Social Media and Knowledge Management

The similarities between knowledge management (KM) and Social Media are hard to refute. The chief uniting factor is the use of technology by people in order to access information. Both owe their existence to individuals that undertake knowledge creation intended for sharing. Both are profoundly supportive of collaborative economics.

But here is where the similarities end. The big difference between them can be summed up as follows:

Social media is the exhibit of experience shared by peers in ways that each one can judge it for themselves.
Knowledge management is the prerogative of the management based on pre-set protocols to control and distribute information.

These definitions may sound a bit unkind to most of us, and moreover it is evidently biased in favour of social media. Knowledge should be like a free flowing stream that does not come under any jurisdiction. It should be universal and highly accessible; it is only then that the permeability of it, within and across the organisation, can reach its zenith.

But, conjoining contradictory terms such as knowledge with high accessibility have very few takers.

Knowledge as a commodity has the propensity to originate in any corner of the organisation, knowledge management endeavours to channel and gather it into a cohesive knowledge base which is subsequently re-distributed with preconceived sets of protocols, processes and channels.

On the other hand social media exudes downright chaos. The sequencing, the ordering, the indexing are things that are not remotely associated with it. In a more literal sense, a modern day organisation has got a structure whereas a social media organization is a one without. It allows uninterrupted flow of information and knowledge without minding its bend. It is no surprise that such an organisation would be distinctly messy, an antonym for the term ‘organisation’.

Hence, when the whole idea of social media has its foundation firmly installed on un-orderliness and chaos, it must not come as a surprise to many that knowledge manager and software companies are constantly on the prowl to defang the intensity of social media by way of novel tools, approaches and processes. Not everyone is capable of dealing with the information floating on the public domain; many are of the view that it must be highly managed so that they will be able to project their organisation the way they feel suits their interest.

The general consensus will find faults with this attitude for one simple reason- even if the debate is shut down forcefully, people will continue to have conversations and sharing of experiences at venue they are comfortable at. Debate and experience sharing have been around long before World Wide Web became a sensation. Even a cynic will agree that peddling of thoughts would not stop even if knowledge managers try to censor it at the workplace.

Communication pundits rightly assert that the days of seeking control have become passé and it’s time to engage people.
Business leaders affirm to the fact that engagement is the finest way to skim value from the knowledge that is floating on the social media — and not by seeking to impede social media with hitherto KM techniques.

So the question arises, how to gain value from social media, especially in light of a tradition where knowledge management has failed to yield any tangible results.

The solution lies in a novel view of collaboration: Mass Collaboration

Mass collaboration comprises of three components: social media technology, a duly persuasive purpose and a focus on constituting communities.

• Social media technology provides the channel and acts as an agency through which ordinary people share their experience, knowledge and insights in ways they are comfortable with. Social media is highly informal therefore everyone finds ways to communicate in a manner they feel will have greater resonance. Apart from this, it also enables individuals to see and evaluate knowledge on the basis of the judgment of others i.e. making judgments based on conversation of others.

• A persuasive purpose is the raison detre for people to participate in exchange of their unique ideas, knowledge and experience. People participate in social media due to the fact that they not only value the channel but somewhere along the line identify with the purpose. They initiate participation on their own free will, rather than being coerced in to doing it as part of their job.

Communities to social media are like gorges to a mountain, completely natural and self-forming. Knowledge management connotes a view of knowledge that is strictly hierarchical and therefore is often found associated with job classification or pushed down the throat based on work duties. Participation is therefore by diktat, making it obligatory or some type of ‘mandatory fun’. On the other hand, social media not only allows communities to emerge but treat them as a property of the purpose. This structure devoid of any rigid architecture creates space for innovative and active communities.

To achieve the daunting task of mass collaboration, it’s not enough to build technology and coerce people into participating. It requires a vision, concerted management action and strategy, moreover, a strong Purpose!

The take away point here is, on the outside they may appear to be interchangeable but, Knowledge management (KM) and social media are not the same. Being cognizant of this fact is a stepping stone towards getting value from both these avenues and ultimately towards becoming a social and knowledge driven organization.