Do all Enterprise Tools have to solve single quantifiable problems?
But the underlying problem when taken to the social media field is a bit more complicated. In my view it stems from a wide-spread lack of distinction between tool and infrastructure:
- Tools have one (or a few) specific purposes. Tools solve a problem. And solving the problem can be measured. Hence, tools are predictable.
- Infrastructures don’t have a well-defined purpose. Infrastructures are largely undefined, general purpose, but they open up a realm of new possibilities. They are unpredictable!
Most Enterprise Systems as we know them fall into the first category: ERP, CRM, ect. But social software are infrastructures! Social software opens up a space that needs to be filled by the users (see: Nutzungsoffenheit).
Most managers know and like tools; but infrastructures seem to be misunderstood:
- Tools solve a problem, tools help constrain and control the users in what they do. By giving a certain set of tools to the user (often those that have ways of using built into them: best practice!) an intended outcome can be achieved. Because of this, when introducing a new tool, we can seemingly predict the resulting changes (ROI!).
- Infrastructures on the other hand help open up new spaces for users to fill and define in practice. What they become and the kinds of context-specific purposes they acquire, is generally the result of an open-ended process of sense-making among the user group. This is why the same social media infrastructures result in such varied uses. But when we first see them, we don’t quite know what they are for.
And this means that if we don’t know what they are going to become, how can we expect to predict and measure in advance something like a ‘social media ROI’ in all seriousness?
Good, visionary managers know this. They understand that in order to see it happen, one has to let it go and let it evolve – in what I have described as a series of small safe-to-fail experiments. Success of such initiatives requires leadership, not management-as-constraint-and-control.
At the recent Yammer on Tour event in Sydney and Melbourne a number of those visionaries shared their success stories: Simon Townsend from Deloitte, Simon Terry from nab, Andrew Hedges from Westfield.
The question “how do you measure/predict ROI of a social media initiative?” came up a number of times.
The simple answer is: “you don’t” – at least you don’t predict. The more balance answer is: You don’t try to predict, but of course, you observe and measure what happens next. But we will have to rethink the way we measure the success of infrastructure-enabled change in organisations as opposed to more conventional tool-driven change. This is a question that is still largely up for grabs – something to work on…!