The ROI for Social Learning initiatives will depend on the specific context. There are two key dimensions that you would want to measure to come up with the ROI. They are,
A. Costs associated with implementing, managing, and maintaining the infrastructure needed to deliver social learning.
B. Measuring the benefits (the tricky part).
Measuring costs is relatively straight forward. The most important cost element is the investment needed to get the social learning platform “go viral” and have “active instigators” that can “seed” new discussions, share best practices, and serve as cheerleaders for the rest of the team to participate. Identifying such leaders that can take ownership of specific domains (Example: All about technical features of product A) is an investment that is not straight forward as other cost items. Consider who these people are and what time commitments are required to keep the social learning platform alive and kicking.
First of all, measuring benefits is not just about statistics on the number of posts or contributions. While this is important, such data should be measured in conjunction with the outcome. Here are some questions you may want to ponder over:
1. Are discussion forums or micro-blogs meaningful or just useless banter?
2. What is the average number of repeat visits and contribution per employee?
3. Reduction in the number of calls to the help-desk.
4. Reduction in the number of meetings or formal training sessions.
5. Are success stories shared and do recipients acknowledge benefit?
6. Does it impact core metrics aligned to the topic? (time to sell, time to hire, time to on-board, product knowledge) If yes, by how much and how such an impact saves costs.
7. Does it generate new ideas?
As you can imagine, the measure of benefits is contextual. Yammer conducted a study on the ROI gained by their customers by commissioning Forrester. You can download the report from here. This will give you an idea of how to adopt a systematic approach to ROI measurement. In general, Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation will provide a useful template for measuring benefits.
Finally, a key strategy to ensure you have a successful outcome for your Social Learning project would be to identify the goals or benefits before implementation and not search for ROI after implementing a social learning platform.