Talk about signs of the times! Lately, there’s been a rapidly growing number of posts declaring the need to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) in social software, but lamenting our inability to do so. Just today, I read three posts on the topic and noted that a fellow IBMer has launched an internal virtual event to brainstorm the issue and potential solutions.
My take on ROI of social software is pretty much along the lines of Jon Mell’s and Gia Lyons’ — don’t bother! Trying to demonstrate business value created by the deployment and use of collaboration tools, regardless of what label we use to describe them, is a misguided effort. Too much of the evidence is anecdotal and difficult, if not impossible, to translate into credible and compelling currency amounts.
I spent too much time around the Millennium trying to devise clever ways to show ROI on investments in software that supported knowledge management. I learned that it is fruitless to try to sell collaboration technology to an organization that does not want to collaborate — or is not ready to do so. Those types of organizations are very likely to demand a detailed business case demonstrating ROI on social software, or any other collaboration technology. It’s one of the ways they can maintain status quo and kill grassroots efforts to improve collaboration.
So let’s not spend countless manhours trying to develop metrics that will help us demonstrate ROI in social software. Better to spend the time, energy, and money qualifying and quantifying potential customers’ willingness and readiness to collaborate. Knowledge audits, Social Network Analysis, and other consulting services are what we should be selling to organizations that don’t understand the instrinsic value that collaboration software can produce. No business case will sell social software to a firm that doesn’t already value collaboration in its culture.