therocketeerThere is no doubting that the innovation and investment into social media tools, software and applications have come from the commercial sector. By that I mean start-ups backed up by investor capital, which have taken risks, believed in themselves and their ideas and run with them.

It is no surprise that the most discussed social media networks are the ones that have excelled from this model, creating a following and infusing themselves into the very fabric of our online lives. Here their determination and vision have created mass following and buy-in, and from that revenue models have been created, or in some cases are yet to be created.

For every Facebook or Twitter, there are thousands of start-ups which have not made it. Not much has been written about them. We prefer to applaud the mighty. We love to pick at, dissect and analyse the ones that have made it. The ones we all want to emulate. How many times have you seen battling niche social networks describing themselves as “The MySpace of Christianity” or “The Facebook of fishermen”? (Ok I made that up but it has a certain poetic quality to it).

This has perpetuated the “build it, create a following and then figure out your revenue model later” strategy as the one to copy. We all like to document why these networks are successful, what lessons we think can be derived from them and applied to our businesses, and how we can maximise our use of them in order for organizations to gain.

Don’t get me wrong, there is much to applaud, and lots to discuss, however, to avoid stagnating there is a need to step away from this and look at the topic from alternative perspectives.

It is this view of social media that has prompted such a fierce reaction to the executives who calmly and quite understandably ask for some ROI data for social media. “They just don’t get social media” is the combined cry from 10 million of the 10 million 7 hundred thousand #socialmedia profiles on wefollow. “How do you quantify a relationship?”

I think most of the executives get that. It is a valid answer, but it misses their point. From their perspective, the build it, get people to engage and then figure out how to make it valuable later is not a model that they are familiar with. (I know I am oversimplifying things here, and yes there is more to this argument than this) Just because the innovation, thinking and construction of these tools are derived from this model, does not mean they have to stay in this model.

Organizations already have business models. They have processes set up to ensure that they reach their goals and that they are adding value in a manner that allows the business to continue. Taking the tools, applications and software that drives the social media we know and love and bringing them into established business models in order to facilitate a greater overall ROI requires a shift in application.

Social media does not only exist “out there”. Bringing the tools into the structure of an organization in a way that aligns with their objectives, culture and purpose ensures that value is brought with them. Helping organizations to see the shift happening in relation to stakeholders, collaboration, connections and content, and how social media tools and processes can bring it all together for the benefit of the organization is key.

Thinking about User Generated Value (UGV) verses User Generated Content (UGC) is important. It is not always appropriate for us to engage or discuss overtly or for inappropriate people to alter content. Using filters and permissions based profiles to ensure relevance, or mapping how people navigate your site can add more value and relevant understanding. Allowing the right people access to the right content, and getting them to add value through tagging, flagging, bookmarking, rating etc can help streamline efficiencies, and add more relevance than sifting through reams of comments, suggestions and text. All these tools exist. The fact that they are becoming easier to integrate into legacy applications, CMS and LMS ensures that this is easier and cheaper to do. The gaps between what we want to do, the cost of doing it and the time it takes to role it out are getting smaller.

Too many people are driving the social media vehicle in automatic. Look under the hood, see what tools make it go and adapt that knowledge so it allows organizations to meet their objectives, goals and unique business rules.