Saturday, 10 August 2013

Social knowledge for internal communications

Social media have changed the way we communicate and interact with people and online communities on a daily basis. As a consequence of this, social media has helped to facilitate a new kind of knowledge, 'social knowledge'.

It is difficult to agree on one definition of social media, especially when it comes to business. Therefore, it is no surprise that even the term 'social knowledge' finds its challenges in terms of meaning. Yet, the phenomenon is here, and many are trying to answer the question 'What is social knowledge?'

This week I came across a definition given by Esteban Kolsky. He writes:

Tapping into communities and subject matter experts, social knowledge moves away from the traditional knowledge-in-storage model of accumulating “stuff” in knowledge-bases to getting the information directly from the knowledge owner that has it.
This knowledge is used, cataloged, indexed and used again – but only as long as it is the right answer – after that, new answers become “the right answer”.

Kolsky also emphasises that “knowledge is augmented each and every moment during usage; this is one of the driving forces for online communities”.

What I take from Kolsky's definition is that social media and online communities give us the opportunity to approach knowledge in a totally different way from the past – both in terms of creation and use. The collective knowledge that is generated through social media possesses the ability to be updated, fresh and accurate since “new answers become the right answer” all the times. Social knowledge is also immediately available and members of an online community can create and make use of it in the right context and for the right purpose.

When it comes to internal communications, considering the power of social knowledge inside organisations is certainly very relevant. Successfull implementations and adoptions of internal social media have been demonstrating this.

A recent study conducted by Professor Paul Leonardi of Northwestern University, proved that enterprise social networks can dramatically increase the ability of a company to find expert knowledge inside.

Leonardi comments that: To get access to certain people with a particular kind of knowledge or skill requires us to leverage a personal relationship. To be able to get the knowledge we need, it is important to know who has that knowledge as well as knowing who knows the person who has that knowledge. We call this 'meta-knowledge' – knowledge about what and whom people know. Meta-knowedge = knowledge about knowledge”.

Leonardi's experiment - conducted within a financial company with 15,000 employees over a six-month period - showed that an internal social network forges the potential of meta-knowledge and maximises internal communications, collaboration and productivity.

Another way of reflecting on social knowledge is through the studies by Harold Jarche, who suggests to look at knowledge through networks as an ongoing process of seeking, sensing and sharing.
Jarche reports that “by seeking, sensing and sharing on an individual basis, we create the building blocks for a dynamic community of knowledge workers, continuously pushing at the edges of our disciplines. This sharing and using of ideas is at the core of business innovation”.

Seeking: Using filters
In seeking, we need to develop effective filters so we are not overwhelmed by too much information... We can use human filters, such as asking a close colleague for a good source of information on a subject...Another option is to find a known expert in a field and ask him or her for advice...The best option is to connect with a network of expertise and corroborate advice from a variety of experts.”

Sensing: Validating, Synthesizing, Presenting, and Customizing
We make sense of data by using our existing knowledge to create more information...Making information public helps to validate it, as we can check references, analyze logic and compare sources...By treating information as grist for our cognitive mills, we can build knowledge bases that will help us get work done.”

Sharing: Joining a Community
Sharing is an essential part of network learning. Without it, we become islands of knowledge that cannot take collective action...The use of online media enables sharing and can result in exponential network effects. Because knowledge has no known limits, the potential return on investment in knowledge co-creation can be many orders of magnitude greater than traditional process improvement methods.

To conclude, social knowledge for internal communications is a critical area where internal social networks can show their potential. Employees looking for specific bits of knowledge have an open space where to rise their questions, and get answers from anyone within the organisation despite of business units and geographical locations. The transparency and visibility of the messages ensure open conversations where knowledge continuosly flows. When groups of employees need to collaborate and work on specific type of knowledge, enterprise social networks enables communities of practise and expertise to fill in this purpose.

More to come on this topic, which I find fascinating and will continue to explore.