Why a social network is good for knowledge sharing

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socialnetwork as KM sharing

Why is sharing knowledge something we all should strive for in the business world? Basically because the sum of many beats the sum of one and as most businesses are built to scale to handle customer queries or opportunities, the faster we can utilise shared knowledge the faster we can help our customers and in turn help ourselves.

How then can a social network assist us in sharing knowledge gained through our research, experiments and interactions with others.

A number of studies into Social Network Analysis give us insight into the answer. A study by Rob Cross – Research Fellow at the IBM Institute for Knowledge based Organizations, Andrew Parker – Consultant at the IBM Institute for Knowledge based Organizations and Steve Borgatti – Associate Professor at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management found the following.

“People are roughly five times more likely to turn to friends or colleagues for answers than other sources of information such as a database or file cabinet. Digging deeper they found that research with 40 managers revealed that 85% claimed to receive knowledge critical to the successful completion of an important project from other people”.

A substantial benefit of social networks and in particular enterprise social networks is the ability to use the network to source rich content that will benefit work being done. The advanced use of personal profiles highlights potential knowledge sources and can be a catalyst for conversations that could prove critical to the outcome of a project, sale, innovation or business process improvement.

Using a social network as a “Knowledge based Network”, the study also concluded:

“In our research, we learned that it was important to look at social networks from more than a simple communication or information-flow perspective. The interventions we find effective in improving specific networks of people often have more to do with helping groups know what the others know and ensuring safety and access among people. With this realization, we began
to focus less on communication and more on the knowledge-based dimensions of relationships that make them useful in sharing and creating knowledge. Specifically, we interviewed 40 managers about key relationships on which they relied for information or advice. We found that four dimensions tended to be critical for a relationship to be effective, in terms of knowledge creation and use:
• Knowing what someone knows
• Gaining timely access to that person
• Creating viable knowledge through cognitive engagement
• Learning from a safe relationship”.

An enterprise social network (ESN) excels in all of the areas. As mentioned, the use of personal profiles, which are searchable in the same way as any content stored within the ESN provides an opportunity to gain insight into the knowledge an individual may have.

ESN’s counter the historical problems associated with timely access to people through the fact that they are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week and are not as dependent on time zones. If a person is found via a search process, at the very least they can be included in a question/conversation and when on-line in their time zone, respond and become involved in the conversation.

A basic tent of social networks is the premise that you are part of it to help others gain from it. This is particularly relevant for assisting others with knowledge you have and is an important driver for the belief that social business truly offers a new way to work.

Asking questions can be a frightening experience as it potentially exposes you to feelings of inferiority and if exploited will quickly ensure you refrain from seeking answers. ESN’s have strong usage guidelines designed to encourage the asking of questions. The lifeblood of successful ESN’s is the ability of its members to participate transparently and to grow collective knowledge for the good of the enterprise.

Knowledge management (KM) and its desired effect of knowledge sharing, whilst a distinct discipline in its own right is being aided the enterprise-wide nature of social networks. Historically KM has been the domain of a select few experts, ESN’s are having a positive influence in spreading knowledge through connected communities.

If you are considering options for ways to  expand your collective knowledge I’d be happy to listen.

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