Social Learning and Necessary Metrics—Do You Have an Explanation?

Allen Krom

Back in 2007, in a previous corporate life, I began to push for the use of "social learning" for field employees within the North American business unit of a global company. As usual, the major roadblock was first the IT Department and second, the Legal Department. Over the next year, following many discussions, I was able to begin a small pilot program with approximately 50 mid-level field managers.

Years later, when I sat down to research the topic, I thought that I had a very good, general understanding of the theory of social learning. However, the more I researched, the more I began to understand that there is much more to the industry than a simple blog or wiki. Metrics? That’s even more disheveled.

When considering what makes a service or item to fall within the "social learning" industry, many things come into focus. Then of course, reviewing the question of "Why should we go there?" tends to beg the issue of metrics and how we measure the benefits.

Pam Boiros, eLearning blogger, wrote on the feedback from an ongoing survey in which industry analysts, end users, and other people "in the know" discuss what they want in a tool. Boiros calls these "The 8 Truths of Social Learning":

  1. Cross-generational appeal
  2. Discovery of knowledgeable colleagues
  3. Shared best practices and capture of tacit knowledge
  4. Intuitive to use and easy to roll-out
  5. Enhance learning programs
  6. Respect for privacy
  7. Ownership of user-generated content
  8. Safe, trusted, proven environment

Tony Karrer asks the question, "Where do Social Learning Tools belong? Should they be coupled with your LMS or other learning-specific tools? Or should they be separated?

Wikipedia defines "social learning" tools as a series of different applications which led to the popularization of Social Software such as:

  • Instant Messaging
  • Internet Relay Chat
  • Internet forums
  • Blogs or Weblogs
  • Wikis
  • Social network services
  • Social network search engines
  • Social guides
  • Social bookmarking
  • Social Citations
  • Social Libraries
  • Social Shopping Applications
  • Peer-to-peer social networks
  • Collaborative real-time editing
  • Virtual presence

However, three researchers from the Institute of Future Studies (C. Petter, K Reich, F Scheuermann) believe that the basic characteristics of social software must include the following traits:

  • Personal publishing
  • Collaborative publishing
  • Folksonomy
  • Media and devices
  • Content aggregation

Jane Hart, founder of C4LPT recently published her list of top 100 "social learning" tools. In her mind a learning tool could be a tool you use to create or deliver learning content/solutions for others, or a tool you use for your own personal learning, ranging from Twitter and Facebook to Powerpoint, video recorders/editors, Wikispaces, iTunes, and more.

So as we look back at these widespread comments and definitions of "social learning tools,"if the professionals cannot get together on a specific definition, then how is the rest of the world’s population supposed to get it right.?

With at least 100 tools being used across the general population, it is no wonder why the IT Departments are scared. How much time, effort and money will need to be spent in determining the best solution for company X? With all of these sites and so much information accessible for companies to review as they consider the internal use of social media, where do they start? To whom do they talk with for some direction and assistance?

However you look at it, there is an abundance of individuals available in the marketplace that have the ability and skills to assist companies in the decision making process. Just "Google" the topic of social media and see what happens. I do, however, have a few suggestions for you to consider when determining a vendor:

  1. Do you feel comfortable when talking to your vendor?
  2. Can you visit face to face? (at your office; Skype, etc.)?
  3. Does he/she talk with you at your level or baffle you?
  4. Can he/she accomplish what is promised?

Social media is hard to measure. It's tough to tell how well you're doing, or how to analyze an employee's production. Even the experts do not agree on what is important to measure.

According to 2009 Mzinga & Babson Executive Education study, over 80% of professionals do not measure ROI for their company’s social media programs.

Raj Dash of the Social Media Times lists ten important social media metrics to measure as:

  1. Social media leads.
  2. Engagement duration.
  3. Bounce rate.
  4. Membership increase and active network size.
  5. Activity ratio.
  6. Conversions
  7. Brand mentions in social media.
  8. Loyalty.
  9. Virality.
  10. Blog interaction.

Of course, some social media metrics are better than others. But are all worth measuring?

Brad Smith, also from Social Media Today, says there are three metrics that do nothing to help your company move forward:

1. Twitter Followers -> Email Subscribers. "Twitter is a great communication channel. It helps you contact and stay in touch with anyone you want. But it doesn't make you real money," according to Smith. "Email marketing is still the most profitable online channel.

Your Twitter account is not an asset. You don't own it." Smith calls this phenomena "digital sharecropping."

2. Facebook Fans -> People Talking About This

Smith says the number of Facebook Fans your page has is basically irrelevant. It doesn't matter if you have a million fans because you'll never be able to reach them all, as Facebook's EdgeRank was designed to keep companies from spamming their "fans". So it only allows you to reach out to the fans that already actively engage with your brand.

"People Talking About This" is the closest metric you have to increase your "viral reach". It's a weekly measurement that measures your page's engagement.

The higher that number goes, the better chance you have of reaching more people. And the bigger your page will grow because you'll start reaching more "friends of fans."

3. Klout --> Net Promoter Score. Klout, according to Smith, is the ultimate vanity metric. If you really want to know how satisfied customers and fans are, ask them to take the "Net Promoter Score," Smith suggests. Net Promoter Score is a simple question that is vastly more accurate than Klout:

"How likely are you to recommend to a colleague or friend?"

Your Net Promoter Score equals the percentage of Promoters (9s and 10s) minus the percentage of Detractors (0 through 6)
(7s and 8s are "Passives", and are left out).

In summary of Smith’s article, e-mail subscribers are profitable, "People Talking About This" on Facebook raises your brand awareness, and the Net Promoter Score tells you exactly how satisfied your customers are.

Therefore, based upon the confusion of the bandwidth of information, it is my recommendation that although the use of social media in the learning industry can be very productive, the need for metrics is inherently environmentally specific for each company. The metrics needed by IBM should not be considered to be the same as those metrics being measured at HP. What works best for me, may not work for you. Take the time to determine if and how the concept of social learning will function within your specific learning environment.