Measuring the Value of Enterprise Social Technologies: It’s All About That Case!

With apologies to Meghan Trainor, it’s not All About That Bass when it comes to social. It’s all about that case— the business case, that is.

McKinsey & Company has been studying social technologies for many years, looking at how companies are using and benefiting from “Web 2.0.” In July 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) published a report called The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies. The analysis focused on four major industries: consumer packaged goods, consumer financial services, professional services, and advanced manufacturing. MGI’s estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals, by 20 to 25 percent. Furthermore, they estimate that these industries could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value by improving productivity across the value chain. That’s a pretty decent case!

The vast majority of the potential value estimated by MGI lies in improving communication inside organizations. They estimate that the average knowledge worker spends about 28 percent of the work week managing email and almost 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific problems or tasks. When companies use social software, interactions and messages become searchable content. Having this content available can reduce the time spent finding information or people by as much as 35 percent. While it is difficult to directly translate the time saved to specific ROI, the fact that enterprise social makes it easier to find information means that workers can focus onmore meaningful actions and other higher value tasks.

Enterprise Social Technologies meme image

Enterprise Social Technologies

All this potential business impact and value does not happen by magic. To get the benefit of social technologies, organizations need to transform their culture and processes to create an environment of openness and trust. More importantly, however, organizations must establish a clear relationship between the use of social technologies and the business challenges of the organization. In other words, no matter how you look at it, it’s all about the [business] case.

From Case to Action: Work Backwards

There is a bit of a chicken and an egg dilemma when you are first getting started. The value goes up when everyone participates, but there are often huge hurdles to overcome to get people to participate. While we could identify many possible barriers, I’d like to focus on two: finding the critical moments of engagement and engaging leaders.

  • Finding the critical moments of engagementis a bit like planning the route to your vacation destination. First, you have to know where you are going. Then you can figure out the best way to get there. When it comes to getting adoption of social technologies, you want to first understand the business scenarios where social technologies can add value.Then, you can plan strategies to achieve that value, or “get there.”
  • Engaging leadersis similar. While we don’t always need leaders to roll out new technologies, leaders can be very influential when it comes to changing culture and validating new processes or ways of working. They are not the only key influencers in our organizations, but they sure are important ones!

Find the Critical Moments of Engagement

One of the common traps that organizations fall into when deploying social collaboration tools is to think we “just collaborate.” We don’t. We collaborate in the context of a business activity, process or task; we engage with other people to get something done. So if we want to be successful deploying social collaboration technologies, we need to find and integrate those critical moments of engagement.

The challenge is that many social collaboration platforms are deployed as stand-alone environments. This forces staff to step outside their usual technology environment — such as their ERP, CRM, or email application — in order to use the new platform. To me, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. The best collaboration tools are those that are embedded in the tools we use every day. We’re not there yet in all cases. Some social collaboration platforms still need to be integrated, but collaboration vendors are investing here and it is something we need to improve in our own organizations.

When we look at social software, it’s very tempting to focus on features. This is another common approach worth re-evaluating. At the end of the day, it’s often hard to distinguish among the various tools based on features alone. It’s far better to focus on use cases that help us understand how we canleveragethe tool and its features. Look at the scenarios in your organization where people collaborate today. Where are those interactions or processes especially challenging? The goal is to look for opportunities to make collaboration better, faster and easier.These are the critical moments of engagement that we are looking for.The idea is to change the discussion focus from what the technologyisand what it does, tohowyou are going to solve a specific business problem.

Let’s walk through an example. Every sales organization has challenges onboarding new people — helping them get the information and approaches they need to be productive as quickly as possible. Moreover, sales onboarding is an area that typically has an identified key performance indicator (KPI). It’s highly likely your organization is already tracking this metric. To introduce your social tools to a sales manager, start with a conversation about how you can help the manager streamline the onboarding process and the sales training process. Show how you can reduce the overall time required to get a new sales person to thedelivering revenuestage of the process. This conversation is far more likely to get the sales manager’s attention than if you approach that person with “Hey, we’ve got this new tool that I think you should try.” Your focus is on introducing how the technology can positively influence challenging business processes and work patterns that are important to the sales manager. It is very likely that you already have a baseline metric for this process. You will now have a much easier time setting a target goal and measuring the impact of your solution, because you have tied it to an existing and meaningful business use case.

By focusing your approach and metrics plan on critical moments of engagement, you can use existing business metrics to clarify what you are trying to do and what success will look like. This will help avoid the potential pitfalls and risks associated with any new technology — especially one that has the potential to change the entire dynamic of the organization.

Engage Leaders

You can’t measure the benefits of a technology that isn’t being used. This is why identifying the critical business use cases and finding the critical moments of engagement are so important for enterprise social technology. Accomplishing this helps you provide better baselines and measurement of the business value you are providing. These steps also ensure that what you are measuring (the impact) is worth measuring. Beyond the business case owners you engage, there is one group of users who have a particularly important influence on adoption: your business leaders.

