Late last week I had a conversation with a client who was asking for a standard set of value or ROI metrics for social software. The client asked me to address this blog post in particular. At its foundation, the request was asking for a “standard” business case for social software investments. Building a business case for social software is proving very difficult and I get many client requests for help.
There is a good reason why it is so difficult to build a generic, universal business case for social software. You can’t do it. Social software is a set of mass collaboration principles and technologies that apply to the construction of a solution, not the solution itself. Social software business value can and does vary widely from one solution to the next. Trying to build a business case for social software is similar to building a business case for a toolbox. In establishing the justification for purchasing a toolbox, you can talk only in generalities. You can build things better, faster and maybe with fewer accidents. This is the same situation when trying to justify an investment in social software. You can’t get concrete unless you know what you are building. Those of you who read my blog regularly are probably thinking, “Here he goes on about purpose again!” You are correct! You simply can’t talk business justification, estimate investment, calculate ROI, or build success measures unless you know why you are engaging the community…to what business relevant end. Although you can’t build a generic universal business case for social software, you can build a business case for a specific well defined business purpose that is enabled via social software.
Now you can build metrics around social activity (registered participants, visits per month, posts per month, average time between visits, pages viewed, etc.) which is important and can be indicative of a thriving community. However, the activity may or may not be delivering business value. Business value is measured separately from activity.
I bring this up because for the past number of months I have been building a Gartner business case framework for social software that links the foundational social software principles with technology benefits, and business benefits, and business impact in a trace-ability chain that tells an end-to-end business case justification story for a social software enabled solution. This framework reuses the constructs from last years Gartner paper, “Building an SOA Business Case: A Gartner Framework” (available to Gartner clients or for a fee). The framework is fairly sophisticated and will still take some time to finish. I’m hoping to publish the “Building Social Software Based Business Cases: A Gartner Framework” by fall 2009.
I’m interested to hear who out there is building (or trying to build) a business case(s) for social software and how it is going. Care to share?