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Based on Tara's comment on one of my last posts, I was thinking a lot about how to measure the impact of Social Media activities. Coming from the knowledge management side, I am not uncomfortable with things you can hardly measure. As soon as we talk social, we have to deal with soft factors and fuzzy metrics.

Recently, I have come across a blog entry by Alexander Schroll at Horváth & Partners in which he explains the four phases in the evolution of Social Media activities in corporate environments. He criticizes the "quick win" approach of many companies, generating a lot of noise through Twitter and Facebook without bringing added value to their customers. The answer to the question of "Does Social Media really pay off?", he sees in the fourth and last phase of the Social media evolution. Based on carefully selected KPIs and the tracking of all customer activities (both “traditional” and “social”), strategic actions can be taken and tracked. I agree on the importance of selecting strategically important KPIs beyond views, hits and likes. However, what is missing in many of the approaches like the one cited above is what a good sales person will tell you is an open secret: If you want to sell something to your customers, listen to them and try to solve their problem. Social Media activities are not more nor less than an ongoing conversation with your ecosystem. So, before compiling a list of Tweets nobody will respond to (which is more like standing in front of a wall and talking to yourself) Social Media activities could be approached from a different perspective. You could ask: Where are my customers having conversations about their needs? What do they say about our company? Then you can listen to what they say and respond with something that makes them happy. This will then convert into 

The same holds true for internal Social Media, i.e. Social Media activities with the purpose to foster communication and support interactions within an organization. From a knowledge management and learning perspective, Social Media or Social Software make up an excellent tool set for employees’ personal development, most of which happens through on-the-job learning anyway, as Jane Hart at the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies points out: “So we might learn from others (intentionally or unintentionally, consciously or unconsciously) by asking questions of our colleagues,  through discussions in meetings , or even in casual conversations by the proverbial watercooler. And, it is also in social learning that powerful insights to problems often arise that have been generated by the collective wisdom of employees.”      

Coming back to the pecuniary question, I stick to my previous proposal: Of course, it is important to strategically plan and measure investments in Social Media learning activities. Equally important, however, is listening to the learners. Employees tend to have a good understanding of what knowledge is critical, where knowledge gaps are and what they can do to close these gaps. Regarding Social Media, what learners need is the freedom to try things out and to collaboratively come up with creative solutions for unseen challenges. As soon as this knowledge turns into optimized processes and happier customers, there will also be something tangible to measure.