Social media and knowledge management

A tweet from Steve Ellwood pointing out an article about IBM and the relationship between social media and KM on KnowledgeBoard reminded me of a paper I wrote on the subject in March last year. I re-read it and have included some extracts below …

It is possible to divide knowledge management practice into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ activities. Formal activities are often the tangible deliverables associated with an articulated knowledge management strategy, and might include such things as evaluation of business processes to ensure that knowledge is injected into those processes at the decision points along it.

Informal activities are associated with the more intangible enablers of knowledge sharing, typically associated with culture and behaviour and, being hard to define and deliver, often appear as ‘platitudes’ in a knowledge management strategy with no clear actions and no obvious deliverables. A further complication associated with these more informal activities is that they are not obviously ‘owned’ within the business and, being enterprise wide, are normally beyond the scope of an individual area of strategic focus.

Social media tools have the capacity to address these intangible enablers without the need for formal organisational ‘ownership’ by allowing ‘community’ ownership of information, networks and channels.

Participation by users in a social media-rich environment both engender, and rely upon, environmental factors such as:

  • communication through conversation rather than monologue
  • participation at an individual level, not an organisational level
  • a flow of information which is predominantly ‘pull’ not ‘push’
  • distributed rather than central ownership and control
  • correct balance between managerial trust and personal responsibility.

The converse of these environmental factors has traditionally been a significant barrier to the facilitation of effective knowledge management. The fact that social media tools can break them down is key to their contribution to the knowledge management challenge.

A key barrier to the successful implementation of enterprise knowledge sharing and management has been a mix of ‘intangible’ factors which could be categorised under the headings of culture and behaviours. The enormity of the perceived task in transforming these factors favourably and the lack of enterprise-wide ownership of that task has paralysed knowledge management practitioners for many years.

The advent of social media tools and their ability to facilitate a seismic cultural shift in the relationship between individuals within an organisation, and with the organisation itself, is a huge opportunity to dismantle those barriers and move a significant step towards enterprise knowledge sharing and management.

The paper also included the diagram I published in this post.

I agree entirely with Luis Suarez that the focus of KM has been far too much on tools and process, but don’t think social media is the ‘death’ of KM … rather, it is the missing link that can address some of the tricky ‘intangibles’ to which KM has traditionally paid lip-service while busily delivering new KM tools and re-engineering processes.



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