In conversation: the importance of social media in a business context

Following the great feedback received for Red Sky Vision’s fantastic Social Media @ Work video, I was looking through the interview footage of me which didn’t make it into the final film (there was quite a lot of it because when you get me started on social media it’s impossible to shut me up!) … and wondered if it might be possible to make these cuttings into a series of short videos – it seemed a shame to waste them and recycling is so important these days!

So, Red Sky worked their magic and the result is six short films entitled: In conversation with … in which I get to stand atop my soapbox and spew forth on various topics. The films vary in length and, because they are swept up from the cutting room floor, they are a bit bitty at times. Nonetheless, I hope you find time to watch and enjoy them … 🙂

The first video is some of my random views on the importance of social media in a business context.

In conversation with Richard Dennison – Why is social media important in a business context from Red Sky Vision on Vimeo.

[If for any reason you can’t see the embedded video above, you can view it on the Vimeo site]

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Making knowledge management manageable


Heavy industry of KM

I’ve been thinking about knowledge management (KM) over the last few days as we have a new KM programme kicking off in BT. This is good news as KM has languished a bit over recent months.

Inevitably, the meetings have begun to happen and the latest set of KM papers are starting to circulate for comments/sign-off etc. (… good news is they are in a wiki for anyone in the company to edit/comment upon 🙂 ).

The problem for me is that we are also at the stage where the enormity and complexity of the task ahead becomes apparent in an organisation as large as BT. The temptation is to wheel out the old heavy industry KM powerpoint decks so the strategy becomes so complex that the whole things grinds to a halt and becomes a long series of turgid meetings discussing impenetrable diagrams and concepts.

The truth is, I don’t think we have any chance whatsoever of managing knowledge in BT – if it’s actually possible to manage knowledge anywhere. What we can do is help people to help themselves and others as simply as possible.

It got me thinking about what we can reasonably expect to achieve and which would actually make a difference to the way people share what they know.

If we could achieve three things, I think we will have made more progress in the field of KM than we’ve ever managed before. Those things are:

  • expose in the network who people are and what they are interested in/working on/thinking about …
  • provide a way to search through the above and then offer a simple mechanism to connect like-minded people together in networks
  • automatically expose the activities of individuals to those in their networks through activity streams.

That’s it … simples!

Well … possibly not as simple as it sounds … but achievable at least.

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Here today, gone tomorrow …

I’ve seen lots of articles recently asking whether social media is the death of knowledge management (KM) … I’ve even written about myself, albeit nearly a year ago now.

In this context I was struck by an answer in Computer World from John Seely Brown to a question about what he learnt at Xerox (thanks  to @jobsworth for the heads-up):

“First, wisdom is often the biggest obstacle to innovation. In a rapidly changing world, the assumptions that underlie our past learning may now be invalid. So, an idea that didn’t work five years ago may work fantastically now.

Second, we tend to hold on to assumptions longer than we should. Often, by letting go of old assumptions, whole new vistas are created.”

I’ve always felt that traditional KM practices are too slow moving and try to impose an overly simplistic and controlling model onto what is essentially a chaotic, vibrant, real-time reality. Sometimes, it feels like KM is trying to take a series of still-shots of this real-time reality to present back to users who have already moved on – and when you put the still shots together, you get a jerky and incomplete picture.

I think John Seely Brown makes a great point – the world is changing so fast that keeping stuff for future use is becoming less and less valuable and can blinker our future potential. It challenges many of the precepts upon which KM is built.

As the world has become more and more real-time, so the balance has shifted away from re-use of existing information to the notion of relationships. The need for knowledge now is what has driven social media practices which, not only acknowledge the chaos of humanity, but embrace it to deliver distilled, real-time value. It’s not formally organised, it’s often not pretty, but it seems to work.

The million dollar question is how do you strike the right balance between learning from history and living in the past?

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Mix it up …

One of the dangers of introducing user generated content (UGC) onto your intranet is that it will be seen as separate from the rest of your existing content – a form of ‘second-class’ information that will sit in ghettos and not be taken as seriously … it is, after-all, known widely as social content. It’s important to understand what value UGC brings to the party and integrate it into what you already offer. Failure to do this will banish UGC to the margins where it will deliver little value and validate the views of those who regard it as a frivolous activity for geeks and time-wasters.

One significant benefit UGC does provide is a context for static content – but only if they sit side by side and are presented together to users. A good example of this in BT is our corporate newsdesk – BT Today (see image below). This service is hugely popular in BT. Second only to the on-line directory, it receives millions of hits a week and is accessed by virtually all employees. It is professionally run by a team of free-lance journalists with a couple of full-time, BT-employed editorial staff to manage the whole thing.

To make it more interactive, new UGC functionality was added about six months ago (see red circles on below diagram). The new functionality is called Your Space and is composed of:

  • Your photos – a sort of internal Flickr but with a short story alongside each photo users upload to make them more interesting to a wider audience
  • Your adverts – where employees can advertise their stuff (free up to a certain value then there is a charge)
  • Your announcements – a section to wish people happy birthday, anniversary etc.
  • Your views – the most interesting section, I think, where employees can start discussion threads about topics of interest to them.

BT Today

Your views has proved extremely popular and some quite controversial topics have been aired in that space. Currently, each thread gets around 25k hits and around 100 comments from users wishing to get their point across – which, considering the high profile nature of this site, is pretty good (there’s no anonymity on any of our UGC tools). What is also encouraging, is that several BT board members have gone in and commented in the discussions as normal users. They’ve also started a few threads themselves … they really seem to want to join the conversation. So successful have the UGC sections been, that the site is soon to be redesigned giving these sections greater prominence in the centre of the screen. New functionality to allow users to comment on news stories is also being introduced.

I wonder how long it will be before the whole site is made up of only UGC – like CNN’s iReport site! 🙂

I’ve also highlighted RSS on the diagram – this site alone has around 150 separate RSS feeds so that users can subscribe to, and receive, information that is relevant to them in a very granular fashion.

BTpedia … enterprise-wide wiki

BTpedia is our enterprise-wide corporate wiki tool into which anyone can publish information or edit information published by others. The idea is that, by simplifying and democratising the publication process, we will unlock a wealth of informal information that is currently excluded from the highly structured and more formal content hosted in our web content management system. Each article also has a discussion tab associated with it which flushes out like-minded people and facilitates connections between them and ultimately communities. You can’t post anonymously into it and so far there has been no sign of any kind of misuse or abuse …

BTpedia homepage Oct 07