Unfortunately, this is the most common question I get asked. I say unfortunately because, in my view, the obsession with this question reflects the sorry state of business and government today – namely, if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. We are driving quality, innovation and creativity out of our businesses and institutions in favour of quantity. It has been shown again and again that our obsession with targets simply perverts activities to meet those targets at the expense of doing something useful or meaningful.
Anyway, rant over, back to the original question. If you’re expecting a neat answer to the ROI question, it’s probably best to quit here and go back to whatever you were doing two minutes ago – provided it was legal of course!
My rather messy and frustratingly incomplete answer to this question is:
- Don’t spend lots of money and people won’t harass you for pointless justifications – this stuff is cheap to do … if you’re not doing it cheaply then you’ve probably lost your way somewhere.
- If asked for financial ROI by some senior manager, I would ask them: Would you rather our employees were connected or disconnected? Would you rather we did things once and reused that effort or did it multiple times in different geographical locations? Would you rather know what our employees think and how they feel, or would you rather ignore them and let the grapevine and rumour-mill corrode employee engagement? Do you want the brightest young talent to join our organisation in the future, or would you rather they joined our competitors? Did we measure the ROI of our telephone system or e-mail or were the benefits so blatantly obvious we just deployed them!? etc. etc. etc.
- This is going to happen anyway … in fact, this is happening already (the BT Facebook network now has over 10,976 people in it and rising) … now is the time to decide if you want to be one step ahead, or one step behind.
- You can spend months arguing the toss over whether or not to try this out, or you can just give it a try … sometimes, ‘the only form of transportation is a leap of faith’!
My experience is that senior managers who are afraid of social software hide behind pointless ROI arguments. Senior managers who get it, make it happen without endless hoops and hurdles – if you’re faced with the former, then you’re probably talking to the wrong person. Try someone else …
If no one will listen, then just do it anyway … inspirational leaders be the change they want to see, they don’t wait for permission … did Muhammad Yunus give up on micro-credit because everyone told him the poor weren’t credit-worthy??
I know this isn’t the language of accountancy and I know this might seem a daunting prospect in your organisation … but you can try this very simply and cheaply and on a small scale and you will see benefits very quickly.
My last bit of advice is … take it one step at a time and proceed until apprehended! :-)
Related post: Top tips for launching social media in the enterprise