Category Archives: Chapters

Measuring Social Business Success

buslikeMany proposals for social business initiatives have been greeted with responses of “where’s the ROI?” from sceptics. But this is a somewhat simplistic argument to have. Yes, it is hard to measure the ROI of a vague proposal to “become a social business” or “connect with our employees”. But such poorly-defined projects are likely to fail anyway. Successful social business projects typically have more precise objectives.

For example, a company that has identified poor communication between sales and marketing teams as causing operational errors and inefficiencies might implement an enterprise social network to enable information sharing between these two departments. In theory, the success of a project like this should be easier to measure – the original premise was that communication was poor, so the same measurement criteria could be applied to assess the improvements a social network has delivered. But of course, in many cases, that initial premise of “poor communication” was a subjective assessment made without appropriate data. So it’s rather unfair to complain that a social business initiative can’t show measurable improvement to something you don’t measure anyway.

It is important to remember that social business projects should be a means to an end, not an end in themselves.  Our goal is better communication and collaboration between a company and its customers, between a company and its business partners, and between employees of the company, and in turn to improve the overall performance of the company. Enterprise social networks are a means of reaching that goal. So the the way we measure the effectiveness of these projects depends on the way we measure the business processes involved.

My favourite example of this comes from John Hagel of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in November 2011 he described how the agency that runs the bus services in a large US city had initially been interested in starting to use social software by creating a Facebook page for its passengers. But taking a step back and considering where social software could have most impact, it became clear that the biggest problem they faced was the time it took to repair an ageing fleet of buses. A major cause of this was the difficulty in finding parts from elsewhere in the organisation, because there was little exchange of information between distributed maintenance teams. So it was identified that social software could have a positive impact on the city’s finances by enabling better sharing of maintenance information and parts availability.

The video of John Hagel describing this is well worth watching to understand the way the relevance of social business to the organisation was analysed, and the right application identified. Once this sort of logic is applied, finding the right metrics becomes much easier. In this example, it’s the time taken to get buses back on the road, not the usual (and somewhat meaningless) count  of likes, shares and retweets.

This highlights the importance of choosing both the right business processes to apply social software to, and selecting the relevant data with which to measure their success.

10 Things You Should Measure During Your ESN Adoption
10 Things You Should Measure During Your ESN Adoption
Enterprise social networks generate a huge amount of valuable data, and I have often presented a list of “10 things you should measure during your enterprise social network adoption” (see graphic). But not all of these metrics are directly linked to every business objective for a social networking project. It requires an understanding of both the business process and the social network usage to be combined to deliver meaningful analysis.

For example, returning to John Hagel’s bus maintenance story, we might want to examine how network participation from each maintenance team correlates with repair times.  While data scientists will remind you that correlation does not imply causation, establishing a link between social network activity and real-world business metrics goes a long way to justifying the social business investment.

You may very well think that this sounds a lot more complicated than just measuring how many people reshare or like your content, and of course it is. It is something of a cliche to say that it’s hard to measure the return on investment of social business projects, but what this is really doing is exposing that these projects have not defined their relationship to important existing business metrics.

As this series has said many times already, for social business projects to succeed, they need to link to real work. Once this link is clear, measuring success is much less of a mystery than sceptics suggest.

Business Communication Courtesy Is A Waste Of Time

thankyouEvery week, one of my colleagues sends me an extract of social network activity data for me to analyse. Every week, I reply saying “thank you”; it’s just common courtesy. But each time I do it, I feel a little guilty for wasting a few moments of his time. I’m sure he already receives far too many messages, and I’m just adding to his information overload. He knows I’m grateful, because I say thank you every week. So why do I carry on doing it?

Similarly, when someone in the sales team closes a big deal, they often write a blog post about it on our company internal social network, and receive a long series of “congratulations” comments.

Rule 9 of the Email Charter encourages us to “Cut Contentless Responses”

You don’t need to reply to every email, especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” That just cost someone another 30 seconds.

It is tempting to classify all these thank yous and congratulations as “contentless responses” and draw the conclusion that courtesy is just a waste of the sender’s and recipient’s time. But is it? These responses may not have any “information value”, but they do have “social value”; everyone likes to feel appreciated, and that can translate to real business value by making the recipient feel better motivated.

But do we have “information value” and “social value” in the correct balance? Is your inbox full of messages that courtesy required, but you really didn’t need to see? And is there a more efficient way of maintaining social niceties without further burdening our inboxes?

One solution to this is using a content rating system, where readers of the content provide feedback about how useful the information was to them. Instead of creating another message for the author to read, the reader expresses gratitude via a Facebook-esque “like” or (preferably) something rather more sophisticated. This is an obvious area in which enterprise social networks are better than email. There is no way of indicating to the sender of an email that their message was valuable to you, or assessing whether others found it useful. But an enterprise social network typically allows every contribution to be rated in some way, and these ratings summarised to highlight the most popular or valuable content.

However, such feedback systems are also subject to the conventions of courtesy, or perhaps more accurately, the fear of causing offence.  The world of consumer social networking provides several examples of this. I recently read an article about a guy who bought an apartment solely to rent out on Airbnb. One of his conclusions was:

I don’t ever leave guests bad reviews in case they retaliate and leave me a bad review in turn. I don’t know how Airbnb can fix this, but the current review system is definitely broken.

Of course, this is nothing new – eBay suffered from precisely the same problem for years before they tightened their feedback process. And LinkedIn’s endorsement feature still seems to be overrun with entirely inaccurate endorsements, perhaps given in the hope of receiving something similar in return.

