Where has all the Social gone…?

Do you wonder where all the interest in social went? Once the hottest trend since sliced bread, interest in social definitely dissipated.

Based on my client conversations and research, I surmise that because enterprise social networking tools could be used for so many purposes, their value seemed nebulous and elusive.

Advocates of social initiatives who wanted to ‘open up’ their organisations to a new style of working had trouble convincing the decision makers who held the purse strings that such investments would prove valuable.

Senior managers got hung up on asking for ROI or specifics on what savings they would realize if something that could be counted like phone calls, emails, or meetings were reduced.

This line of questioning misses two key points about social:

* Social is a style of working, not the endgame

* You can’t ROI the future

First, let’s look at social as a style of working. Workers don’t ‘hang out’ in enterprise social networks because they have nothing better to do. They use the tools if they see an improvement in how they get their work done.

All of the successful social initiatives we studied were developed for very specific, compelling purposes and make it easier for people to have the interactions necessary to complete their work better, faster, more easily, with less effort and the like.

All of the ‘it’s social so people will use it’ initiatives deployed with no specific purpose in mind became ghost towns or dating sites.

Second, trying to do ROI calculations on social initiatives is generally a waste of time. Yes, we need to be fiscally responsible and try to determine the business outcome or value from our investments. But the reality is that you can’t ROI the future.

By definition, if you are trying something that’s never been done before, you have no baseline to use for measuring ROI. And that’s the point. You should be trying something new and different when what you are doing now needs more than an incremental tweak – it needs a radical do over (or at least a do over).

The experiment – because that’s what it is – should be carefully planned and executed so that even if the results are less fruitful than you hoped, you can salvage the learnings to improve the odds of being more successful next time.

This is what people in the innovation business call ‘the freedom to fail.’

Enterprise social networking sites design to serve specific purposes like:

* improve knowledge reuse among call center workers so more calls get resolve with the first customer interaction, or

* speed up the sale reps’ ability to get an RFP response to a prospect so they can close more deals and help people get their work done.

No engaged employee has the time or desire to waste time on social systems that are pointless distractions. Unfortunately, few organisations realise exactly how much work employees carry out where interaction with colleagues is not just desirable, it is critical to completing the work.

This has to change. Otherwise, we’ll build digital workplaces that are just as ineffectual as the social media initiatives that preceded them.

Good luck…

By Carol Rozwell – Analyst, Gartner

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