How Humana measures the benefits of its enterprise social network

You know you are making a difference by opening up discussion in a social channel. Now how can you prove that to the higher-ups?

Just about any pointy-haired boss, at a loss for something relevant to say, is well advised to demand an accounting of a project’s return on investment.

Enterprise social networks, or ESNs, get their share of scrutiny. Bosses want to know the return. Yet that’s odd, when considered another way.

“When was the last time anybody asked you for the ROI on email?” says Brenda Rick Smith, community manager for Humana’s thriving enterprise social network. “Have you ever been asked for the ROI of the telephone system? Probably not. It’s just assumed that there’s value there. It’s just way we get business done.”

In a session titled ” What Difference Does It Make? Measure the impact of your enterprise social network ,” Smith explains how to establish ROI. She does this even though her team’s goal is to reach a point where the value is so obvious, there’s no need to ask.

Humana’s enterprise social network is called Buzz, and it coexists with the organization’s intranet, Hive. What’s the difference? Intranets are more top-down, as they are curated by an editor or team. An ESN, by contrast, features open conversation among associates.

ESNs also tend to feature community conversation. The community—the ones who are chatting online—create and post content. They decide what’s important and what gets talked about.

Humana’s two systems complement each other. People can comment on Hive through Buzz. Also, all the content published on Hive is pushed through to Buzz.

“One of the things that’s impressed me so much about our community is how much trust it demonstrates,” Smith says. “People aren’t afraid to ask questions. It’s been an empowering thing, and it’s enabled great things to happen.”

Proving value

When Smith introduced the concept of an ESN in a staff meeting, one leader stood up and chuckled that somebody would have to act as the bad guy, so he might as well ask the question.

He wanted to know, “How much is this thing going to cost us, and what’s the ROI going to be?” Smith recalls.

CEO Bruce Broussard jumped in: “Having all 50,000 people on the same page and moving in the same direction is incredibly important,” Smith recalls.

To establish value, the first layer of metrics includes what might be called vanity numbers, Smith says. Total accounts number 45,000, or 89 percent of the workforce. (Employees aren’t required to sign up for Buzz.)

Thirteen percent are engaged on the platform, which means they have posted within the last 30 days. One trend was particularly encouraging: 80 percent of discussions are business-related.

Users ask, on average, 390 questions per week, meaning the flow of information has been streamlined. This also points the way to establishing value of the ESN.

Smith has started assigning value to each answered question. How? Well, one of Humana’s call centers has established that it costs $4.50 every time someone calls to get an answer.

Using that benchmark, she tracks how many questions are asked, how many are answered, and what the answers are, giving her a dollar figure for the help that brainstorming employees provide to one another.

Another glimpse of the difference Buzz makes is Humana’s engagement score. Typically, the company places high, with a 93 percent Kenexa Research Institute score. Among the 13 percent of Buzz participants who are heavy users, the score rose to 96 percent.

“They also tend to score higher on their job performance assessment,” Smith says.

One challenge is how to wade into the ocean of content in Buzz, where there are 2,000 groups and 8,000 to 10,000 conversations, Smith says. Instead, Humana sought a credible, third-party ROI calculation model that would help organize the value return.

A study by Forrester provided the answer. Humana used these areas to prove value:

  • Productivity , or anything that helps people from across the enterprise to do things more efficiently, better or faster.

Before Buzz was established, if you had a question, people could ask only those around them. Now, employees have a platform where their question is exposed to 50,000 colleagues.

  • Onboarding . An ESN gives employees places to ask questions as they arise. During training they are instructed to hop on Buzz if they have any questions. The trainers also direct them to groups in order to get started. Retention rises when associates feel empowered to do the job they’re hired to do.
  • Processes. Employees can see across silos and peek into each other’s work. This opens up discussion away from channels like email, “where ideas go to die,” Smith says.

“If it goes out to Buzz,” she adds, “there’s a chance the person that can actually help you affect that change is going to see it.”

  • Innovation. Hive is a place where staffers can crowdsource ideas.
  • Communication. The platform enables communicators to amplify their messaging across a broad audience with a streamlined process. The great news for communicators is that you can get out the word efficiently on an ESN, rather than wasting time on press releases and their infinite layers of nitpicking and approvals.

“Would it break your heart,” Smith wryly asks, “if you never had to write another grip-and-grin press release with a picture of your leader shaking somebody’s hand at a plant visit?”

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