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When Did Everyone Get So Nice?
Social Networks Deliver on the KM Promise

"Not really," she said. "The same governance principles still apply. You should view the content being written to an internal blog through the exact same lens that you would use if the writer were creating a Word document and attaching it to an email to 10 people. No different.

"If it’s Here are 10 things I learned at a conference this week, and it has transitory business value and implication, then maybe you can get rid of it. The policies that apply to so-called traditional content creation don’t need to be changed just because it’s in a blog format." So, basically, sharing a chocolate-chip cookie recipe with a co-worker is still different than a policy declaration from management.

"Yes. Look back at the first few years of email," Cheryl said. "We slowly realized we needed to have appropriate-use guidelines for the kinds of things you should and shouldn’t write in an email; what you can and can’t say to a customer. What are inappropriate topics of discussion? Product code names? Revenue figures during a quiet period if you’re publicly traded? So the first thing a company that is considering embracing social networking, but might be a little afraid, should do is re-trench, re-define and re-emphasize existing appropriate-use guidelines. There is no difference because of the format in which it appears. But sometimes organizations need to re-learn the rules, and update and refresh the policies to include broader forms of communication. Think about things like: What can you say on a discussion forum? Or a Facebook page? Or Twitter? What can (and can’t!) you upload to video-sharing sites? The same principles still apply; they just apply to a new world of formats and technologies."

Same Game, Similar Rules
I played a hypothetical game with Cheryl, pretending to have an "old boss" with "old ideas," as a sort of role-playing charade for this interview. In character, I asked: "My boss understands the reasons to control information inside our firewall. But he’s really more afraid of external content that’s outside of his control, like user forums. What can I tell him?"

"Just as the development of email automation tools has evolved, so have monitoring tools for content you’re pushing out to the Web. For example, there are many products that scan emails to red-flag sensitive works or look for things like a series of numbers that might be a Social Security number, etc. Those same tools are available for Web publishing. If you want to set up a public-facing blog for your chief marketing officer to talk to customers, there are already tools that let you establish a workflow that includes, for instance, a human review process or an automated review for sensitive content, before you hit the ‘submit’ button. The workflow can stop the publication, or remind the author Uh, this is a sensitive word. Are you sure you want to use it?

Made me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL computer: "What do you think you’re doing, Dave?

"The futuristic aspect is not lost on anyone. Many companies have a management population who is reaching 55+, and who may be subject to early retirement. Losing those senior people is a huge risk to those organizations. But Cheryl thinks these people, who may not have grown up with a laptop attached at the hip, or may not be proficient in Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint, can use these much simpler—"lightweight," she calls them—communication tools, such as blogs and wikis—to greater effect. It’s just type, edit and save.

"If you’re trying to get information out of their heads before they either choose to leave the organization or are forced to, this is a much more appealing way for those who do not feel computer-proficient. Simple bullet points, short summaries, etc., are much more comfortable for people who didn’t grow up with complex Office applications and a PC on their desktop (or lap!)

"The business social networks, such as LinkedIn, are very different today than they were even just five years ago," Cheryl pointed out. And in today’s economy, it may make the difference. "If my travel budget has been cut in half, and I can’t travel to meet my group once a quarter, it is an enormous help to be able to include a photograph, and a status line ... Here’s what I’m working on ... We’re just trying to bring that spirit into corporate collaborative tools."

It’s hard to deny the spirit behind the trend toward social networking tools in business. That’s partly why they have exploded so quickly, and have been met with such fervor. But there are other reasons, most of which are described in the following pages. Get on board; there’s more to come.

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