Knowledge Management

Cautions to Learning Professionals Implementing Social Media from the Facebook Brouhaha (Part 2)

Since I wrote Part 1 on this topic, the dust up about Facebook’s change to its privacy settings got so loud that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, published an editorial in the Washington Post saying “We missed the mark.” And, last Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a new “simpler” interface to control your privacy settings. While I’m sure many people are pleased that Facebook has responded to users concerns, these new developments do not negate the lessons that we can learn from this situation.

In the first post, I explored the caution on changing the implicit user agreement when implementing social tools, including knowledge management systems. In this post I’ll explore a second caution that arises from Facebook’s phenomenal success that results in them having over 500 million users.

As I mentioned last time, having such success has led to a situation where it is difficult not to be on Facebook. While there was a move on Facebook itself to make May 31st “Quit Facebook Day,” with a goal of getting 200 million users to cancel their Facebook accounts all on that day, quitting Facebook presents a real dilemma. If all of your friends, family and network are using Facebook to share information, organize class reunions, post the latest baby pictures, etc., and you are not on Facebook, you are left out.

So what’s the caution for corporate social learning and knowledge sharing? The more successful your system becomes, the greater the likelihood of creating two classes of corporate citizens — those who are engaged, contributing and valued in the social learning network, and those who are not. In a previous post, I talked about what research is discovering about the power of your network to influence your behavior and success. It is very powerful stuff.

The dynamic of those who are in the good”-old-boys (or girls)” network having access to better opportunities and support is probably as old as human beings. However, when the interactions that build those “good-old” networks are face-to-face, there are multiple ways to contribute and develop standing. At least with current social media technology, those who can most easily contribute and develop credibility and standing in a business setting, are those who are most capable of clear, concise writing. Now that is an ability that’s certainly important to develop in business today, but as an only means of establishing “network-value” it will rather limit or skew the network, meaning some will be left out.

I’m clearly not advocating that we avoid building social learning and sharing tools for our organizations. I’m just raising some cautions that we need to be aware of as we do. Just as with any change or technology, there is the Law of Unintended Consequences. As leaders in implementing these new tools and technologies, I think we have a responsibility to anticipate some of those consequences, and think about how to mitigate them.

Cautions to Learning Professionals Implementing Social Media from the Facebook Brouhaha (Part 1)

If you’re not a frequent user of Facebook or plugged into the stream of technology buzz, you may not even know there is a Facebook Brouhaha. Though recently, even mainstream media has picked up the story. I think the situation bears watching because it can be instructive for building and deploying your own social learning or knowledge management systems.

So, just what is the fuss all about? The long and short of it is that, Facebook has, over the past several months, been changing the way it makes the information you post on Facebook available to others. When Facebook started out, one of the things that separated it from MySpace and other internet-sharing sites was that anything you shared on Facebook was private and could only be seen by people you had agreed to let view your information as a “Friend.” This created an environment where many people felt comfortable posting pictures, videos, and updates about themselves and their family.

Now that Facebook has over 500 million users, it is looking to expand how it uses that information you share. Now from a business perspective, Facebook is looking for ways to generate more revenue from your content. It also is making it the default setting that everything you post is now public, unless you dig through the privacy settings and manually make things private. Just how convoluted is this process to protect your information? Well, all recently published a post on the 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know. That’s right TEN settings you have to manually review and adjust to keep control over who sees your content!

These changes have created quite a stir (or brouhaha) among the technorati, some going so far as to start online campaigns to get people to cancel their Facebook accounts. (This, by-the-way, is not an easy feat to accomplish and even if you cancel they keep an archive of the content you have shared.) Two senators have even called for Senate investigations into Facebook’s privacy practices. And four enterprising young New York University students have raised over $100,000 for their plan to build an open-source Facebook replacement.

Now the problem with these calls to cancel your Facebook account, or switch to another platform, is those 500 million or so Facebook users. These create a nearly overwhelming pressure to use Facebook. If all of your friends, family and network are using Facebook to stay up-to-date, share the latest baby photos, and organize events, then if you aren’t on Facebook, you are out in the cold. This social network pressure probably will allow Facebook to blissfully continue on with its practice of unilaterally changing its social contract with its users with impunity.

