Three Principles for Measuring the Value of Enterprise Social Networks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had the opportunity to speak at Webtrends Engage last week about social media measurement, both external and internal. On the external social media side, we’ve been wrestling with the Great Philosophical Questions for some time:

What is the ROI? What does engagement mean? What is the value of a like or fan? But it’s a different story when we apply these questions to an internal organization.

Measuring the impact of social collaboration within an organization is different from measuring social media throughout an external community. 

When you look inside your own organization, you’re hoping to see whether collaboration is having a detectable impact on real business priorities: customer satisfaction or NPS scores, revenue, brand sentiment, employee retention, operational costs. Of course, within organizations, as in the external world, there are many objective and subjective factors that you have to take into account–salaries, company success, technologies, training, and many more–that influence your findings.

But to make and justify an investment in social collaboration technology, you have to start somewhere; the hypothesis (better collaboration should lead to happier employees and customers, and therefore untold riches) will take you only so far.  But all social media is not created equal. Following are three core principles to keep in mind when measuring the business impact of social collaboration.

#1: The Exchange of Value is Reversed 

When we interact with a brand, we are free, independent, and hold all the cards. We may be influenced by our peers, but we don’t have to be. It’s our choice. And we are the buyer; of goods, services, information. But when we interact with an employer, different dynamics come into play. We are, let’s be honest, in a different kind of power relationship. In many states, we are at-will employees. The exchange of value is reversed. We are the goods, and the employer is the buyer. So we don’t have the same independence that we do as consumers.

Point #2: Identity is Known and Constant

On the Internet, your identity is fluid. You can use your real name on Facebook, a handle on Twitter and a different handle altogether on Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. It’s challenging for companies to determine who you are, because there is no universal social login. Identity can be as transparent as a first-initial-last-name Twitter handle (@setlinger), as confusing as in the Manti T’eo affair, or completely anonymous. Companies like Janrain, which provides user management and social login services, have made a business out of helping businesses better understand user identity. But in an organization, your identity is known and constant. There’s nowhere to hide.

Point #3: Roles are More Stable

As a consumer, I may be reading the news one minute, shopping for my family the next, and then making business travel plans.  Every organization I interact with has a different view of my journey and interests. While employees play different roles within an organization, they tend to have a job focus, be it marketing, compliance, product development or sales. Their role is more stable, and the content they engage with is driven partly by their job description.

For that reason, concepts like “engagement” and “relevance” take on a different meaning when you’re acting as an employee rather than as a consumer. While we always want to promote engagement, the meaning of engagement may vary dramatically depending on the person’s role within the organization. Someone in product development or training may produce and share a lot of content, while someone in HR or compliance may simply consume it. Does that mean that HR and compliance are not as “engaged?” Not at all. It simply means that their need for collaboration varies according to their role.

Charlene Li’s “Making the Business Case for Enterprise Social Networks” includes an excellent framework on page 13 to help you understand how social collaboration creates value for organizations. Here are some thought-starter questions based on her framework meant to inform your thinking about what to measure:

Encourage Sharing

  • Does participation in social collaboration correlate with employee satisfaction?
  • Does it promote best practices that lead to quality improvement?
  • Does it correlate to reductions in issue resolution time?
  • Does it correlate to an improvement in audit scores or other measures of risk reduction?

Capture Knowledge

  • Does collaboration shorten learning curves and/or training time?
  • Does it lead to reductions in onboarding time?
  • Does it translate to competitive advantage?
  • Does it reduce operational costs and better leverage employee talent?

Enable Action

  • Does it correlate to improvement in top-line revenue via customer retention?
  • Does it enable process improvements that lead to reduced costs?
  • Does it help speed products or services to market?

Empower People

  • Does participation correlate with employee loyalty?
  • Does more collaboration correlate with stronger employee performance and/or promotions?
  • Does it correlate with advances in innovation?

We are just scratching the surface of social media and enterprise social measurement, but I hope this spurs your thinking about the value of social collaboration to your organization. As always, I value your comments and contributions.

About susanetlinger

Industry Analyst at Altimeter Group
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4 Responses to Three Principles for Measuring the Value of Enterprise Social Networks

  1. Re. Point #2: I basically agree that your identity is a constant within a company. However, I see a tendency for “corporate identities” becoming more fluid. You are no longer a name and a number in the phone directory, you are increasingly defined by all your external identities as well.

    A bit schizophrenic? Rather the opposite. Our composite identities make up a whole person and that person is the same before, during and after your tenure at a given company.


  2. Pingback: Three Principles for Measuring the Value of Enterprise Social Networks | Dave B's Collaboration in Organisations |

  3. As you summarize your blog entry: we’re just at the beginning. I’m not sure if all the quantitative measurements that social collaboration platforms offer today are helpful at all. They set the focus of management in a wrong direction. Thanks for sharing Charlenes valuable insights


  4. Pingback: Enterprise Social Media – It’s Personal | Product Interfaces

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