by management.

As we’ve done Social Enterprise research and work with our clients, we’ve identified two (2) workable responses to the ROI question:

  1. Your organization can spend the upfront time identifying ad hoc processes, defining and measuring them (this generally requires patience and the support of outside expertise).
  2. Alternatively, you can find favorable user clusters in which to introduce Social Enterprise initiatives, identify critical metrics for the group, and conduct pilots. In this scenario, stakeholders agree to treat the pilot as a “black box”—comparing the “going in” metrics to the post-pilot outcomes.

We’ve also come to understand that conservative (i.e., “risk-averse”) organizations almost always want to map processes first. We regularly do this work for our clients, and have developed approaches that get to consistently useful results. However, given the limited cost of standing up Social Enterprise pilots (close to zero for a SaaS solution from a willing vendor), we’re much more interested in working with our clients to help design pilots that achieve results and deliver the “quick wins” needed to justify additional investment and deployment. As always, there are caveats: if there are legal / regulatory / compliance or cultural / organizational issues that would limit pilot effectiveness or create excessive unmanaged risk, then a process mapping approach is a worthwhile first step.

It’s interesting to note that many of the leading solution vendors in the Social Enterprise space (e.g., Jive, Yammer, SocialText) have coalesced behind the “pilot and learn” approach, while enterprise platform vendors (e.g., Microsoft) still trend towards “learn then deploy”.

So by all means, ask the ROI question. Just understand going in that there’s work to do to define it, but that you have options regarding how you get to the answer.

About Steven Beauchem

Director of Digital Strategy at Acquity Group

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