I've been thinking a lot about ROI because at the end of the month, I'll be doing a session at the Legal Services Corporation's TIG Conference on ROI in the Nonprofit World. On Monday, my article, The ROI of Social Media, was published in the NTEN Newsletter and in March I'll lead a panel at the NTC on that topic. ROI is a ROI is a ROI.
Shortly after the NTEN article was published, Alison Fine emailed me with some of her thoughts and gave me permission to blog them. I agree 100% with a lot of what Alison is saying.
One point that Alison mentioned made me think of this photo by Evan Hamilton.
I get very nervous with terms like metrics and ROI because they often lead to people thinking that there is one right measure, that is too often financial, that will be the silver bullet of success. Alas, measurement is a slow, learning process that takes time and energy. We need to find ways to learn on a continuous basis about what's working and how to improve for ourselves and our efforts first and foremost.
Alison goes on to talk about how easy is it to get quantitative information online, but the qualitative is more difficult.
In particular, we know that social networks are critical to the success of efforts to raise awareness and advocate for an issue, but what is it about these networks that makes them successful - the size, the strength of the relationships (even though we know that successful social networks are made up of tight AND loose ties), the activities within the network, the activities that are created that happen outside of the network - or maybe all of the above!
Alison's last point is a call to action that I want to incorporate into the case study slam part of the NTC Panel:
I think the time is right to get activists and activist organizations to begin to think through their own success for their social media efforts. To date the technology itself was so nascent that we were all pretty happy when it worked and people responded and participated. The right is absolutely right to ask the "so what" questions, but it would be nice to do it in a way that avoids the perils and missteps that assessments have taken on and that have locked it, too often, into such a burdensome, financial model.
I think what Alison is saying is that ROI may be calculated based on numbers, but numbers alone - no matter how compelling or disappointing won't speak for themselves. And, that there are different measures of success for different organizations. It's now up to us to explain what they mean and how they support the organization's visions and goals as well as what we may learn about the network's social interactions.