Mike Grafham explains how to develop a benefits case linked to real business outcomes for an enterprise social network.
As the objectives for Enterprise Social Networks within organisations become ever wider, links back to business strategy and real measures become more important. These can be relatively straightforward to build and will allow you to measure Enterprise Social Networks’ benefit by metrics that mean something to the business. Once you’ve built them, the critical success factors are helping people understand the relevance to them and creating a sufficiently engaging experience. So, lasting Enterprise Social Network success all depends on real business benefits and is subject to getting your people to engage.
Social networking and the enterprise
Social networking has altered the way enterprises engage with their customers, changing their approach to areas such as customer service and brand management. Leading organisations have been taking the concepts of social networking and using them to transform the way they engage with their employees and partners, in areas as diverse as Sales, R&D, Communications and Marketing.
Organisations are now adopting Enterprise Social Networks on a much larger scale and company-wide initiatives are increasingly common. This results in a corresponding demand for provable success and measurable benefits. In line with this, the approach for measurement of business value of Enterprise Social Networks has also matured, comparable to how measures related to the web channel evolved from simply tracking the number of visitors to showing how those visits were turning into revenue.
Making the business relevance clear
Developing a benefits case for Enterprise Social Networks involves getting a good understanding of how their capability can be applied to a business; your organisation’s strategy, objectives and challenges; and any findings from existing networks in place within your organisation.
Firstly, a simple articulation of the capability that Enterprise Social Networks can bring to an organisation is required. This should be in business terms and positioned so that the value that the Enterprise Social Network capability brings over and beyond the existing tools within an organisation is well understood by those within the business. For most organisations, the main capabilities that Enterprise Social Networks bring are the ability for the whole organisation to easily form communities around particular subjects based on their own interests and expertise, and the ability to have a visible conversation which anyone in the organisation can elect to see or participate in.
Secondly, show how that new capability supports what your organisation is trying to achieve. Your organisation’s strategic priorities and current challenges are a rich source of information when it comes to developing this. For example, if your organisation’s strategy is to build a more connected global business, there are likely to be many communications-centric projects to enable this for which Enterprise Social Networks could be an accelerant, resulting in faster achievement of the strategic outcome. If a business priority is to better increase conversion rates from sales leads, providing a mechanism whereby the sales organisation can easily exchange information about sales techniques and their connections at various customers could be a critical part as well.
Enterprise Social Network tools that adopt freemium models can provide another piece of the puzzle. If you have an existing network, the behaviours on it can give you indicators of the business challenges people are addressing. Beneficial behaviours can then be amplified by getting the right sponsorship and support, and can form a key part of the benefits case.
Measuring the benefit – focusing on outcomes
With a good understanding of the areas of most relevance to the business, you can then develop a benefits case that is linked to real business outcomes, such as increased sales, employee engagement scores or the benefits case for a particular project.
For example, consider a business case for Enterprise Social Networks to support Sales in the retail sector. The business objective is to increase store revenues by better sharing and implementing of good practices from other stores, and Enterprise Social Networks can be the enabler of that objective by providing the method by which the stores connect with each other and share information openly. The benefit measurement (increased revenue) is clear, and the role Enterprise Social Networks play in delivering that benefit can be proven through measures such as the amount of business conversations between store managers as well as surveying them for supporting evidence.
You can’t sell if no-one’s in the shop
All of the above benefits depend on engagement of the people within your organisation. Much as Amazon can’t generate revenue if people cannot work out how to buy a book on their website, if the experience of an Enterprise Social Network is not both relevant and engaging it will be impossible to create business value, as nobody will be there to do it.
There are a number of techniques to help people understand the relevance of Enterprise Social Networks to their work and therefore participate. Developing relevant communication and training programmes that focus on the benefits rather than the tools and encouraging active executive support are key building blocks. Recognising and rewarding this participation and sharing success stories with others can help create a virtuous cycle that will encourage others to engage.
If people understand the relevance to their work, then the role of an Enterprise Social Network platform is to provide a sufficiently engaging environment that doesn’t create any technical barriers to people contributing. Usability is therefore a critical success factor – any bumps in the path between someone trying to collaborate and actually doing so need to be minimised or ideally removed. Enterprise Social Network platforms with a primary focus on user experience will be more successful than those that focus on features alone. People are attracted to things they find engaging, so make use of freemium business models to find the platform that works best for your people, noting that engagement isn’t something you can build into a project at a later stage.
Ultimately, you should be aiming to achieve a state of voluntary adoption – where people are actively engaging in the use of an Enterprise Social Network to achieve their daily work. Because they understand the relevance, want to participate and actually love to use it - without experiencing any barriers to enable them to do so.
Building a case for Enterprise Social Networks within your organisation and proving benefits can be done with a few simple building blocks. Once done, the critical success factors to delivery are engagement and relevance – without both, you have neither a definition of success nor the means to achieve it.
Mike Grafham is head of customer engagement EMEA at Yammer.