Information by design or serendipity? 

Albert Einstein has been credited with saying “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” In a world of social media never a truer word was spoken.

As the use of social media matures in business, so does the need for targeted management and measurement to ensure return on investment. The amount of information generated by social media tools remains on the periphery of enterprise information management (EIM) in most organisations and yet the data created can not only be prolific but can provide solid evidence to inform business direction and decisions.

I see two separate but intertwined challenges here:

  1. Measuring ROI of the information generated from social media – why invest your time, effort, content, tools and resources in social media if you cannot or do not measure the return?
  2. Managing the information generated from social media – why generate information and then not manage or use it across the enterprise to challenge, innovate and improve decision making?

Challenge #1

It is not measurement of the social media tools used, rather the value of the information that results. Does your social media effort meet the needs of your customers (or audience)?

This is difficult as social systems have a network of extended information flows with shared intrinsic and extrinsic value streams. Externally the customer needs to gain value from the interaction – this may be in the form of reliable expert advice, professional development or industry news, while internally the value for the business may be in the form of improved competitiveness, loyalty, increased revenue etc.

To measure value of the information generated a clear understanding of why and how you are using social media and how the resulting information contributes to business objectives is required. Without this you do not know what you need to measure.

Regardless of the social platforms you select and whether you are building trust, expanding a brand, building communities of practice, driving campaigns, inviting customer comments, responding to feedback, measuring customer sentiment or building cohesive internal teams – understanding the “why” is essential to measuring how or if value is returned.

Information serendipitously generated and not measured against business objectives may be a lost opportunity at best, and a liability at worst. I would argue that existing social media measurement frameworks are lacking an EIM perspective and therefore do not contribute to an integrated EIM approach.

Challenge #2

Information generated by social media that provides direct value to the business should be managed with other enterprise information.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff is a question of basic appraisal. Do you keep every tweet, every blog comment, a count of all “likes”, every Yammer post? Obviously not. Much of that will be the chaff (or emphema in the world of information management).

Just like you wouldn’t keep every email, some just do not have any business value, for example, advertisements. On the other hand, you would keep an email that informed a new business activity, decision or product line, or provided an approval or testimonial – this is the wheat, or the record of value.

Appraising information collected via social systems is no different. There is however a difference in the way the information is created and collected due to the dynamic and collaborative nature of social media and the fact it may be generated or stored in a third party system.

Third party social systems such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter may contain information of value to your business, but third party systems have no responsibility to manage that information on your behalf. As an example the LinkedIn user agreement states “…LinkedIn has no obligation to store, maintain or provide you a copy of any content that you or other Members provide when using the Services.” If you need to retain information within a system such as LinkedIn, it is your responsibility to do so. Clearly a strategy for managing social media inputs and outputs requires consideration.

Social media is simply about connecting with your audience and this is where marketing and communications specialists excel. Information specialists need to work in partnership with marketing to ensure insight and value can be derived from the information generated by focussing on value, sharing knowledge, improving business and return on investment.

Take control to design it, manage, integrate and measure it – don’t let it be serendipitous.

Michelle Teis

Consulting Director/ Principal Consultant