In my last post, I talked about how for-profit organizations determine the ROI of a social media strategy. But how would a library calculate this? And, perhaps more importantly: should it even try?
This post by Cory Lown and Hilary Davis explains some of the caveats of relying on ROI in a library setting:
It is, however, essential to remember that there is a reason why libraries do not operate for a profit (with the possible exception of libraries that charge back to users for services), and that they came into being for reasons other than generating monetary wealth. There are also good reasons to be skeptical of measurements of library quality, performance, and relevance presented in purely economic terms…. Libraries must strike a balance between focusing on their mission and on their desire to prove worth in terms of high performance and ROI. For many libraries, ROI simply doesn’t measure the indirect benefits they provide.
Beth Kanter, author of a blog and two books on social networking and non-profit institutions, agrees:
I don’t think [ROI] necessarily works for nonprofits, especially when it applied as a litmus test to see if there are financial outcomes — cost reductions or increased revenue. Nonprofits should focus on continuum of value that incorporates both tangible and intangible benefits to integrating social media in communications or program goals.
The Librarian in Black sums up librarians’ concerns about ROI nicely: “Many libraries see ROI as a term of ‘corporate fear.'”
But does this mean ROI as a metric should be dismissed entirely? The experts seem to agree that the main problem with ROI in a non-profit setting is the focus on profits, specifically. But this seems to call for a shift in focus rather than a rejection of the concept altogether; that some benefits may be intangible doesn’t mean they aren’t worth consideration. If libraries make no effort to evaluate the impact of a social media strategy because doing so would be succumbing to “corporate fear,” they’re missing an important opportunity to demonstrate that not all value need be monetized—much like the value of the library itself!
But what would this shift in thinking look like? Without the focus on profits, how should the impact of social networking be determined? My final post will discuss some solutions.
Until then, what do you think?
Image courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/7rains.