So for content feedback systems to be successful, they need a little more honesty and a little less courtesy than we typically see in business communication. My company’s enterprise social network, Clearvale, solicits feedback on content through a simple question, “was this helpful?” Yet people still (perhaps deliberately) misinterpret this question – on several occasions I have heard the justification that “it wasn’t helpful to me, but I’m sure it would be helpful to someone else, otherwise the author wouldn’t have posted it, so I voted ‘yes’”. However community-spirited and courteous this attitude is, it really doesn’t help. We should aim to use content feedback to work out which content is likely to be helpful to other people within the company. So if 10 people in the marketing department indicate something was useful, it would be reason to assume that other people in marketing might also find it useful. But if the finance department then votes something as useful based on the “wasn’t useful to me, but might be for others” approach, this sort of analysis becomes very difficult.

But still, like Airbnb and eBay users, employees are often reluctant to leave anything that can be perceived as negative feedback. In one month on our social network, there were 13638 “yes” answers to “was this helpful?” and only 262 “no” answers. The vast majority of network members never voted “no”.  This is why many organisations prefer simpler “like” mechanisms for rating content, but this really doesn’t solve the problem. It just leaves the author unable to tell the difference between a reader deliberately not “liking” because they didn’t find it useful and forgetting to express an opinion at all.

There are some curious cultural differences at work here. Everyone recognises the stereotype of the over-polite British diner in a restaurant complaining constantly to their friends about their meal, but when asked by the waiter if everything is OK, they’ll say “yes, great, thank you!” But in business communication, the British (and the rest of Europe) tend to be much more forthright in their criticisms than Americans or Asians. There are probably all sorts of factors in this, not least the relatively strong laws in Europe protecting employee rights. Without going into all of that, it’s important to recognise that different parts of a global organisation are likely to respond to a feedback system differently. When presented with a scale of 1-5 to rate something, it will be relatively rare for a British voter to give a 1 or 5 score, whereas an American typically has no such reservations.

An even bigger problem is people avoiding the issue by not using the content feedback system at all. During or after elections, it is often said that if you don’t vote, then you have no right to complain about the government that was elected. The same is true with business communication – don’t complain if you’re receiving irrelevant information if you didn’t provide honest feedback that accurately reflects how valuable content was to you.

Content feedback can go a long way to improving the efficiency of business communication by cutting out “contentless responses”. It gives the author a clear indication of how valuable their contribution is considered, without adding extra burden to their overflowing inbox. But to be successful, feedback systems need widespread participation, a little more honesty, and a little less courtesy.

Business Communication Karma

knowledgeshareAround ten years ago, I witnessed an argument between two colleagues over whether you could find the answer to any question via Google. “What are they building over there then?”, asked one of them, pointing out the window. Google provided the answer in less than a minute. It took the wisdom that only a small child has to shatter this illusion – several years later I told my son you could find the answer to anything on Google, only to be foiled with his very first question – “what’s for pudding?”

Google also struggles to answer some of the bigger questions in life, such as “is there life after death?”, “is there such thing as karma?” and  “are humans inherently selfish?”. While internet opinion is divided on all three questions, I think few would argue with the assertion that in the the context of this blog series, the answer to the last question is “yes”.

The vast majority of business communication is selfish. The content and audience for the message, and the channel through which it is sent is chosen by the sender, usually based on what’s best for them. This is equally true for external and internal communication, for email campaigns sent to customers and for discussions between employees.

Let’s be honest here, if you work in marketing and send out bulk emails, what percentage of the recipients do you think actually want to receive what you’ve sent? How many just haven’t got round to unsubscribing? And, inside the company, when you send an instant message to someone instead of an email, is it really because you need the answer right now? Did you consider the interruption you’ve just caused the recipient and decided it was important enough to justify, rather than send them the question via a less intrusive method like email? Someone started an instant message conversation with me the other day with the line “Hi Richard, sorry to interrupt you”, and it struck me how very rare it is for people to make such apologies.

If instant messaging is the ultimate in selfish communication, then we can consider enterprise social networking as the most altruistic; ESNs put the recipient in control of the information they receive, as discussed in Push and Pull earlier in this series. But for such networks to succeed, they need employees to be prepared to share their knowledge, to give their colleagues visibility into their work in progress, and to trust other people to use their work appropriately and responsibly.

Unfortunately, many people find this adjustment very hard. Their selfish “knowledge is power” communication habits have become so deeply ingrained that they react with incredulity to any suggestion that they should share what they consider to be their knowledge. Yet, often, the same people will be the first to complain when they feel they’ve not been given the information they need to to their jobs. The problem with this  “need to know” attitude is that in anything other than the smallest companies, you genuinely don’t know who else needs to know what you know. So it is far better to err on the side of “allowed to know” and share your knowledge as widely as confidentiality allows.

Even those people who understand the benefits of sharing knowledge often fail to do so. I’ve frequently heard the excuse that someone was too busy to share a document on a social network, so they just sent it as an email instead. Maybe that seems like the best thing for the sender to do at that moment, but ultimately it’s another example of selfish communication – saving themselves a few minutes has deprived a much wider potential audience of the knowledge.

Going back to the question of whether humans are inherently selfish, one of the main debates seems to be whether altruistic behaviour is actually just another example of selfishness because it makes someone feel better about themselves. It’s true that sharing your knowledge can give you a warm fuzzy feeling, but it also has a more discernible impact. If you share what you know, you find that people are more likely to share their knowledge with you; if cause fewer unnecessary interruptions to others, you are interrupted less frequently yourself. And it’s well known that the volume of email you receive is usually directly proportional to the volume you send. Communicate with others as you would have them communicate with you.

So we can also answer the second big question – yes, there is such thing as karma, as least within the context of business communication.  As for life after death… sorry, I can’t help you with that one. Or, more importantly, what’s for pudding.