Thursday, January 8, 2009

Corporate take-up of social media

Joanne Jacobs has recently posted on why "many executives are still uninformed and unconvinced about the benefits of social media as a mechanism for production efficiencies and improved performance". She puts it down to two main factors:

1. Mastery

People who master a skill often can’t easily describe the steps they go through to execute or perform that skill. So much of the process involved in performance has been absorbed into their understanding that they have trouble breaking down each step along the way, and assume knowledge where there is none. Indeed, they assume so much of the process is common sense that they focus on the higher techniques of execution rather than explaining how they got to focus on that technique.


2. Intangible benefits

Bring any group of social media advocates together and they’ll all want to talk about measuring the benefits of the technologies, but they’ll never actually come up with an agreed suite of methodologies to use to demonstrate measurable benefits. This is primarily because social media benefits are derived from sheer access to alternative sources. Any social media expert group will come up with numerous examples of how they crowd sourced the answer to an obscure question, or how they found someone with the skills they needed to solve a problem, but no-one can come up with a robust range of measures to convince executives that investment in social media (both financially and in terms of staff time and resources) is going to generate a return.

I would personally think that th second is more of an issue than the first. CEOs deal with all sorts of things they have little personal mastery of, from the Internet to how the finances operate. It is the difficulty in bringing tangibility to social media innovation, as compared to well established performance metrics for more established media channels.

In the conclusion to New Media: An Introduction I made the observation that social researchers should consider how one establishes empirical measures for identifying the significance of social media (p. 251). That was written in 2007, and I think that a threshold has since been crossed with the Barack Obama US Presidential campaign. That said, Joanne Jacobs' conclusion is worth noting that:

When it comes to social media, the benefits are more about ‘cultivating weak ties‘ or loose connections between people, and cutting down the time it takes for a problem to be solved, so articulating these benefits to corporates is particularly difficult - but it’s not impossible. Loose connections require actually less investment than strong ones to maintain, and acquiring loose connections through social media is actually quite simple. Because your connection to other users in a social media mean you have access to the trust networks of your connections, you can very quickly generate loose or parallel ties with other users. Furthermore, you can mobilise these loose connections to improve both the quality of communication between an organisation and its audience, as well as track the perceptions about an organisation’s goods and services.

In a recession, the reduction in gross product and reducing value of investment assets means that customers are more wary of their spending. Similarly organisations need to invest less in their goods/services whilst maintaining a good relationship with existing customers. Social media can be used by customers to gauge the relative value and reliability of goods/services, whilst organisations can use social media both to respond to customer needs in a more agile fashion as well as crowdsourcing new product development.

This all makes perfect sense to social media advocates. We just don’t have sufficient history and methodologies to demonstrate these opportunities.

1 comment:

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