Clear ROI or Not, Social Technologies Can Solve Business Problems

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Why Half of All Social Media Initiatives Fail

Avoid these 10 social media pitfalls.

Last summer I wrote a post in which I made the point that millennials' idea of a great workplace isn't so different from their older colleagues. Still, plenty of people (including me) think there are some fundamental differences between millennials and us older folks, ones that often result in taking different approaches to work.


So it was a bit of a surprise to see millennials share some key similarities with executives, including a fondness for Web applications. A survey of knowledge workers and executives, sponsored by Jive Software, found 77 percent of executives and 51 percent of millennials have downloaded at least one Web application to use at work, using either a mobile device or a PC. (The survey also included "general" and presumably older knowledge workers, but Jive didn't break out their responses.)


Ninety-two percent of executives and 82 percent of millennials believe work-related Web apps greatly or somewhat increased their productivity, and 58 percent of them (executives and millennials alike) did not seek or receive permission from a systems administrator or an IT professional before downloading or using these apps. Interesting that both groups show a similar willingness to circumvent official IT channels to enhance their personal productivity.


The survey also shows all respondents expressing a conviction that social software will become a necessary part of doing business. Sixty-two percent of respondents think businesses must leverage social software inside and outside their organizations to remain competitive.


Another statistic that caught my attention: 53 percent of executives believe they must adopt social business or risk falling behind. I agree that companies that ignore social are likely to suffer competitive disadvantages. This fear of falling behind can be an impetus to consider social technologies. But it shouldn't be a reason to adopt them.


Earlier this year I wrote that companies that adopt social technologies simply because other companies appear to be doing so probably won't be very successful with their social initiatives. Companies should first examine their existing processes and determine how social technologies can improve them.


Sixty-two percent of executive respondents to the Jive survey mentioned social's ability to achieve "better customer loyalty and service levels," and 57 percent think social can drive "increased revenue or sales." But companies will need to move beyond these vague goals to come up with more specific potential use cases.


One thing companies probably shouldn't do, however, is become so focused on attaining a hard return on investment that they miss opportunities to use social to solve problems. Writing for InformationWeek, Chess Media Group principal Jacob Morgan notes that in a series of five in-depth enterprise collaboration case studies his company produced with Booz Allen Hamilton, none of the participating organizations was able to offer a projected ROI. Yet all agreed enterprise collaboration technologies solved business problems, and doing so was a good enough reason to make the investment, even without a specific ROI. Morgan writes:


Those problems ranged from being able to communicate more effectively with employees to being able to find information more quickly to coming up with new ideas for products to decreasing intranet costs. The point is that all of these organizations made these investments with a clear purpose.