For those not yet sold on the time and money investment in social media participation, Forrester Research has researched the return on investment from a variety of angles and published an interesting report evaluating the benefits of participating in online communities specifically from a customer service point of view.
Christopher Musico at CRM has a bang-up summary and review of the report. In his review, he lists Natalie Petouhoff, senior analyst at Forrester, as the author of the report, and points out that she researched the report because she hadn't seen any ROI studies for social media, particularly in the customer service sphere.
The research is solid, with 20 companies already participating in the social media space being interviewed. Most interesting to me was an unexpected benefit Ms. Peouhoff uncovered. Musico reports:
Who would have thought that our customers have great ideas they are just dying to tell us? So in addition to improving customer service agent productivity and reducing email costs, your company might just get a million-dollar idea for the next wave of products from the most focused of focus groups: your customers.
[Edit 7-20-09: for more like this, see The ROI of Social Media Engagement]