E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Commenting further on ROI and Social Computing – Part II

As a follow up from yesterday’s weblog post, here is the second part of the series on commenting further on ROI and Social Computing from the various blog comments that people have been leaving in a couple of recent articles I have put together. This time around commenting on the incredibly helpful insights shared over at Making the Business Case for Social Computing – Part Deux. There are quite a few thoughts in there, so without much further ado, let’s get down to it. Then over the course of the next few days I shall be sharing over here some further insights from various different blog posts that have been linking to this blog so far on this very same subject.

So here we go. First, you would be able to find the really good comments from Frank Jania, where he is introducing an equation that truly brings forward a new way to define ROI, imo, perhaps in a much more meaningful way, for Social Computing: "work(now) + delta = work(later)". At the same time he puts together a very relevant example of how social software has worked for him being able to collaboratively work with another colleague to win a deal with a customer that otherwise would not have happened since they both didn’t know each out outside of that social networking context.

While I do think that it is a really good approach, I am not totally convinced, and perhaps that is because of my own perception of how I see social software and social computing in general. I am not sure about you folks, but to me, social computing is all about relationships, i.e. being able to build, nurture and mature them, both in a personal and business levels. Content is a by-product. An important one, indeed, but a by-product. What really matters with social software is its capability to help knowledge workers connect with one another, so that they are able to build further those relationships through those conversations and interactions.

Then whatever gets shared is not really that much important as far as the content is concerned, because in most cases, a good chunk of that content will be considered social capital and to me this is where the key to a successful and meaningful ROI for social computing is going to be: find a way to measure that social capital, if there is any. That is why although I agree with Frank’s commentary, I still feel it is not part of the complete picture. So, yes, the conversation is started and will continue further from there, but let’s try to bring what we really need to bring into the overall discussion: those relationships.

A follow up comment from that one came from Atul Rai, once more, where he sees the need to be able to figure out a mechanism to measure it anyway, more than anything else because the CFOs need to decide in the end what the deal would be. And his comments are very much along the lines of what Olivier Amprimo (From Headshift) mentions, where he details some of the reasons why traditional KM failed to deliver, along with the additional commentary on what I also feel needs to happen with ROI: That is, needs to evolve over time. And not just remain static like it has all along, which is the main reason why I am not saying that we should get rid of it, but that we should augment what we already and make it much more relevant to the current business environment (Something that Dennis Howlett seems to agree with as well).

And, to me, here is the key question to make it all work. As far as I can see, in my short experience of 10 years working in the IT industry, ROI has always been having pretty much a command-and-control, top-down flavour to it, where both processes and tools are the heart of the matter as far as figuring out such ROI that CFOs would need. Now, if we are saying that social software is all about the people, about relationships, about conversations, about bottom-up, where does that leave us in the current business environment with more and more enterprises continue with their adoption of social software both inside and outside of the corporate firewall? Is the current ROI then representative enough to make it work? I am not sure what you would think, but I don’t think so…

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  1. I don’t see a way of getting away from the ROI discussion but I think one of the flaws is you seem to be over complicating the problem. On one thing I will disagree. Once you get beyond Trojan mouse implementations then bottom up doesn’t work. Thats’ the pint where you need the top down buy-in. If that happens then the ROI case should be easier to identify. I say should because what might seem intuitively obvious to you and I is not going to be so in the culturally different CFOs office.

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