I’ve been wrestling with this lately and maybe you can help. If I’m the social networking user and I frequent my favorite social network everyday, how should I measure my ROI? My investment of time to the site should be rewarded with what? The quality of my experience? What exactly is that? The number of people I meet? The real people I meet? the number of people I actually communicate with? The amount of conversations? Is it the stuff I create? The amount of personal interactions? the amount of micro interactions? The number of photos or songs I share?  Is it the quality of my everyday engagement?  Yes, yes, yes, and yes…..It’s all of those things. To each person, it is one of those, or all of the above.

So perhaps it looks something like this:

Do you see the dilemma though? I had previously written about user experience versus user interface, but what it really comes down to beyond the user experience is, the return on the user expereince or  the ROUE.  As a potential user of your social site, I need YOU the marketer, builder, architect or whomever- to show me quickly what my ROUE will be.  Because lets face it, I don’t want to work too hard to engage others or create content. Perhaps it’s the WIIFM paradigm? “What’s in it for me”.

Is it the tools that are available for the user to create UGC? Is that a big feature? It is for Myspace. Is it the ability to add hundreds of “friends”? It is to Facebook. Is it the ability to network with notable people in business? It is to LinkedIn. You see each site has a different ROUE to offer the user. What keeps the user coming back in each scenario is, when we boil it down- the response, the return, the pay-off, the money shot.  We are “geeked” by the response that we receive from whomever. The user investment for the user, is their time and efforts, and the reward for the user is a response from others. Write a blog and no one reads it, how much and how long will you write? It’s predicated on a response. Take nny user generated content created in a vacuum and the creator won’t be doing it for very long.

So perhaps the measurement should be Return on user effort as much as it is Return on user experience?  Think about why YouTube is so popular. Well, it’s a few things. It’s the ability to create content for free, the ability to share it, the possibility of getting noticed, a return on the user generated content, communicating with others, a response. Notoriety. 15 minutes of fame.

So next time you’re evaluating the NBT of social networks, Look at the ROUE.  Is the return on user experience and return on user effort very high? You should be able to determine that fairly quickly. In my follow up piece, I’m going to look at ROI and engagement and how we measure those as a barometer of social media success.