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Social Media is more about information management (links) than about knowledge (nodes). And business is neither about information nor knowledge management, but about decision taking. The absence of the decision dimension in most attempts to introduce Social Media into business might be a major cause of failure.
Information as a superstructure of knowledge
Knowledge management is a hot topic for a long time in the corporate world, and introduction of Web 2.0 technologies have shifted the debate, merely to dynamic knowledge acquisition and retrieval. But, as social media are pollinating other activities of the enterprise, is this approach still totally relevant? And alternative would be to distinguish between knowledge management as a more or less “static” preoccupation, and information management as the way to access, qualify or propagate the knowledge. Think of information as the fluid which connects knowledge to people, and people to coworkers and clients, and you’ll get a good definition of what social media integration should be.
But, unless – or even if – you run a PR, advertising or media company, managing information is not the core of your business. Taking decisions is. Most of corporate activities are headed toward making decisions applicable, in a way or another. The processes our modern companies are ridden with were setup to facilitate and industrialize decision taking. Information, and knowledge, are harnessed to help triggering the right decision at the right moment. Enterprise 2.0 is not about letting information flows freely among happy communities, but is about re-designing businesses in order to integrate communities into every step of decision taking.
Dealing with the knowledge-information-decision trilogy
Reaching such a goal is far from obvious. I recently wrote that our processes driven businesses do not fit the necessary organic nature of Enterprise 2.0, and Paula Thornton, from FastForward blog, commented that the challenge of a communities-driven business would be raising consensus to allow for the necessary decision taking. While successful at transforming marketing and customers services, social media seem unable to help companies manage any but the smallest projects. Why?
From a trilogy (knowledge, information and decision) point of view, the way the three different “bricks” of business are arranged and dealt with may help us getting an answer.
Departments which are the most successful at Social Media integration are, by far, Marketing and Customers Service. If we take a closer look, we can see that in both case, decisions are not part of the process, and were mostly already taken. Both then use knowledge to leverage information they get or push. In the Customer Service case, decisions still to be taken are made on an individual basis, without a need for consensus or larger scale decision.
Small projects and focused communities management is usually another successful use in companies. In that case too, necessary decisions (goal, methodology) are taken before anything, and the main goal usually involves growing the knowledge through information.
Larger scale projects, which may involve a company-wide social network, or free experimentation with unfocused tools, may also work as long as nobody expects some impact on business with those. They might be seen as an evolution of Knowledge Management, but certainly not as a real move toward Enterprise 2.0, since we lack getting business decisions taken from them. In that case, decision means and only means sponsorship from the C-level.
Paving the future
As long as we are unable to deal efficiently with the “decision taking” side of the sacred trilogy through social media and communities, we won’t be able to change key departments of companies (production, manufacturing, quality, management,… ), and we will have to stick to rigid processes. To go any further, not only do we need a cultural shift, we also need new tools.
As fast as things evolve, I see two different ways the future might be brighter.
- The rise of social CRMs
Social CRM is quite a fuzzy concept, but expect new solutions to be not only geared toward monitoring the social space, but to infer decisions from it. A logical step would be to apply to the internal world what will be available for the Social Web.
Existing Enterprise Platforms are also beginning to implement such modules, like Telligent’s Harvest or Jive’s Insights.
- Social Media is cultural
As I recently wrote, the way Occidental companies deal with decision taking is in essence different with Oriental approach. Our processes are born from an attempt to adapt Japanese kaizen concepts. Today, most Social platforms and services are Anglo-Saxon. With other parts of the world leveraging their online presence, we might see new tools developed with different cultural processes in mind.
This was quite a long post, with some subjects worth extra development. I would love to hear your opinion about it.