“It’s not so much the learning or the social learning that needs to be measured but the performance outcome that’s really important,” said Jane Hart, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies.
The first step, even before implementation, is to identify the success criteria, she said. For example, prior to introducing a facet of social learning to a sales team, learning leaders should pinpoint a tangible output such as a performance metric — improve sales or improve product knowledge — that can be tracked. Moving the needle on this front would help determine whether social learning has a business impact.
“People get hung up on all those social activity measurements — number of people in a community, number of times they’ve contributed, number of posts — and that’s looking at it from the wrong end. Think more in terms of: Are we actually helping the business improve in whatever way is being defined as being required?”
Some types of social media measurement produce data that allow learning executives to draw useful insights, but it shouldn’t be the end goal, said Agilent Technologies’ Roche.
“There are times when measuring your social media matters: seeing how many people clicked on your Web, how many people go into a virtual game you might have had for them to learn about your product — that’s getting good feedback,” she said.
“[But] if you believe that you don’t do social media for social media’s sake, you do it to reach, extend, accelerate, then I don’t know that I would ever measure social media except as a predictive or operational metric. I would look more at what that caused: Did capability get built?”
Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company that uses various facets of social learning such as instant messaging, group discussion boards and video chat, adopted a similar measurement strategy. First, the company captures user activity data including blog posts, comments, downloads and shares, but measuring the efficacy of social learning doesn’t stop there. Linking that data to performance results at the individual or organization level paints a picture of what is and is not working, said Rahul Varma, chief learning officer at Accenture.
Similarly, Telus’ Pontefract said looking at the number of transactions — likes, comments, posts — alone is irrelevant.
“I can say we’ve got 25,000 people using our microblogging platform; I can tell you we’ve got over 100,000 posts and comments on our microblogging platform; I can tell you we have 1,000 videos that are user-generated on our own YouTube; I can tell you we have 4,000 views of those videos a month; I can tell you we have 400,000 minutes inside of our virtual world environment — but who cares?” Pontefract said.
“Unless you have things like return on performance, or engagement scores that are increasing and your customer satisfaction scores are increasing, I don’t think it really matters if you’ve got social learning tools or not.”
There are organizations in certain industries where discussing social learning measurement is relatively premature because external factors — such as regulatory and legal constraints in the banking and finance industry — have created roadblocks to the free exchange of information.
“It took us 24 months of in-depth conversations with legal, teammate relations, compliance and regulatory folks [before] we allowed teammates to have access to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn from inside the firewall — that sounds like a small thing [but] that’s not a small thing in a highly regulated business,” said Slaughter, of SunTrust Bank.
Regardless of industry, as organizations figure out ways to leverage the collaborative nature of social learning, the key is not to get sidetracked by a plethora of new and emerging tools and technologies that can drive this type of learning, but to use them as a vehicle to solve existing business needs.