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

Enterprise social technology can help accelerate change and drive business value, but it can be hard to engage executives about this topic. If you want business executives to pay attention, you need to be talking about enabling existing business processes—the critical activities that drive your business. Susan Hanley, author of Essential SharePoint 2013: Practical Guidance for Measurable Business Results , shows you how it’s all about the (business) case.
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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.

While there are many organizations driving value and delivering impressive productivity improvements with enterprise social technologies, I still talk to a lot of organizations that are not quite ready for a conversation about enterprise social. This may be due to the fact that a lot of the talk about enterprise social focuses on concepts that are difficult to measure, such as “collaborative working” and “employee engagement.” Of course you want to enable collaboration and improve engagement—not wanting this would be like saying that you don’t like motherhood or apple pie! But, if you want business executives to pay attention, you need to be talking about enabling existing business processes—the critical activities that drive your business.

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. 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 the industries they studied 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 return on investment, the fact that enterprise social makes it easier to find information means that workers can focus onmore meaningful actions and other higher value tasks.

All of 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 there are often many possible barriers to participation, finding the critical moments of engagement—the critical activities that drive your business—are the best place to start.

When it comes to engaging executives about the benefits 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.”

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.

Look at the scenarios in your organization where people collaborate today. Where are those interactions or processes especially challenging? Where are there bottlenecks or processes with a lot of exceptions? 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 technology is and what it does, to how you are going to solve a specific business problem.

Challenging, Time-Consuming Processes: Onboarding New Sales Reps

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 identified key performance indicators (KPIs). To introduce social tools to a sales manager, start with a conversation about how you can help the manager streamline the onboarding and sales training processes. Show how you can reduce the overall time required to get a new sales person to the delivering revenue stage of the onboarding 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.” The focus is on introducing how the technology can positively influence challenging business processes and work patterns that are important to the sales manager.

Processes with Lots of Exceptions: Customer Service

This past year, I had the privilege of serving as a judge for the Step Two 2015 Intranet Innovation Awards. One of the submissions included a great example of the value of having an enterprise social network. This organization had a stuffed donkey toy that they used as a promotional giveaway in 2009. In 2014, a customer posted on the organization’s Facebook site that this was a favorite toy of her 5-year-old child and it had gotten lost. She wondered if there was a way to get a replacement. A customer service representative saw the request and posted something about it on the internal social network. Within short time, the problem was solved, a replacement was found, and it was sent to the child. Though hard to measure in dollars, the value is pretty easy to measure in terms of the value to the parent and his potential goodwill.

Challenging Interactions: Gathering Feedback About Product Design

British Airways recently achieved a major milestone in its deployment of Yammer—one million posts. When their employees got their first look at the new Airbus A380 airplane, their internal network was buzzing with excitement. However, some member of the cabin crew identified possible improvements to the layout of the galley area. One crew member even sketched out an improved layout and posted it online. The engineering team back in Wales was tracking the network comments and was able to incorporate and act on the feedback in a matter of days.

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.

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 may be available or easily accessible “out of the box” from the enterprise social software. 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 insights that you gain. And, be sure to supplement metrics that you can count with stories like the ones in this article. Stories are how humans communicate, and if you can provide executives with examples of “value stories” from their business group, you will be far more likely to gain an advocate who can help drive adoption.

Come Back to the Case

Measurement is critical for enterprise social technologies. 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. 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 measuring the value of enterprise social, it’s all about the case!

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