In my last post (Making Money Off Social Media: Nothing Else Matters), I used Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI as a jumping off point to argue that the only reason a business should get involved in social media is to generate more revenue, increase margins, or save money (or some combination of the three). And actually, there’s nothing peculiar to social media in all this: In general, businesses do stuff in order to influence (directly or indirectly) one of these three things.

My original plan for the current post was to dive deeper into Blanchard’s approach to demonstrating ROI, which is fantastic (you can find it in Chapter 15 of the book). But I had a conversation in the last week that inspired me to address ROI from another angle altogether…

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

I was talking with someone responsible for Enterprise 2.0 at a Fortune 200 organization, and they were describing the reasons why this particular organization got involved in E2.0. And as they talked, it became apparent that they were doing E2.0 just to do E2.0. They had bought a bazillion licenses of a collaboration platform a year ago, had deployed the solution, made it available to the entire organization, and were now focused almost exclusively on driving adoption.

But when I asked what the success criteria for the E2.0 program were, they had difficulty articulating much beyond, “getting as many people to use the collaboration platform as possible.”

Adoption Doesn’t Equal Success

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to drive up adoption -- you definitely want lots of folks using these tools in your organization. You paid good money for them, after all.

But adoption in and of itself is only a waypoint on the path to ROI, not an end. All the folks adopting your E2.0 solution need to be doing work that in some way generates more revenue, increases margins or saves money, otherwise the great adoption rates have little demonstrable impact on the organization.

Connecting the Dots

What you’ve got to do in order to make adoption of an E2.0 tool meaningful to corporate leadership is to show them what it gets them. But be careful: They will not really care about things like more knowledge sharing or less time searching for information and so on. Like adoption, these are merely stops on the path to ROI.

What your corporate leadership cares about is things that help them achieve their stated goals, which, as you might expect, are things that they believe will lead to generating more revenue, increasing margins or saving money (or all three).

Now, if you’ve taken a look at corporate strategic goals recently, you’ll notice that they tend to be very high-level and pretty much motherhood and apple pie. You see things like, grow the business, remain competitive, foster operational agility, and so on.

But if you go down a level to the objectives that the divisional leaders have adopted to help the organization do all the motherhood and apple pie stuff the C-level folks cooked up, you often hit ROI pay dirt.

Here you’ll typically find actionable things like develop improved onboarding process to increase retention among new hires, retire legacy transactional systems by Q4 2012, or decrease turnaround time for sales proposals by 10%.

These are precisely the kinds of objectives that you can use to connect the dots between how folks will use your E2.0 tools and the impact they will have on the organization.

  • A collaboration platform can be used to enable an improved onboarding process or improve how the sales team works on proposals.
  • New E2.0 tools can replace older legacy tools or be a place to capture tribal knowledge about these systems and what they do to facilitate their replacement (or both).

The Final Word

By taking the time to push beyond effects like greater adoption or improved knowledge sharing, you’ll reach meaningful goals that your corporate leadership cares about. It will provide the context required to appreciate the successes you’re having on the ground and put you in a better position to be seen as part of the foundation of the organization -- not a bad place to be.

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