The value of the social web is clear, even if we’re still trying to figure out a demonstrable ROI from it. Gary Vaynerchuck probably put it best. When asked what the ROI of social media is, he said “What’s the ROI of your mother?”
(Something we’re all thinking about this Mother’s Day. Although I’d warn against writing “You’ve delivered a very high ROI to me, Mom” in her card this Sunday.)
When it comes to leveraging the power of the social web to lead those you need engaged with your efforts, it’s about time. Thing is, time is too precious to waste learning fly-by-night, passing-fad tactics or tools. Stick with strategy and governing principles, I say, and let the tactics flow from there.
There may not be a decidedly proven way to measure the ROI of tactics on the social web. But there certainly is a way to gauge its results. We have been for a long time, actually. To illustrate his broader themes about what motivates people, Dan Pink wrote about a 1998 study in his book Drive. I think it’s interesting to cast the study in terms of the social web’s value.
Anyone (Mom or Dad) who has a kid in daycare knows the dynamic: After a day at work – confronting and selling and vying – you battle your damnedest to make your daycare’s pick-up deadline. You fight the commute like an MMA fighter. You arrive there with a gaggle of mini vans and SUVs, jockeying for position, jackal-like.
One extra question from the boss or one extra response to that 4:30 email and you’re late. Happens a lot, to you and plenty of the other working parents with kids in the center.
You’re tested, tired, and the daycare workers are too. You want your kid, and they want to be rid of your kid. Nothing personal, but they need to clock out just like you did and the daycare’s budget takes a hit the longer the kids stay – someone has to look after them.
Say you’re in charge of the daycare center. How do you reduce the number of late pick-ups?
You’re an PFT Animal, so there’s little doubt that you’d come up with some pretty creative solutions. But the most obvious one is to impose a fine. You’re late, you pay.
Deterrence hypothesis. (Or in Pink’s parlance, the “stick” part of the “carrot and stick” metaphor.) We’re almost hard wired to jump to it as a solution.
Does it work? Hard to know, really. It’s a hypothesis used and tested across many disciplines. Legal, criminal, management, psychology.
The study Pink uses took a look at late pick-ups at private Israeli daycare centers to test deterrence (here’s the study’s PDF draft). Working with 11 centers, they didn’t do anything with four of them (Control Group) and imposed fines for late pick-ups at the other seven (Fine Group).
The result? Late pick-ups increased – sharply and significantly – within the Fine Group. They remained the same in the Control Group.
Sharp and significant increase. Didn’t decrease, didn’t even remain the same. Increased. And when researchers removed the fines in the Fine Group, late pick-ups plateaued at their new levels. In a way, the fine system set a new standard of behavior.
The study doesn’t go so far as to increase the fine in order to find the threshold. Certainly there would be a tolerance to what parents would be willing to pay for a late pick-up – or the parents would just take their business elsewhere. Either way, I suppose, the late pick-up problem is solved.
What the study was interested in understanding (based on my reading – there are certainly more conclusions to make as Pink shows) is the value of social contracts. By removing the connection parents had with the people behind the center, and creating more of a pure transactional relationship, they’ve turned late pick-ups into acceptable behavior. They removed the social contract.
I give a presentation called Leading in a Social World. In it I suggest that in order to grasp the significance of the social web, a leader (by leader I mean all of us – anyone involved in trying to inspire one or more people to do something) must value it first. What’s the asset or capital the social web brings to bear for me or my company? Then a leader must understand what makes it tick. What’s the nature of the system? Then a leader must evaluate what kind of leadership skills are required to be successful when leading people in it. How will I engage those I require to move my efforts forward?
Then, and only then, does it make sense to think about the tools and tactics you’ll use to inspire people to engage with your brand, movement, or cause. Because tactics and tools change. Especially in and around the social web. What should matter to you and I is finding those enduring templates that travel with us through the changing realities of our careers, our company’s strategic landscape, and the people who flow in and out of our leadership contexts.
In my view, the deeper meaning that underpins all the treatises from social media “experts” is really a reframing of what leadership books and thought experts have studied for years. Permission, Thank You, Naked, Trust, fillintheblank-a-nomics…these are really just new concepts for building social capital. And social capital has long been an asset that any leader in any time has always had to concern themselves with.
As an asset, social capital results in many tangible benefits. The value of a social contract, as the Israeli daycare centers learned, is one of them. So is the idea of a social license. Most businesses need various licenses to operate: liquor, tax, BMI/ASCAP, water rights, mining. But they need social licenses too. Neighborhood buy-in for the nightclub. Community approval to divert water.
Newmont mining knows this to be true. Their ability to operate in a stable environment and open new mines with greater efficiency depends on their deliberately-planned social license programs. (You can read more about social licenses in the natural resources industry here.) The result? Consistent growth in earnings, and the first gold mining company to be named to the Dow Jones Sustainability index.
As for the rest of us, I use everybody’s-favorite-animal Erik Proulx and a remarkable redhead by the name of Erika Napoletano in my presentation as tangible, everyperson examples of leaders who understand how to build social capital, and the value it can bring.
When you stop to think about it, do you really think Lemonade was made because of a good Twitter plan? Effective blog content that added value to readers? Or was it more because Erik, recognizing he didn’t have the monetary capital to make a movie, had the leadership know-how to build and cash in on social capital?
When Erika Napolatano transcended her SEO writing career and landed a gig with Entrepreneur magazine – on her terms, with her bitch-slap style – did she do it with Facebook? Because she always took the time to comment on all her blog comments? Or because she views the world through a leadership lens that tells her she may not have the reputation capital as a magazine writer, but sure as hell can build and leverage social capital for the same result.
I’ve kibitzed about this before, but I’ve learned more about successful branding – in a traditional sense as well as in our new connected, social world – from leadership stuff than I ever have from marketing stuff. There’s some great thinking out there about the leadership characteristics shared by people who know how to build and leverage social capital. (I’ve got a decent reading list for you if you want to ping me.) Those are the things I’m interested in developing. Not how to send a good Tweet.
As Clay Shirky put it, it isn’t the technical capital that matters. It’s the social capital.
Something I bet Mom knew all along.