Earlier this year IT Business Edge's Ken-Hardin wrote a post about how hard it is to quanitfy the benefits of social media. It's frustrating for companies and will likely remain so, since some of the benefits just might not be quantifiiable. And boy, does that make business people crazy, wrote Ken:
... That's the quandary with social media in general-it's next to impossible to quantify what's going on with social media, and business, being the boring and greedy entity that it is, loves quantity. If you can't put it in a spreadsheet, it may be real, but it is still not as real.
For many (if not most) companies, the use of social media ultimately comes down to whether it helps them make money. But how can it do that? I was taken aback by this comment from Jeffrey Kalmikoff, chief creative officer of Chicago-based indie T-shirt company Threadless, which has attracted more than 1 million buyers and designers for its T-shirts largely through social-media channels:
Nobody has any idea of what they're doing on social media. It's just how comfortable your company is in taking risk. Some things can pay off; some things can fall flat.
A BusinessWeek article makes many of the same points. Writes Stephen Baker:
Critics complain that many of the new experts have adopted an orthodoxy that provides little flexibility for differing situations -- or outcomes. Their pronouncements follow a rigid gospel: Be transparent, engage with your customers, break down silos. Yet these strictures don't always make business sense.
Later in the story, James Cooper, digital creative director of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, likens social-media campaigns to venture capital: A relatively small number yield huge payoffs, many are average at best and some are complete failures.
Ed Moran, director of product innovation at Deloitte and one of the authors of the second annual "Tribalization of Business" survey, which examines how companies use online communities and social media, offered a key piece of advice when I interviewed him in October. Establishing specific goals for their social-media efforts will help companies determine what to measure and what success will look like. A lack of clear-cut goals can lead companies to focus on the wrong things. Because they are easy to measure, companies often focus on page views and similar activity. Yet page views aren't always a good thing. Said Moran:
If you think about it, if you have a support site, you don't want a lot of page views and people spending a lot of time on the site. You want them to come in, get their problem solved and get out. That is why you are starting to see buttons on sites that say, "Was your problem solved?" You need to figure out if you delivered the needed information in the fewest number of keystrokes. That's the right kind of thinking. Sometimes it's not about activity.
My biggest takeaway from Moran's interview was that companies need to make social media a holistic part of their business strategies. In most companies, social media is handled almost exclusively by marketing. Yet teams from product development, technical support, human resources and other areas can also benefit, and so should offer input. For example, one Deloitte client has been able to cut its call center volumes by addressing many support questions online and to adjust call center staffing to better troubleshoot issues first identified online.