For the past two years, the Sphinx Riddle for social media proponents has been ROI. Despite whatever compelling arguments we had for social media in the enterprise, failure to answer this question in a way that satisfied the cross-armed skeptic was pretty destructive to our cases.
Back in 2005, I used to reply with glib answers like, "the same as the ROI on a press release or a telephone line or an email account." This pleased those who already agreed with me on social media. But it did little to persuade the doubters. I knew that but it was the best I could do.
But the answer started getting better in the last year. Monitor and measurement tools ranging from Google Analytics to Radian6 came in to being and started providing relevant and accurate data. ROI thinkers came to realize that the ROI would vary from one social media project to the next. Peter Reiser architect of SunSpace a behind-the-firewall social network for 15,000 Sun engineers said the ROI was in the shared knowledge that eliminated the technologist's compunction to reinvent wheels with every new project. The reduced time to market delivered to the bottom line. Kami Huyse determined that an old-fashioned exit poll could determine increased revenues and reduced cost to realize that revenue for a new ride at SeaWorld.
ROI is not a resolved issue, but, in more and more cases. I think that is a big part f the heartening results to a new Awareness Study that says 69 % of businesses now allow social media projects compared with 37% a year ago.
Business decision makers are more prone than ever to use social media for conversations with constituents. I think this will accelerate during the troubled economic times that are blowing in on us very much like Ike did to Houston--relentlessly and unavoidably. Social Media is low cost and it lets you engage customers in ways that you won't be able to do with advertising as budget after budget gets cut.
in my world, there's a new question that seems to be emerging. It is one that like ROI before it, seems simple but is in fact quite complex. I have been asked about scalability in at least a half dozen conversations in the past few weeks. The issue was amplified for me during my recent interview with Francois Gossieaux told me that the issue of scalability was his biggest surprise [go to his #3 answer] during his extensive research for his Tribalization of Business Report.
Scalability is an issue for anyone who introduces something new online and wants to grow. It was true for the pioneers who predate social media like ICQ [LINK], for the Stanford start up team for a search engine called Google. It was true for the college project that is now Facebook and so on. The technology that you start with may not be right for large scale. The people that begin it may not be the right people to run it on a large scale. The costs you start with may not fill the petty cash box a year hence.
I'm thinking about scalability today exclusively in the enterprise. As Francois, so adeptly pointed out, Most social networks and social media projects begin as enterprise skunkworks operation. A small band of zealots are awarded a small handful of chump change and are told to go ff somewhere and not bother anyone. But increasingly the skunkworks team comes back with something that smells like roses and grows like blackberry bushes. Roses are things of beauty, blackberries provide useful fruits, but they are prone to growing uncontrollably.
As enterprise social networks grow, they gain significant value to the enterprise--if the enterprise will allow it. This requires great resources than a company will allocate to a Throwaway project that does not fit into the corporate org chart, that does not have a fiscal line of reporting.
I'm basically a skunkworks kind of guy. I like to be outside of the corporate mainstream. But there is simply no way social networks, as they grow can stay far away from the center of the enterprise. Thousands upon thousands of a company's ecosystem and employees; customers and prospects, vendors and investors are spending more and more time in these social media outlets. Larger staffs and budgets are needed and with them come closer scrutiny and increased management controls.
Francois thinks that social media should fall under the realm of the chief marketing officer and that the CMO's title will change. Personally, I'm not so sure. I tend to see SM under the purview of the top communications officer.
In closer thinking, neither may be right for what is going to emerge as a larger and larger corporate role. The CMO's I know are interested in transactional marketing functionality--the number of clickthroughs in a banner ad, the number of leads at a trade show. My Communications officer is often from a PR background as I am. But all too often they see social media as a "hits" business, looking at visitors or comments the way they used to add up circulations from covering press.
In fact, scalability may not even be the right term for the emerging issue. KD Paine, one of my favorite thinkers on issues like these told me, "I think scalability is one thing and sustainability is the other side of the coin."
Scalability or sustainability. For me, at this time, the name of it is a whatever issue. But the issue itself may best define the most pressing pain point for enterprise social media thinkers.
If you have some insights or experiences on this issue, please continue this conversation. It is only just starting and I believe a lot more need be said before anyone feels we are close to resolution.