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Why Business Value Is Difficult to Measure

It is universally understood that measuring social collaboration is difficult — and that most (if not all) organizations struggle with it.

Part of the problem is that most people don’t have a clear picture of what they should be measuring. Is the goal to track activity? How does this translate into adoption? And because more people are logging in week to week, does that mean my employees are collaborating more, or that they are more productive?

Business value in social is easier to measure with Beezy

As many have discovered, treating internal social collaboration like your external website is not the answer. Social needs more thoughtful measurement than a common website. For social collaboration to become effective (be it SharePoint, Yammer, Tibbr, IBM Connections — whatever), it must also become measurable, repeatable, and optimized against your business requirements. Because that’s the key: aligning the technology with the business.

In the never-ending search for improving customer adoption and engagement — which social promises, and I do believe can deliver — the difficulty for most (if not all) organizations is demonstrating business value amidst all of the marketing and promises of OEMs and vendors.

While most of us enjoy playing with new technology, there must be some kind of connection to business processes. There needs to be a direct correlation between collaboration (people working better together) and both qualitative (interactions are more frequent and more engaged, and users like it) and quantitative data (quicker connections, find people and content faster).

Far too many social tools out in the echo chamber talk about features, but cannot seem to demonstrate their ability to drive business action. In fact, it is a sure-fire way to identify a technology trend. As people swarm around a new technology, the perceived value jumps up, but then quickly recedes when business value is not achieved. Unfortunately, some great technology falls into this same pattern if not deployed and positioned correctly.

Defining the return on investment of social collaboration is an important topic that is missing from every vendor pitch. A couple years back, Microsoft worked with author and social collaboration influencer Mark Fidelman (@markfidelman) to create a whitepaper on this very topic (The Rise of Enterprise Social Networks). The paper does a great job at defining the qualitative benefits, but lacks guidance on the quantitative benefits — which is where organizations will more accurately track the business benefits of social collaboration. People are looking for practical guidance on building key performance indicators (KPIs) around their social activities, helping them to demonstrate to their management, and their employees, that social will deliver on its promises.

Social has the ability to pull together ideas, discussions, and activities from across internal groups — which would otherwise sit in data silos, such as email, or even restricted SharePoint groups or sites. The promise of social tools is to unlock data silos by including everyone in the dialog, flattening hierarchies, and allowing people to join a discussion and share expertise that may or may not be part of their current job descriptions. This kind of unstructured collaboration allows teams to create, and maintain, a threaded conversation synchronously (in real-time) or asynchronously (which is great for working with teams in different time zones or who travel extensively) so that everyone has a chance to participate. Inside of Beezy, for example, I’m seeing comments and conversations that took place months ago suddenly re-emerge as someone searches for a topic, finds the threaded discussion, and adds a spark to start it again, leveraging what was old for something new.

But are we supposed to simply accept this anecdotal evidence for improved collaboration, and go with our gut feel that social collaboration is good for business? Or is enterprise social something that can be measured?

The two most common KPIs discussed in this context are Adoption and Engagement, but most approach even these concepts simplistically. Tracking the number of unique visitors only tells you so much. What did they actually do while on the site? Engagement is more than just time spent within the social environment. How many times did they comment, share content, upload content, Like something, rate it or otherwise engagement in social activity? Even if you have robust measurements in place to capture these movements, how well are you able to track this activity over time (to watch trending) — or correlate this data to changes you’ve made to the platform, new features you’ve added, or other steps to encourage stronger collaboration?

Very few organizations have even begun to look at social collaboration at this depth, but that is where the industry must go to show the business benefits of social. Social should enable tighter communication across the team, it should have context, and it should be able to demonstrate business value. Microsoft certainly understands this, and is making investments in Delve Analytics to help organizations gain a better understanding of how the tools within Office 365 are (or are not) making employees more productive.

Of course, here at Beezy we are also interested in helping our customer achieve repeatable and measurable business value from our collaboration solutions. Find out how by contacting us at info@beezy.net today!

Christian Buckley

Christian Buckley

Chief Marketing Officer for Beezy. Passionate about all things collaboration & social. Office365 MVP.

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