Is Social Business Just Knowledge Management 2.0?

March 7, 2012 Comments
Is Social Business Just Knowledge Management 2.0?

Back in the late nineties I remember being enthralled by the concept of helping organizations unlock the tacit knowledge in the employee’s mind. The mantra at the time was to share and collaborate. We latched onto intranets, discussion databases, team rooms, forums and all sorts of other shared information storage environments in a bid to bring the collective intelligence of the organization into a form which can be shared.

These systems saw some success. Having spent most of my life working with IBM Lotus products, Lotus Notes stood out as the front-and-center implementation vehicle for business collaboration. Microsoft were caught napping and many attempts were made by them and others to catch up. When IBM bought Lotus it was for one thing – Lotus Notes.  Microsoft eventually hired the guy who invented Lotus Notes – Ray Ozzie – with a view to have him inject the “secret sauce” which made Notes as successful as a line-of-business collaboration tool, even if ultimately it lost a different battle – the email one – to Microsoft.

Knowledge Management, as I recall it, was considered to be deployment of intranets, portals, collaborative databases and all sorts of stuff to allow staff to uncover stuff they didn’t already know. We scanned and OCR’ed paper, captured faxes, saved emails centrally, created and saved documents in a library and sent more workflow emails than we knew what to do with.

Over the years since then some traits have of course come and gone. Almost any organization with more than one person has an intranet of some sort, even if its just a file server with shared drives people save information to. Many organizations have portals which customize and and personalize their content, providing a single point of access to all the corporate systems.

By far the majority of organizations with a need in this area have deployed an intranet of some sort. Normally these mirror the organizational structure, contain poorly-updated information, are difficult to find what is up to date and worst of all become a coffin for documents.

Readers might well see many parallels with Knowledge Management and Social Business tools. Many Social Business Tools replicate the functionality I have discussed in knowledge management, presumably with the same pitfalls. Most Social Business tools have even more collaborative devices to simplify knowledge capture – wikis, blogs, ideation blogs, gamification, likes/dislikes etc. The jaundiced amongst us might predict that these tools too will fall to the lowest-common denominator after the initial hubub has died down. The result is another expensive white elephant with the IT department telling the business “we told you so” and the credibility of the sponsor shot to pieces.

Worst still is the requirement, quite rightly, that to get proper buy-in you need a senior level executive sponsor for a Social Business environment. People need to know that it is not going away and that they will be *made* to use it, so they better pay attention. To me, an approach like this is doomed to failure.

Where Knowledge Management and Social Business diverge is the organic nature of Social Business. Knowledge Management was about the capture, structure, organization and availability of information from all sources. Social Business is about encouraging people to share what they know, to feel good about doing so, establish relationships with others in the organization which span the organization tree and genuinely do something extraordinary. This might sound like a utopian dream, but I believe there are legs to Social Business which all organizations can benefit from.

Many Social systems provide a layer of socialness on top of existing content. IBM Connections, for example, provides the ability to treat Microsoft SharePoint as a content repository. Adding social to your knowledge management therefore brings a best of both worlds solution to the same problem Knowledge Management was trying to solve.

But just adding a social layer to a Lotus Notes database or a SharePoint document library doesn’t turn you into a Social Business. You must bring the people with you.  Although senior executive sponsorship of a cross-organization system is essential to get the funds and the bandwidth in most companies, you need to bring the troops with you into the battle. You need to show the ordinary members of staff what they will learn or gain by participating in a social business environment.

Turning the 80% of “listeners” into the 20% of active participants is the biggest hurdle you will face. While almost everyone south of the age of 45 in the organization will have a Facebook account, how many are actually regular contributors? In a social setting people are the experts of their own lives. In a work setting they may not be so keen to participate for lots of reasons, not least that they are into job-preservation.

That’s why for a Social Business transformation I advocate that you find the people all across the organization to understand the benefits and are prepared to be in the vanguard of the battle. Ideally someone in each major area of the organization so that the chances of the use of the system being recognized as being appropriate in every area is possible. Also, it encourages the recognition factor – people are probably more inclined to participate when they see someone they know contributing.

As a community manager, these individuals become the cheerleaders for social business and deserve your virtually undivided attention. They need to be nurtured, cared for, given positive constructive feedback and encouraged to push on the social business wheel to overcome the inertia of the organization.

This is where Knowledge Management really differs from Social Business for my money. Knowledge Management took no great heed of the need to network people together.  Social Business disconnects the documents, the wikis, the blogs, and everything else, from the concept of share what you’re doing, how you did it, find who else does this.

By adopting social business practices you should expect to see an explosion of the tacit knowledge your organization has compared to the explicit knowledge it has built up in its knowledge management system. Both concepts push on the same door, but from different sides.

Image: StockFresh Knowledge

  • jedpc

    Alan, I truly, truly hate the term “social business” but at least you have had a good go at defining exactly what you mean by it:

    “Social Business is about encouraging people to share what they know, to feel good about doing so, establish relationships with others in the organization which span the organization tree and genuinely do something extraordinary”

    I could say that might somone’s definition of KM ! I personally would say it’s just a definition of a good business, a good organizational culture, and there is no need to make it fashionable by adding the word social. Yes I get that “social” equates to people centric, but in the end surely all businesses are about relationships between people ? Or do we need to define the “anti-social” business ?

    So, is Social Business just knowledge management 2.0 – no. Can KM utilize social computing to enable / enhance the realisation of a “knowledge enabled” organization / business ? For sure,  but for those who have spent 20 plus years complaining that “Knowledge Management” is to fuzzy and ill defined, the attemp to latch onto the “social” buzzword drives me mad :-)

    My take on it at CMS Wire here: in response to a post by @roanyoung:disqus 



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