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Social Networking and Enterprise Knowledge Management

Concepts like Knowledge Management and Learning Organizations have gained importance in the last decade and a half. Regardless of the size and nature of their business, organizations realize the importance of tapping into the collective skills and knowledge of their people to build competitive advantage. As people work their way through an increasingly complex decision-making process, navigating a tough regulatory framework, the knowledge they acquire forms the basis of what an organization can achieve. And since knowledge is notoriously ‘sticky’, it tends to stay with them, even when they choose to leave the organization. Most organizations have been clueless on developing effective strategies and tools to capture, discover and use this knowledge.

Traditional profiling applications and skills databases enabled organizations to build repositories of workforce skills and capabilities. While these captured key structured details about the workforce, they left a void in terms of capturing unstructured knowledge. In this traditional environment, ‘who you know’ was as important, if not more, as ‘what you know’ for getting a task done. Avenues of sharing this knowledge were few and so were the incentives. Rewards and recognition programs were tailored to favour people who ‘had’ the knowledge. As an organization grew, it created islands of experience, and knowledge that led to duplicate and wasted effort and lost opportunities.

The very nature of knowledge makes it difficult to manage like other organizational assets. Knowledge assets can be Explicit, easy to articulate and precise; or Tacit, understood in context of an experience or a situation, and difficult to codify or articulate. An organization has to leverage both explicit and tacit knowledge inherent in its social networks, both within and outside organizational boundaries, to get jobs done. Organizations use this everyday knowledge to empower decision-making, improve performance, reduce risk, and encourage innovation.

The popularity of social networks and user-generated content in organizations is gradually changing the way knowledge is created, shared and utilized. With tools like employee blogs, corporate wikis and social bookmarking, people within the organization have a way to capture and share their knowledge without letting technology get in the way. Blogs (and micro-blogs like Twitter) enable people to express themselves without being burdened by corporate content policies and multiple levels of reviews in a more traditional environment. Wikis enable employees to create and edit content in a collaborative environment. Social bookmarking and social ranking of content (as exemplified by Delicious and Digg) enable an entire community to organize what it knows in a single repository, enabling users to define and manage what is relevant and useful. Access to knowledge assets is provided with information push (as in Alerts), pull (for instance, Search), or a combination of these models (as with RSS Feeds). Coupled with effective metrics, organizations can then monitor the creation and use of knowledge assets and identify most valuable links in the entire organization that go beyond organizational hierarchy charts.

This free flow of communications not only promotes knowledge creation and sharing, but has also completely altered traditional group dynamics. Where traditional models incentivized having knowledge, the new social models actively promote sharing what you know. Social standing in this environment is determined by the extent to which an employee contributes to the community. This further encourages creation of knowledge assets and enables the community to gain value by virtue of the knowledge assets it contains within its repositories. An HR Manager today can tap into the power of social networks to find new recruits; a sales manager can find a way into a customer account tapping into the connections of his network; and management can implement decisions faster by focusing on key executives and influencers throughout the organization.

Where consumer social networks are largely community-managed, organizations can choose to exercise varying degrees of control on the communities of knowledge they create. From content administration to the classification of knowledge assets, organizations can decide what degree of control works best for them, and enable people within the organization to achieve more with technology as an enabler.

As more businesses see the value of social networks in capturing a lifetime of experiences inherent in their workforce, a continually changing landscape will demand new ways to manage knowledge. Social networks are gaining in popularity because they don’t get in the way as with traditional knowledge management systems. Rather, by forming communities of interest, social networks enable the entire community to define, moderate and evolve knowledge management frameworks to meet new needs as they arise. This is what social networks are all about anyway!