Why should I care about Social Media ROI

I’ve seen a few posts recently raising the issues of Social Media ROI again:

And they have got me thinking about whether I (or we) should really have to worry whether social media tools will actually make a return on investment or return on impact? I do get the feeling we have all been here before and yet we are still talking about what we know is wrong!

Part of my thinking and reasoning also comes from why some parts of the public sector ban access to these tools – as a result of narrow thinking and policy making which in my opinion is flawed and demonstrates a short-sighted view of not just technology but of people.

All to often I hear people talking about Social Media as if it offered intrinsic value, when in fact the opposite is true.  Social Media is in fact extrinsic value – The value only comes from when you do something with it – An empty social networking platform is an empty social networking platform.

Maybe I am missing the point somewhere along the lines but for me where is the “value” in me measuring something that intrinsically offers no value? If I take a view that “outcomes” are key then surely I should be measuring the outcomes directly and this implies that i understand my current performance in the area where I have deployed a new set of tools and processes aimed at improving the outcomes. After all, if I wasn’t looking at Social Media I’d still have to understand whether the outcomes have improved.

I’d also need to measure the productivity and performance of those people using these tools. Combining these two aspects will provide me with a view of whether or not a particular set of tools as well as changes in process etc have made people more productive, perform better and improve the overall outcomes. For me just because a member of staff has access to a corporate twitter account and Facebook page, doesn’t make them more effective or efficient, for some people it may make them less efficient. Either the wrong tools for the job or a lack of training to use the tools appropriately and effectively.

I’m reminded of what I blogged about this time last year – 1 rule and 6 steps to embracing Social Media in Local Government

Rule Number One:

Don’t focus on the technology, technology itself doesn’t do anything, their is a saying that we use in my council “there is no such thing as an IT project, their are only business projects”. The key message here is YOU need to focus on business problems and issues and if social media tools are part of the solution then great. But don’t force social media where it isn’t needed or wanted. To put it another way, try using a social media tool that offers you no value for me something like friendfeed is that tool, i don’t get it or understand it, so i don’t use it, at this point in time it doesn’t solve any problem i have.

This also aligns with a view that I have taken on the issue of banning access. I have heard people say in the past that social media will encourage people to mess about and essentially become poor performers. When I believe that the opposite is true here also. Social Media will simply amplify poor performers and if councils open up access they will have a method of identifying poor performers and those staff who abuse the use and access to those sites.  I remember that when we went through this process a colleague asked me to ensure that our policy was robust enough to ensure that if staff misused and abused access they could be disciplined accordingly. I couldn’t agree more with this but I didn’t share the same motives.

So I guess what I’m saying is we should focus on the outputs and outcomes and also look at the performance and productivity of staff. If we focus less on technology it will actually become more useful and start to offer more value. I shouldn’t have to care about Social Media at all – should I?