Saturday 20 June 2009

Social networking for business? Or business networking with a social edge?

Paper Chain Men
Originally uploaded by ArtemFinland
Social networking is a topic on every one's lips. The explosion of social networking is exciting, dramatic, highly visible across the world wide web. The uptake and use of these tools has led many people to think that they could be valuable within the business world as well, as ways of connecting employees within a company. I have even heard one company reported as saying "Sharepoint isn't working for us, lets get Facebook instead"

Hang on a minute folks - lets step back a moment and think what we are trying to do here.

Knowledge management involves networking, and those networks need to have a culture of trust and relationships. They need a social edge - a social dimension. This has been recognised for a long time, and there is plenty of history from Buckman labs and from Shell and from many other about how to promote and encourage the social relationships which enable the networks. But these networks are not primarily social, they are primarily for business; for exchanging and re-using knowledge between practitioners within communities of practice. They are for doing better business, rather than acquiring more webfriends. Experience shows that communities need some coordination, and some facilitation, and some direction. Conoco Phillips, for example, have this down to a fine art, and know just how to nurture and support a community so that it delivers maximum value to the business, based on relationships of trust and interdependence. They have developed business networking tools tailored to these needs, which contain a social dimension but in a business networking context.

So if these communities are business networks with a social edge, then are social networking tools the tools that they need? I don't think they are. Social networking software is designed for social purposes; for finding friends, making new friends, building friendships though chatting and interaction, but not necessarily for building collective capability through knowledge sharing. Replacing the business networking tools of successful communities with the likes of Facebook could be a disaster. Facebook is great - I am on Facebook myself - but it's designed for a purely social purpose.

Knowledge management requires business networking which requires social relationships, but social relationships are not the totality of knowledge management (just as baking bread requires a supply of flour which can be supplied by access to a supermarket, but easy access to supermarkets does not make you a baker).

As always, before selecting software, you need a clear understanding of what you want it to do. If you want to build social networks in your business, then buy some social networking software. If you want to build business networks with a social edge, then get some business networking tools (and before you buy any software at all, ask yourself whether it's lack of software that's the issue that stops knowledge being shared and re-used. Very often it isn't).

There are elements of the social web that have huge value for KM within business , and these are the web 2.0 applications that facilitate user-generated content, which I see as different from the tools designed to facilitate social networks. More of these in a later post.

1 comment:

social networking software said...

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