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Social Enterprise ROI: Measuring the Immeasurable - Page 3

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But alas, we simply do not have the data yet. We are living in fast-paced times with three hard challenges between us and meaningful ROI analysis for social business.

  1. We do not know what to measure.
  2. We do not know how to measure it
  3. We do not know when to measure it.

Fortunately we are not the first people to have such problems. We can look to other fields of knowledge and see how they’ve handled it. Epidemiology (among others) relies primarily on statistical correlations to begin to discern cause and effect, and create hypotheses to be proven or un by other methods.

We will likely have to go big and look at extent of social business adoption (which assumes we can roughly define it) and corporate performance over time. We’ll have to sort out which corporate performance indicators are most often affected, after what time period. We’ll have to create cause and effect hypotheses, which we’ll then have to go prove - much like Esther Duflo did in this TED talk on using economic theory to prove or disprove the efficacy of poverty alleviation efforts.

So in the long term, we’ve moved our challenge from figuring out how to measure how social business works, to correlating the adoption of social business to traditional corporate outcomes. Ok — now how do we start working through this correlation. Anyone? Help?

In the short term, we look for patterns — that is for clusters of activity to show up, or for an indication that when x happens, y usually also happens, or cycles — a leads to b leads to c. A person who reads x tends to also read y. A person that contributes p generally sees q changes in outcome.

We may not yet know if they are sustainable, scalable or even beneficial, but we are learning to identify patterns, we are learning what those patterns have to teach us. We are building maturity models and benchmarks that help us look at our own initiatives alongside anecdotal success stories. And we continue to build our vision of what the ideal state looks like and our pathway from here to there.

The best is yet to come.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:

About the Author

Deb Lavoy has been studying the dynamics, culture and technology of collaborative teams and knowledge transfer for 12 years, while working in product marketing and strategy for companies as diverse as AOL and Adobe. She is currently Director of Product Marketing for Social Media at OpenText.

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