Storytelling, in the various realms of life, is a powerful tool in spreading the word, creating rapport and inspiring others. It’s not uncommon to hear advocates of social media tell nice stories
about how they blogged or twittered about something and because of
that, somebody else was able to solve a problem that otherwise would
take much longer to address. I use it all the time, and enjoy when others do the same.
However, storytelling is not a substitute for a solid business case. While story telling is a legitimate way to communicate, anecdotal evidence showing a feel-good story on the power of social computing does not constitute proof that net returns are being achieved. Of course, that cuts both ways: the fact that a given person or team never got anything out of blogging or using a wiki cannot be used as a conclusive argument against it either.
The tale that goes untold is: how many of the blog posts, tweets or wiki articles went unnoticed, and how much time was spent covering numerous subjects that did not help the resolution of any problem?
User-generated content (UGC), be it in the form of blog posts, tweets, contributions to a wiki, photos posted to Flickr or Facebook, Amazon book reviews, TripAdvisor feedback or comments to newspaper articles, tend to follow a power law distribution, where usefulness or relevance tend to concentrate on a very small fraction of the whole. That pattern is expected, and it can be even considered an intrinsic part of the overall value embedded in UGC. The gems made possible by UGC exist in part because so much content of various degrees of quality was created, not despite of that.
The point that sometimes is missed in the ROI discussion is that one cannot ignore the total cost and investment to generate those gems when assessing the business value of enabling users to create content. There’s no doubt that the enterprise adoption of social media generates value, as can be attested by the multiple stories collected by Web 2.0 advocates in the last few years. But once discounted the costs, does it generate net business value? Any ROI analysis needs to take into consideration the returns, the investment and the time horizon. Therefore, the questions that need to be answered are: how much, how often (or how soon) and at what cost. Add storytelling to that, and you may have a winner in your hands.
Click here for Part 1 of this ROI 2.0 Series: Bean Counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas