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Friday, August 31, 2007

Encouraging people to place information on your internal blog/wiki.

Reading through a number of e-mails, I came upon a report from McKinsey released this month by Jacques Bughin on how companies can make the most of user generated content.

This report discussed that it needs a core of enthusiasts who make quality contributions to kick start the process. It looks at the lessons that organizations which are planning to use corporate blogs and wikis can learn from on line video sharing sites.

One of the areas that the report looked at was that research in Germany in on line video sharing had discovered what I said following my research for my MBA thesis. This is that people share knowledge for such motives as " a desire for fame, and a feeling of identification with a community to encourage collaboration and participation."

McKinsey also found that a few users posted the most popular content. “Depending on the site, just 3 to 6 percent of the membership added 75 percent of the videos available for download, and videos from just 2 percent of the member base accounted for more than half of all videos viewed. These figures resemble those reported in studies of other kinds of participatory media, including wikis, bulletin boards, and photo-sharing sites, where 5 to 10 percent of the users contribute half to all of the content.”

When I carried out a knowledge audit in one organisation, I discovered that it was only a few people who provided the bulk of the knowledge sharing following the 80:20 Pareto principle. Although it would be pleasant to have more people posting and sharing their knowledge, I do wonder whether these pioneers can encourage others to contribute - allied to changes in the companies culture and review systems which 'encourages' people to share knowledge as a means of getting ahead.

The article highlighted, that at a cable company, contributors to an internal wiki did so because of social factors such as reputation building. Team spirit and community identification were other main elements motivating them to contribute.

It is nice to have this confirmed as this has been my consistent discovery over my years in knowledge management in professional service firms and shows that Mayo's Hawthorne principles are alive and well in the 21st century. If you can get knowledge sharing into the company culture and it becomes the way we do work around here, then employees themselves become to continuing drivers of knowledge sharing with minimal management involvement.

It was also interesting to note the role of managers in the process and the action that they took to encourage employees who had developed a high level of connections.

The McKinsey article highlighted that these managers then “examined its internal e-mail system to identify key staffers with wide social networks within it. They then encouraged these employees to post suggestions about improving the company’s processes. Identifying thought leaders and promoting their participation boosted the number of contributions and improved the quality of the postings.”

The article then goes on to highlight that other firms such as Intuit use a rotation system that invites selected employees to contribute to that company's internal online dialogues. This I thought was useful in encouraging knowledge sharing to go beyond the core of highly interested people. The article encourages companies to look beyond this sole area for approaches to maximise the quality of content.

In organizations these sites flourish when they can answer the "Whats in it for me" question. These sites gain traction when new visitors as part of their induction or through word of mouth discover high quality content, then contribute high quality content which then leads to a virtuous circle.. This may mean helping the people who can act as 'guardians' to ensure the quality of the knowledge is of the highest utilising some of the techniques that we see in the linux or open source community.

People may do it as an above and beyond option but wouldn't it be a better idea if the organisation allowed time for people to undertake this work on the company time and to be recognised for it. I'd also like to see companies utilising software similar to Apple's ILife suite to make it as easy and non bureaucratic as possible to share knowledge utilising rich media and not just relying on printed documents.

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