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How communities and networks support enterprise content management

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MWH Global, an engineering and consulting firm focused on water treatment and distribution, does not have an official content advisor role, but discussions in topic-based Yammer groups help the organization prioritize content needs. Social media conversations tend to surface employee pain points and areas of confusion that could be addressed through improved content. In addition, employees interacting in social forums may propose new ideas and solutions to design challenges that should be incorporated into the organization’s library of global best practices or other formal content.

Similarly, at chemicals supplier Nalco, the conversations that field sales and service personnel have in communities of practice provide key input for the subject matter experts who write the documentation and resources housed in Nalco’s technical libraries. Content authors are encouraged to participate in community discussions so they are aware of what is being asked and discussed. When a particular question comes up repeatedly or community members reveal a content gap, that is usually a trigger for authors to create new formal content, clarify conflicting material or revisit the metadata attached to their existing pieces so that they surface in response to relevant search queries.

Collaborative authoring and feedback

At many best-practice organizations, communities and social networks not only reveal gaps in content but also play a role in its creation and revision. Those spaces provide opportunities for employees to generate content collaboratively and to get feedback and informal peer review. In addition, social features, such as commenting, help content creators discern when a particular piece of content needs to be improved or updated.

At MWH Global, communities of practice have an official role in content stewardship. As a group, they’re tasked with creating and updating design standards and project management best practices. Community members who do not create content are still able to add comments and make suggestions, which helps authors improve established best practices and templates. Those practices ensure that content is endorsed by the broader user community in addition to being formally vetted by design leaders and subject matter experts.

At IT consulting and outsourcing firm Wipro, specific platforms and forums encourage collaborative content creation. For example, the organization maintains an enterprise wiki called Wipropedia to capture company-specific knowledge, ideas and tips. Anyone can create, co-author, edit and publish Wipropedia content, and the pages function as memos that employees can develop and refine over time. As different people add to and update the wiki, it becomes a dynamic record of what Wipro collectively knows about specific topics, industries and accounts.

Another repository that leverages social feedback is Wipro’s Known Error Database, which contains reusable software solutions and fixes from past projects. Employees can post comments and suggestions, tag items and rate the usefulness of specific pieces in the Known Error Database, which helps guide colleagues to the best solutions. Wipro’s knowledge management (KM) team also uses that feedback to determine what content needs to be updated.

Ratings and recommendations

Online rating systems tend to work well in the consumer world, and we’re all familiar with the power of the social feedback collected by sites like Amazon, Trip-Advisor and Yelp. Some content managers have tried to build similar feedback mechanisms into their repositories, but the research suggests that even top organizations struggle to make ratings systems work in an enterprise setting. Employees tend to feel uncomfortable judging one another’s content publicly, and most systems struggle to achieve a critical mass of data given the limited audience within the workforce.

As an alternative, the best-practice organizations in APQC’s study encourage employees to develop trusted social networks and then have colleagues recommend content, either generally or based on specific requests (e.g., “I’m looking for best practices with this topic”). This is certainly the case at EY, where virtual social networks serve as trusted places for people to point one another to the best content. According to Greg Nemeth, responsible for EY’s social enterprise, people trust that if they ask their groups a question they are going to receive a much better answer, and more quickly than if they tried to find the answer on their own or only within their immediate project teams.

Nalco’s communities provide a similar environment for soliciting and receiving recommendations from colleagues. Community members post content they think others would benefit from, and those links show up in their fellow community members’ social activity streams. Employees can also access links to every piece of content someone has authored from his or her MySite profile and can “follow” a colleague so that new or updated publications by that person appear in their activity streams. The goal is for users to move seamlessly between content and social tools: using their activity streams as a jumping-off point to explore technical content, and leveraging content as a basis for making social connections.

Making sure the right people are listening

Peer networks can tell organizations a lot about the content employees want, and they also provide a powerful feedback loop to evaluate existing content. However, those social structures can only support content management if the right people are part of the conversation. The best-practice organizations in APQC’s study actively analyze data from social channels, making sure feedback gets acted on. They also encourage content managers and authors to stay up-to-date with what’s being said in communities and social threads, in some cases building engagement into role descriptions and performance expectations. If an organization wants to improve how it creates, manages and delivers content to employees, it should start by listening and responding to what stakeholders are already saying.

Editor’s note: In the April 2015 issue of KMWorld, APQC shared findings from “Connecting People to Content,” which focused on making content accessible and delivering it to employees when, where and how they need it. Download the study overview or full report to learn about all 20 best practices.

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