Does social software really add value? Does an Enterprise 2.0 ROI actually exist? How would you measure it? Is it just for time wasters (like email, the internet, instant messaging etc.). During a credit crunch surely employees could be performing more valuable activities? Social software helps put position yourself to be in the right place at the right time. The more people know about you, and the more people hear about you, the more likely to are going to be at the forefront of their mind when they, or people you know, are in need of your services. Social software can become a serendipity lubricant – helping people make connections that give value to both parties at very low cost and, equally importantly, effort. The problem from an ROI perspective is that the evidence can become very anecdotal. It is more of a story along the lines of “we would never have won that deal if I hadn’t come across John’s blog post and realised his services could significantly differentiate our offering”. This is not as measurable as traditional IT solutions where you would be able to say that the manufacturing process has reduced in cost by 25%. You know how many widgets your factory makes in a month so you can measure the cost benefit, but you don’t know how many community interactions your employees are going to make and how successful (or not) they will be.
Anecdotal success stories are therefore really important in social software, and I came across a great one by Tom Critchlow from Distilled on the rewards of engagement. It’s worth a read in its own right, but essentially a comment on someone else’s blog leads to an offer to guest author a post which leads to several referrals for opportunities into the UK high street market. (As an aside, this also shows the value of simply commenting on other people’s blogs as a way to raise your own profile, something I often advise people, and do myself when I can’t think of something to blog!)
An exact ROI is difficult as you have to take into account the number of comments which do not deliver the same results and the fact that there is no guarantee that any comments will directly result in revenue. The cost of commenting is almost certainly lower than other marketing or PR activities, so it’s even more important to use social software in a credit crunch. Surely an organisation that takes this approach is better positioned in the stream to take advantage of whatever might come its way.