With Salesforce.com’s purchase of Rypple last week there has been a spike in discussions regarding the value of social media in the enterprise. Many individuals are touting the arrival, benefits, and legitimacy of social media in a business context. Everyone seems to be quite giddy over social apps. They are the cure du jour for our Human Capital Management ills. Somehow this social media stuff is going to make us all more efficient and productive as organizations. Heck if social media can predict the stock market – why can’t it make us better as a business – especially when it’s couple d with the always-connected mobile workforce who can press the ‘like’ button faster than a lab rat?  I too see definite advantages and new possibilities with the introduction of social functionality into enterprise mobile applications. However, once you cut through the hype, all of those likes, tweets, and badges are just a collection of data.  And reams of data, be it social or otherwise, amounts to very little in value if it cannot be wielded correctly. In the end, social media and its associative data will only add to information overload if a clear vision and purpose are missing.

Mobile enterprise applications are beginning to include some level of social functionality. These social app features are marketed as a way of raising your intelligence quotient and making you a smarter more nimble organization. In this way social media business applications resemble Business Intelligence solutions. Both BI and social media apps are billed as ways to get the upper hand and gain insight. Knowing if someone likes a project idea, has an expertise, won a badge, or was on a comment thread is the same from a data perspective as the cost, color, and cut of clothing inventory database. Instead of being attributes associated with the product object they are attributes associated with the person object. Social media apps offer insight into people data. They can provide a new and valuable stream of data to organizations if only they are leveraged correctly.

I have noticed, however, in the attempt to make it seem all-too-easy social media apps are becoming the lazy-business’s BI solution; just add people, some like buttons – and presto – something useful on a pretty chart will appear (and we all love pretty charts). Trouble is, do you even know if the chart is relevant for your organization? Is your organization just along for the ride with the pre-configured template? Are you really going to rely on it to make decisions in your business?

If you really want to see a ROI from your enterprise social initiatives here’s my advice. Approach it just as thoughtfully as you would any BI project.  Do you know why you even need social media? Does your organization have a sense of what it is trying to accomplish through collection and analysis of social data? Bring your vision for social media into focus by answering these 5 concrete questions:

  • What data will you collect?
  • How will the data be sliced/diced? (By Time, Project, Group, etc)
  • Who is going to look at this data?
  • How often is this data going to be looked at?
  • Most Importantly – What are the key decisions the results will drive?

The real value of social media apps in your business lies in their ability to help you decide; to allow you to make more informed decisions. This is true not only for social media apps but any business intelligence apps as well. What action will your organization take based on the frequent review of the data? If you don’t know how you will take concrete action against results then you will not find social media very profitable for your business. In fact, it will probably just be a distraction and cause people to be less productive. But a clear vision for social media, relevant data, and timely execution by the right people can be very powerful and profitable.

What decisions are you taking from social media in your business? Post a comment and let me know.