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How communities and networks support enterprise content management

This article appears in the issue May 2015, [Volume 24, Issue 5]
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As the volume of documents and information in enterprise content repositories grows to record proportions, many employees are finding that traditional search and navigation techniques return too many results, often without the context needed to pinpoint the best information. An increasing number of firms are tapping into social networks and feedback to help employees filter out noise and find popular content others have found valuable. Social tools can also link people to experts and knowledgeable colleagues who can help them interpret the content they find and apply it effectively to solve business problems.

Member-based nonprofit APQC recently released the results of a six-month research study, “Connecting People to Content” that outlines 20 best practices for creating compelling enterprise content, managing it throughout its lifespan and ensuring it is findable and accessible. The research combines insights from a broad survey with in-depth data collected from five organizations identified as “best practice”: EY, MetLife, MWH Global, Nalco, (an Ecolab company) and Wipro. As part of the study, APQC looked at the interplay between content management and social feedback mechanisms to learn how peer networks lead people to the best information while helping content managers prioritize which resources to create, revise, promote and retire.

How people networks influence content decisions

When APQC asked participants in the “Connecting People to Content” study how they use social channels in the service of content management, the team noticed a clear difference between the best-practice organizations and the organizations sponsoring the research. The best-practice firms are significantly more mature in their application of social data to inform content decisions and recommendations.

For example, almost all the best-practice organizations look at what employees download, bookmark and/or share to determine which content pieces are most popular and thus worth promoting, whereas only a third of sponsor organizations do so. APQC also asked how the participating firms leverage user comments, ratings and “likes,” as well as Netflix-style recommendations (“If you liked X, you might like Y”) to customize suggestions of content in which employees might be interested. Here, the distinctions between the best-practice and sponsor organizations are even more drastic. At least half the best-practice organizations use each of those approaches, compared to only one—or in the case of Netflix-style recommendations, none—of the sponsors. (See Figure 1 on page 11, KMWorld May 2015, Vol.24 #5 or download PDF.)

Even though most of the best-practice organizations use social networking and analysis to surface popular and valuable content, they have not abandoned other, more traditional means of person-to-person sharing. Half the best-practice firms report that social networking plays a significant role in identifying content gaps and soliciting, sharing or recommending content, but at least an equal number say the same about communities of practice and traditional professional networks. (See Figure 2 at the bottom ofpage 11, KMWorld May 2015, Vol. 24 #5 or download PDF.) Those results contrast sharply with the sponsors, only one-third of whom rely on communities of practice to solicit, share and recommend content. Only two of nine sponsors use traditional professional networks for that purpose, and none of them use social networking.

The message is clear. Along with maintaining a great search function and strong processes for vetting, organizing and reviewing enterprise content, best-practice organizations listen to their users when making content-related decisions. The conversations that happen in communities and social networks provide insight into the type of resources people want and where the biggest opportunities for improvement lie. And when employees interact with content by downloading, bookmarking, recommending or commenting on it, they offer a glimpse into what’s important to them and which resources are providing value. Firms that figure out how to use that information effectively are able to provide better content for employees and guide people to targeted recommendations based on their roles, needs and interests.

In the following section are descriptions of how the best-practice organizations in APQC’s study use employee networks to identify content gaps and harvesting opportunities, facilitate collaborative authoring and feedback, and filter content based on ratings and recommendations.

Identifying content gaps and harvesting opportunities

The first role for communities and social networks is as a source of audience feedback, helping content authors and managers understand what resources people need and how the organization can best meet those demands. For example, when an important question surfaces in a network discussion forum and no one knows (or can find) the answer, that’s probably a good indication that the firm needs to create, solicit or reposition relevant content on the issue. On the flip side, community conversations also help content managers identify the best ideas, expertise and examples to funnel into the enterprise content repository and make available for learning and reuse.

Among the best-practice organizations in our study, tax and audit firm EY has the most formal processes for incorporating community feedback and insights into its content strategy. The organization sees topic-based communities of practice and Yammer social networking groups as incubators for new or future content and a powerful accelerant to its entire knowledge lifecycle.

Within its enterprise content management team, EY has a group of full-time content advisors responsible for assessing content gaps and then gathering knowledge to fill those gaps. Content advisors are required to engage with relevant communities, including Yammer groups, around the service lines or industries they serve. The goal of that engagement is twofold. First, the content advisor listens to what community and group members are talking about in order to identify solutions, examples and reusable intellectual property that can be harvested and submitted to EY’s enterprise content repository. Second, participating in communities and Yammer makes advisors aware of emerging trends and hot topics, which helps them establish priorities for new and updated content for each service line and industry. In that way, EY’s social tools strengthen the links between content consumers and providers, enabling the organization to clarify, anticipate and meet user needs.

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