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KM and SM: Couldn't find a happier couple

Having discussed this issue with many customers, I've got to say that Venkatesh Rao's post claiming that we have a "war" going on between KM and SM is nonsense.

The truth is much closer to Jeff Kelly’s post. KM and SM are at peace. In fact, Jeff really gets it right when he says, "Social media actualizes the idealism of KM." Let me explain.

We know the purpose of a knowledge management system is to capture knowledge and create an environment where it's easily accessed and reused. So if the goal is clear and the benefit is high, why have KM systems suffered from the failed-implementation syndrome?

The answer is at the heart of the disagreement represented between Venkatesh and Jeff. In the 90s, some KM systems failed because they required business process re-engineering. This is a fancy way to say they required people to change the way they did things to accommodate the KM system. These changes usually took place in the knowledge capture phase.

In fact, how many times did we hear these words? "The KM initiative must have senior management support," or, "We need to put knowledge capture incentives in place," or, "Adding content must now be part of the performance measurement system."

These and similar statements are just other ways of saying this: It took a huge carrot (like a bonus) or a huge stick (like the threat of being fired) to get people to contribute knowledge to the KM system. No wonder it's been labeled with and tainted by the failed-implementation tag.

The beauty of social media is that it changes all of this. People use social media without threats or incentives. Social media tools are not arcane the way many knowledge capture modules were in traditional KM systems. They are simple and intuitive. What could be easier that a blog, a tag, or a comment?

This trend parallels with the search revolution. Prior to Yahoo and Google, search was a job for a professional. (Go on, admit it. You know dialog search syntax!) But Yahoo and Google simplified search, and we quickly learned how to master the art of searching.

The same holds true for social media. We have learned to add comments in Amazon, tag articles in Delicious, edit pages in Wikipedia, and blog on our favorite blogging platform. Now that we're trained, we're willing to use these tools at work in the context and cause of a knowledge management initiative. You see, KM and SM are simply two sides of the same coin.

There is no war between KM and SM. Rather, there is a convergence of technologies and perspectives. Social media tools and constructs allow easy, intuitive conversation and knowledge capture from the community in a manner that invites and entices participation.

Without the need for the carrot and stick, we are off to the races. KM initiatives can and will increasingly succeed as long as KM vendors and practitioners adapt and learn their social media lessons.

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