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What is the ROI? Looking further at Return on Investment

Written by Posted On Friday, 09 November 2018 01:46

In the world of fashion manufacturing, we spend a great deal of time talking about Return of Investment. Whenever ‘Fashion,’ ‘Social Media’ and ‘Recruiting’ are in the same sentence, the three letters of R, O & I are never far behind.

Why Do It We Do It?

We like to think we know why we do it. Most obviously, it is to get better at what we are doing. We want more followers, friends and connections. We want to be great at engagement, community building, employer branding and the rest. We want to be the next Sodexo or Deloitte Touche NZ or Electronic Arts, a case study that everyone references at conferences and talks about in the pub afterwards. And capturing data on what happens allows us to derive the intelligence from which we can make better decisions on how to ‘do’ this social media business.

Why We Really Do It

We also do it for another reason. Because we need to. To get budget and time and space from bosses who are sceptical of motive and not convinced of the purpose, utility or value of using social tools to recruit staff. In this context, ROI is an internal sales device, a defence made out of statistics and spreadsheets to buttress the argument against those who would shout it down.

It’s this second rationale that I want to explore. Because I think it is actually the real reason why we do ROI analysis. And also because it may be less effective for that purpose than we think, based as it is on key assumptions which is substantially flawed.

The Assumption

It’s received opinion that hostility to the social web is based on not knowing what social media can do for the benefit of the business. It follows that to win them over is to prove it with the evidence of numbers.

And yet, much of the hostility to the application of the social web seems reflexive. Don’t the naysayers seem to say ‘nay’ before you’ve even opened your presentation? The hostility predates the argument, which suggests that it isn’t the lack of evidence that is generating the defensive response. The citing of the need is often misdirection, a gambit that hides the real reason behind negativity – the fear of change. Change to how their businesses are run, change to how they do their jobs, change to their influence, status and lifestyle. It is not that the opposition don’t know about the potential impact of the social web, it is precisely because they do, that they oppose it.

The Flaw the Runs Through The Assumption

Think about it this way. The people who are in a position to say ‘no’ are management – people who have succeeded in their respective roles prior to the rise of the social web. They haven’t used it to get to where they are and yet there they are, in possession and with vested interests to protect. If you are a Director of Business Development who owes his position to being the best manager of the telesales function, would you be welcoming to a new fad that purports to drive X amount greater sales volume to the company’s bottom line? Would the HR Director, having overseen the hugely expensive implementation of a traditional recruitment supply chain – complete with ATS, PSL and god knows what else – suddenly welcome the initiative from social media practitioners who purport to revolutionize how organisations behave towards employees and ‘citizens’? Would the Head of Customer Service, with his micro-managed contact centre be enamoured with a suggestion that a lot more could be achieved through a smaller team tweeting service updates to the customer base?

Of course not. No amount of figures on ROI are going to convince these guys because their interests are not aligned with the organisational goals. Social Media ROI for the business is Social Media KOD (Kiss of Death) for their careers. And this is the flaw that runs through the assumption that ROI is what is needed to convert the hostiles. We need to recognise first we are dealing with individuals, not organisations. And so, we need other techniques, targeted at individuals, to achieve conversion.

Here are a few other things we can try:

1. Communicate the vision

You need to tell a story. Increasingly, we are being told that this what employer or personal or any of kind of brand is all about. But before we go outside of the company, we need to start telling the story of what social media can do within it. This is not about throwing stats around. It’s about creating and articulating a vision that creates an emotional connection with those you are seeking to convert. In many ways this is the anti-thesis of ROI analysis – it’s using the art of storytelling rather than science of business intelligence. Paint the picture, don’t build the spreadsheet.

2. Teach them to be better than you

Whenever anybody brings changing ideas to the table, it means that someone, somewhere is threatened with appearing suddenly superfluous or not as productive as they could have been. Make no mistake – your social media ‘evangelism’ is a clear and present danger to their livelihoods. Your only way to disarm defensiveness is to teach them to be better at it than you are. Resist the temptation to retain specialist knowledge and truly live the values of the social web – to share and to add value.

It is the measure of a teacher that he is prepared to concede expertise to his students; indeed, that must be his objective. You can overcome hostility by making clear that this is also your objective.

3. Enrol them by conceding control

We can learn from the Romans. In the late era Empire, the Roman’s didn’t automatically fight the enemy at the gates – they more often bought them off by offering pieces of land in exchange for peace and security. These settled barbarians later became powerful bulwarks against future enemies and indeed, often became the powerful defenders and supporters of the Roman ideal. Where is this somewhat painful analogy going? Well, similar practice can be adopted in promoting social media within business. We always talk about company’s needing to concede control over brand, over the conversation. Well how about walking the talk? You need to concede control – control over the social media project. The only way you are going to convert the powerful vested interests whose goals are not aligned with your proposition, is to give them enough ownership so that they don’t feel threatened by what you do.

All of these may seem tough pills to swallow, and it may be that you don’t want to do any of the above. In which case, there is a final option available to you:

4. Destroy them, with no mercy

Let’s not be ignorant of our own agenda and behave as if we’ve bucked our DNA and are genuinely altruistic. It is a conceit to believe that our goals are perfectly aligned to the organisation’s, and everyone else is not, by some sort of preordained default. If the social web does indeed mean (and require) radical transformation of business practice, what you are in for is a war and therefore should join it with full force and no mercy. And you better believe that’s going to mean tears, broken relationships and the exit of individuals.

Now where is that spreadsheet again?



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