Thursday, July 08, 2010

Intersection of KM and Social Networking

[cross-posted at Slaw]

Knowledge@Warton has a great recap of a discussion from the 2010 Supernova forum. At issue is the evolution of social networking tools, and how they compare with corporate KM efforts. It’s an interesting discussion with a diverse range of opinions. If you’re currently involved in a KM program, or a law librarian seeking new ways to add value to your firm, I would encourage you to read this piece in its entirety.

One issue in particular that caught my eye was the contrast between ‘keeping it fun’ and maintaining value. Here’s a snippet:

While there are virtues to being able to communicate faster and more easily with social networking tools, panelists agreed that many organizations are struggling to adjust to the spontaneity and loss of control over information that comes with these tools. Concerned that organizations will eventually clamp down, Weinberger asked, “Will all the fun be stripped out of it? Will people become afraid to Tweet about things that are not strictly business-related?”

The second competing factor in this continuum, of course, is extracting the valuable pieces of corporate knowledge for future use. Social networking tools do a wonderful job of moving what’s in our heads (tacit knowledge) into something that’s documented and searchable (explicit knowledge). But what we’re left with is two competing forces: 1) valuable corporate knowledge, documented legacy, etc. and 2) fun! Without the ‘fun’, tools simply don’t get used. And without exchange of quality ideas and information, social networking depreciates as a business tool.

So my thinking here is to recognize this as an important balance; and one that needs to be maintained. “Fun” is the noise to our signal, but necessary for participation. To derive value, we also need more than just conversation. We’re often left searching for the valuable knowledge within these discussions; for the same reasons we still conduct a Google search vs running off to our social network with every whim – each has its place. But in order for this ecosystem to work in-house for companies (law firms included), someone has to survey and leverage these discussions to identify the valuable pieces. At the crudest levels, we find a technological solution – i.e. enterprise search – to help us find the needles in the haystack. But even then, finding an on-point conversation is often only the starting point; giving us yet another direction to find the information we need.

The more refined solution is familiar to librarians: collection building. Invested effort at knowing what information is repetitively needed within a company, and developing pathfinders that shorten our travels. Not just codifying conversations, as social networking does, but creating value for the company by adding context. Without this kind of gatekeeper function, a lack of collection building leaves company employees ‘sifting’ longer; and often, reinventing the wheel.

The other aspect to recognize, is that as tools become less productive (noisy), there’s increased pressure to keep in-house conversations focused on business. Which really means, if you want to have both ‘fun’ AND corporate knowledge – you really must have a Librarian! ;)

My final point is this: I think KM still has an important role in the day of social networking and social media; especially with respect to creating “intellectual assets” that will outlast a company’s current set of employees. Do these tools have critical value to building a KM program? “Yes”. Are social networking tools a replacement for a KM program? Definitely not. At least that’s my take.


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