A while back I read an article concerning the business case for enterprise social networks, http://www.fastcompany.com/3000908/13-trillion-price-not-tweeting-work. The article discussed the value that social media offers to businesses, stating that not only is value derived from improved communication and collaboration, it is also affected by the fact that, “Social technologies have the potential to free up expertise trapped in departmental silos.” The latter point led to the question, how can an organization use an enterprise social network to proactively harness the expertise of employees?
Recently, I stumbled across an article, which takes a different perspective to the situation, http://www.altimetergroup.com/2012/02/making-the-business-case-for-enterprise-social-networks.html.
This new article identifies a key problem in approaching enterprise social networks, the focus on technology rather than relationships. It posits that relationships are the true source of value and that technology only serves as an enabler. With this point in mind, I realized that the initial question was somewhat off base. An enterprise social network is only a tool for harnessing the expertise of employees, there still needs to be employees contributing in order to harness expertise. The question then becomes, how do we get users to contribute their expertise?
To answer this question, it helps to know how people adopt change. According to Pip Coburn, the rate of change is dependent on the level of the current crisis and the perceived pain of adoption, or what he calls the change function. With this as a starting point, we must ask ourselves what crisis are we trying to address with the enterprise social network and what are the hurdles of adoption?
In response to the first question, I think we need to address the quickly changing nature of business. As an example, the eLearning industry has seen the rise of mobile learning, serious games, and social learning networks in the last decade alone. As these new avenues of learning become more pervasive, we will need to mine individual knowledge and create collective knowledge in order to remain relevant, individually and organizationally. The same can be said for pretty much any organization.
As for the second question, the main hurdle of adoption is identifying the benefits to the individual. For this, we need to highlight how an enterprise social network assists in growing individual and organization knowledge by streamlining the existing connections within an organization and enabling new connections to be made – to people, to information, and to resources. By embracing social, everyone becomes a part of the conversation. Expertise that is shared has the potential to become more refined through an ongoing dialectic between colleagues and thus becomes a value added for the organization as well as the individual. This vastly improved connectedness allows for a continuous learning experience and reflection as a group.
Despite this rationale, there will still be people who choose not to contribute to the conversation and that’s fine. You can’t force people to participate, they have to see the value for themselves. However, the reality of the matter is that this is how learning on all levels will take place going forward. Over time though, I think we will see that active contributors will have a more diversified knowledge base and a greater influence when it comes to the evolution of the organization and the industry.