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Does KM need social media?

"For decades, it’s been a promise. But knowledge management is finally possible. That’s because social networking MAKES it possible. By allowing fast, easy and lightweight collaboration between individuals and workgroups, tools such as user forums, blogs, wikis and their ilk have finally made good on the promise of KM."

That's a quote from a recent paper by Andy Moore, publisher of KMWorld. It's sparked a fire for some in the industry, including Carl Frappaolo, who brought the quote under scrutiny last week in a post on InformationArchitectedInc.

Carl's counter argument is that KM is not just about technology. It is "a business practice and ecosystem, that evolves over time." You can read more about his position in his article. (Btw, thanks Carl for quoting my white paper in your post!)

First of all, I want to say hats off to an open and honest discussion on knowledge management. But I believe that Carl and Andy agree on more than they let on. As per my white paper that Carl cites, KM is clearly about more than one technology and is also clearly about more than just technology.

However, while Andy might have used an interesting title to attract readership, he is dead on in that social media has changed the KM game. The most common one-liner about past KM initiatives was that they failed. And where did they fail? Typically in the knowledge capture phase. And why did knowledge capture fail? Because previous generation KM tools required two things.

First, they often required some sort of business process re-engineering. (This is a fancy term for changing the way an organization works.) As I’m sure you agree making people change what they are doing for a soft benefit in the future, is usually a really good foundation for success ... NOT!

Second, previous KM systems are noted for asking a Dilbert like pointy-haired boss to dictate that “you will use the system.” Again, I’m sure you agree that telling people what to do, is usually a really good foundation for success. NOT!

The reason social media is changing KM is because of the culture of sharing that we now live in. People, especially younger workers, are now trained, willing, and able to use social media tools. So to the extent that we can utilize social media tools for knowledge capture and knowledge collaboration, then we avoid the two key pitfalls of previous KM implementations.

To be specific, users no longer need to be trained and they do not need the boss to tell them to share. And therefore, if we avoid these pitfalls, we improve the probability of a successful KM initiative by a large degree.

So I believe Andy makes a good point. KM is being revolutionized by social media tools. But Carl is also spot on, in that KM is more than just social tools.


Dennis D. McDonald said...

Most social-media-savvy people I know take as a "given" that social media success is NOT primarily based on technology adoption.

Tim Wright said...

You cant "capture" knowledge so any project aimed at trying to do so is inevitably doomed. In a business context knowledge is a verb not a noun and social media can help in intiating and stimulating that activity so it certainly has value but isnt the whole story.

Phil Green said...

Tim, while we strongly believe (agree with you) that the existence of any specific document or collection of documents is of little value, the value is in its use.

Inmagic, along with clients ranging from Newsweek to NASA to Owens Corning, will strongly disagree that “you can’t capture knowledge.” Critical business documents are rich in knowledge, but the value of this knowledge can only be tapped via usage and application of this knowledge.

Therefore a KM system must capture knowledge or it is doomed to failure. The advent of social media has: 1) lowered the barriers to the capture of knowledge(from a technology stand point), and 2) The culture of sharing has changed the non-technology side of the equation (changed the behavioral side of the equation).

Thus social KM systems such as Inmagic Presto have a higher success rate, because they are more readily adopted and spread more naturally than previous generation KM systems.

Tim Wright said...


Well NASA et al may disagree but they would be wrong. What is being captured is information. Now there is nothing wrong in doing that, it comes from a long and valuable tradition – libraries go back into antiquity after all. That information may have some value in a knowledge activity or event but there are usually many other factors in play also. Consequently KM is actually about managing an organisation is such a way that it makes those knowledge activities as successful as possible. So - hate to say because I feel sure it won’t be popular - but there isn’t any such thing as a “KM system” but there is an IM system.

IM systems that don’t capture information are certainly doomed to failure.

Social Media has value in liberating the communication and exchange between individuals and groups, and expanding the possibility of serendipitous hook ups and discovery. They can also capture information, but deriving business value and nurturing knowledge activities requires more than the technology

Phil Green said...


We agree, but we use different semantics. You believe E = MC2 is information. I believe it is a core piece of knowledge. We both agree that it is a cornerstone with regard to opening up a huge realm of science and that the use of this information/knowledge led to many great and many terrible things.

We also agree that if this information/knowledge had not been captured, the science and applications based on this discovery would have been set back in a serious way.

So KM is the term I think the majority of us use. And if you don't, that’s fine with me.

I appreciate your thoughts and discussion.


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