Proving the ROI of social technologies is arguably the most pressing issue in the industry today. Senior executives are now demanding to see how the use of social media is actually making a difference to their organisations, and with some justification. After all, the number of Twitter followers does little to directly impact a companies bottom line.
So yes, social businesses have to prove the financial benefits of turning an organisation social. It has to tie in the benefits of social with the aims and objectives of the organisation as a whole. I think there are few in the industry now that who would dispute this, yet there is a danger that in all of this rush to prove the financial value of social business, we forget that a fundamental benefit of using social tools is to help improve relationships between people. It’s to literally help them to be sociable with each other.
While it’s pretty well understood that if you want to see the best results from any social initiative, you have to focus on the people – more so than the technology – many of these people-oriented improvements have been very businesslike. They’ve been about improving collaboration or allowing us to share knowledge better.
What shouldn’t be underestimated, however, is the simple ability for social tools to help us understand each other better. Y’know, just to help us all get along that little bit more than we previously did. A study by FedEx and Ketchum recently came to that very conclusion.
They found that the use of social technologies in the workplace had a positive impact not just on relationships between employees, but between the company and the public, the company and clients, and the company and suppliers. It helped deepen and improve those very human relationships that we can often take for granted. This is social media, after all.
It seems at times that people focus on the “media” part more than the “social”, and use the tools as another medium to push messages out. This approach kinda dehumanises what should be a wonderfully humane platform. If we focus too heavily on determining financial ROI we risk the same thing and those very important and very real human interactions get lost amid the numbers.
While determining the financial return of social business will always be critical if it’s to achieve it’s goal of reorienting corporate behaviour, we shouldn’t forget to focus on those real human stories that folks know and love.