For social collaboration to be successful, leaders have to not only explain the “why,” but they also have to demonstrate the “how,” the behaviors necessary to make use of the tools. This means that leaders must make the connection between the social tools and how they help the business. The leaders have to demonstrate their commitment by participating. When leaders don’t participate, they can inadvertently inhibit collaboration and miss out on leveraging capabilities that could create a competitive advantage.

There are many approaches you can use to help engage leaders. In addition, according to McKinsey, today’s leaders themselves must possess several critical social media skills. If you want your initiative to deliver value, all of the leaders in your organization need to be able to:

  • Create interesting and compelling content. Work with your leadership team to help them understand how to create authentic posts. For example, start with something simple like asking them to post a comment or two about a travel experience to a field office or something they learned recently. Or ask a leader to create a post requesting contributions from employees on a new initiative.
  • Encourage usage by using tools themselves. Leaders should be encouraged to “follow” the key influencers in the organization and re-post or comment on their posts. It’s really easy to indicate affinity with a “like” and interest with a “follow.”
  • Learn how to filter out the noise. Not just the leaders, but everyone using social tools needs to learn to use the settings of the tools to make sure that the important content is separated from the noise.
  • Help raise awareness in others. It’s great if you can encourage leaders to become advisors to their peers. If your leaders are a little apprehensive about new technologies, a great approach is to create opportunities for new employees to “reverse mentor” senior colleagues.
  • Be proactive when it comes to governance. Social technology moves quickly. It’s critical that organizations balance openness and free exchange with guidelines designed to mitigate the risks of irresponsible use. This is a responsibility shared by leaders and employees. The guidelines should address specific issues that might be unique to your organization (such as sharing client or case information or commenting on products that are subject to government regulation). Guidelines should also include advice about when to, and when not to, engage. I have a favorite website that has a comprehensive collection of social media policies from all kinds of industries all over the world. This is a great place to get ideas if you don’t yet have a social media policy in your organization, or to find refresher ideas if you do:
  • Pay attention to the future of technology. Leaders not already abreast of new technologies should get coaching on emerging trends, and on which emerging trends are likely to provide the biggest benefit in their organization. CIOs have a great opportunity to get a “seat at the table” and drive change when they are able to provide this type of learning for the business leaders in the organization.

Develop a Balanced Approach

Measurement programs for social technologies require a balanced approach. The programs should include system and business process measures — both quantitative and qualitative. Not all of the useful system measures will be available or easily accessible “out of the box” from your tools. To ensure you have many of these useful system measures, you can take advantage of third-party products to facilitate surfacing your key metrics. Measurement provides insights into behaviors and relationships that are necessary for success. But if the time and energy required to collect the metrics are too great, you won’t have the data needed to make decisions and course corrections on a timely basis. Be careful about deciding what to count. Balance the ease of collecting a metric with the insight and value you get from collecting it.

Table 7A presents a scorecard for evaluating social technology metrics from three perspectives:

  • Health or vitality of the solution
  • Features and capabilities of the solution
  • Business value the solution can provide

Use this table to help identify some key questions to ask to measure the business value of your social technology investments and for metrics that you can collect to answer the questions.

Table 7A

Business Value of Social Checklist

Measure the business value of your social technology investments with this Business Value of Social Checklist

Come Back to the Case

Measurement is critical for enterprise social technology. Adoption metrics alone, such as the number of activities or the number of completed profiles, are not enough to deliver meaningful business results. Meaningful results are demonstrated by business use case measures that identify the critical moments of engagement where social technology is positioned to solve a meaningful business problem.

When social technologies are relevant to the critical moments of engagement in our work, these technologies become tools to get work done better, faster and easier. This provides a critical motivating factor to get users to engage. When you incorporate leadership involvement, the motivating factors are multiplied. Measurement can inform investment decisions, but it also does much more. Measurement can contribute to improved user experiences and allows organizations to be more responsive to change in dynamic environments. If you get this right, you will see that when it comes to social measurement, it’s all about the case!

Note: This article first appeared as a chapter in the new book, Improve it! A Collection of Essays on Using Analytics to Accomplish More with SharePoint, which can be downloaded at no cost.

Susan Hanley Bio

Susan Hanley is an independent consultant specializing in the “people side” of collaboration and knowledge management solutions. She is an Office 365 MVP and is the coauthor of three popular SharePoint books that focus on business challenges: of Essential SharePoint 2007: Developing High Impact Collaboration Solutions, Essential SharePoint 2010: Overview, Governance, and Planning, and Essential SharePoint 2013: Practical Guidance for Measurable Business Results. She also writes the Essential SharePoint blog for NetworkWorld. Her areas of expertise include strategy, information architecture, user adoption, governance and business value metrics. Immediately prior to establishing her own consulting practice, Sue led the Portals, Collaboration, and Content Management practice for Dell Professional Services.

Susan Hanley

Susan Hanley is an independent consultant specializing in the “people side” of collaboration and knowledge.


Twitter: @susanhanley



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