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Knowledge Management and Social Media

A cover of Journal of Knowledge Management

Image via Wikipedia

The job that is taking a large chunk of my time at Nokia these days revolves around knowledge management. What the hell is that? According to Wikipedia:

Knowledge Management (‘KM’) comprises a range of practices used by organisations to identify, create, represent, distribute and enable adoption of what it knows, and how it knows it. It has been an established discipline since 1995 1 with a body of university courses and both professional and academic journals dedicated to it. Many large companies have resources dedicated to Knowledge Management, often as a part of ‘Information Technology‘, ‘Human Resource Management‘ or Business strategy departments.

My own history in “knowledge management” started back when I took over maintaining an FAQ web site for my employer, which made its way to phoneboy.com, which looked very different in the late 1990s. Of course, back then, we didn’t call it knowledge management, but that’s what it was. That led to a job at Nokia, where I have had some role in that process ever since.

Stuart Henshall is at the KMWorld 2008 Conference and has some thoughts on Knowledge Management and Social Media:

I’m thinking more and more that the social media experts are likely to usurp or overturn
many KM practices in time. The fact that SAP, Oracle and IBM are today all working with Twitter like updates is at least encouraging. Maybe they can still sell a knowledge platform?

Back when phoneboy.com was FAQs on Check Point FireWall-1, I ran the site on several different “content management” systems:

  • Straight HTML files
  • FAQomatic
  • Nucleus CMS
  • TWiki

From my point of view, you can do Knowledge Management on just about anything. The tools you use are almost irrelevant insofar as managing and presenting the actual content. The trick has always been–and will continue to be–getting other people to contribute to the process.

Granted, some tools make it easier for people to contribute. Business processes also play a role as well. At the end of the day, it ultimately comes down to the mindset of the people involved. There has to be a “culture” of sharing information among the participants.

How does social media tie into Knowledge Management? From my point of view, it’s the interaction with customers that social media provides. The interaction can be over the phone, on the web, via text chat, which are more traditional methods. It can also be over blogs, forums, or even Twitter, if you’d like.

Once you have that interaction, that interaction has to be captured somehow and turned into knowledge. I’ve seen some systems whereby chat sessions are automatically saved into a CRM system. In general, though, I don’t think simply taking a raw communications session and making it a knowledge base article in a customer-facing system is a good idea. I’ve done that very thing for an internal wiki, but it was temporary until I could go back and update the page with something more structured.

I think the reason knowledge management hasn’t caught up with Web 2.0 is because companies, in general, view knowledge has something to be tightly controlled by a few people and checked and double-checked by everyone under the sun. Social media involves the free flow of information between parties–information that may be largely correct, but some is potentially apocryphal or downright incorrect.

I’ve recently been exposed to the ideas of Knowledge Centered Support (KCS). While I don’t necessarily agree with the details of the implementation, I do appreciate the spirit of it. It is important to get as many people involved with the process of generating content as possible and focus on frequent content reuse and updating.

Will social media change how knowledge management is done? I think it already has for those who are in the know. It will take a while for the rest of the industry to catch up. Knowledge management will never be as free flowing as social media simply for the need to structure information so it makes sense to the majority of the audience, but initiatives like KCS will help to encourage employees to share what they know.

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Parent, Writer, Podcaster, Coffee Achiever, VoIP/Telco Curious, C-List Information Security Celebrity, and Mobile Phone Connoisseur residing in Gig Harbor WA US. Sometimes NSFW, always a 49ers fan.