So what are these cautions mentioned in the headline? Well, there are probably a number of them, but as it relates to developing and deploying social learning tools inside organizations there are two that I would like to suggest. I’ll discuss one here and the second in a follow-up post.

Caution 1: Be careful with the social contract that you create with contributors and users of your system. Unlike traditional classroom training programs or even elearning or mobile learning programs, the success (and possible failure) of a social learning or knowledge management system lies in the hands of the users and contributors. In traditional or even cutting edge training programs, the designers and developers carefully craft the content and experience to maximize the likelihood of achieving the course objectives. This means that, while a learner may value and even use the material taught, they don’t develop a sense of ownership for it. The ownership lies with the developers, and possibly a small group of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Contrast this to the social learning environment where the contributors of content have a real sense of ownership.

This ownership of content is where the caution lies in changing your social contract with users. Facebook’s original distinction was “your content belongs to you and you control who you share it with.” Their recent privacy setting changes have stood this implied contract on its head, and that is what has generated such a fire-storm.

The lessons for us in the social learning space?

a) Think carefully about how the system you are developing not only is going to be used today, but also what it might evolve into in the future.

b) Be sure to let your users know up-front how their contributions will be used now and possibly in the future.

c) If you do make a significant use change, give the user some control over how this use change impacts their contributions. (One of Facebook’s big mistakes is that the new “share publicly” setting is the default setting unless you manually go in and change it.)

d) Make opt-in rather than opt-out the norm. For example, after six months you might decide to implement an emailed digest of contributions to groups at the end of each day. If I am a member of eight different groups, I just got eight new emails (that I didn’t specifically ask for) in my inbox. Rather than have this type of thing “just happen” and require actions on the users part to avoid, make it opt-in. Again, give the user/contributor control.

Changes to the user contract is just one of the cautions that this Facebook dustup has brought to mind. In my next post, I’ll explore the ones that Facebook having 500 million users bring to mind.

Ready to BOOST your Knowledge Management?

“90 percent of the information employees take action on comes from people in their network.”
Rob Cross, professor of management at the University of Virginia and Research Director of The Network Roundtable

If Mr. Cross is correct then the question becomes how readily available is that information to your employees?

In today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing business environments, effective information flow is the life-blood of the organization. How quickly and efficiently information can flow through your organization determines how quickly you can innovate, respond to new customer demands, spot emerging opportunities, and leverage your human assets.

Many companies initially implemented intranets as a way to disseminate information and keep employees informed. Unfortunately, most intranets are top down approaches where information flows in one direction, or at best provides for comments, or occasionally surveys to gather employee input. This one-way communication structure fails to tap into the power of the network, which more and more research is showing to be crucial to both individual and organizational success.

Fortunately, the accelerating pace of change is also bringing us new tools and technologies to accelerate the vital flow of information through our organizations. The challenge today is not in finding a tool for sharing information, but in finding one that is easily accessible, readily adopted by your employees, and secure. And once you’ve found such a tool, you’re at the mercy of an overwhelmed IT group to implement and manage it, which often results in extended delays.

Boost!, Blueline Simulations’ latest product offering, is a turn-key solution tailor made to address these challenges.

boostWith Boost! you can quickly and easily provide a secure, managed environment that allows you to harness the power of your organization’s collaborative intelligence. As easy to navigate, as it is to implement, Boost! provides for Communities of Practice (CoP) to share best practices, ask questions, and explore innovative ideas quickly and easily. With it’s easy implementation of Groups, Social Learning networks can develop and grow organically. And as more people engage and use it to help them accomplish their work, its Tags and Search functions make it easy to find the relevant information needed to further your organization’s goals.

Available as either a subscription (SaaS) or hosted internally, Boost! can easily fit the needs of all organizations from small business or non-profits, to global enterprises. Call us to schedule a demo of what Boost! can do for your organization.

Enterprise Trends with Implications for Learning

Alex Williams over at has an interesting post on 5 Enterprise Trends to Watch in 2010. While he doesn’t specifically address training or corporate learning, I think the trends he is predicting will have a significant impact on our industry.

I particularly like his reframe of the term social media. “Social media has to be one of the most over-used phrases of the year but it should not reflect on the increasing need for community management practices within the enterprise. We expect community management to become an increasingly valued role.”

I think Williams has a valid point. It seems to me that what we need to focus on in the learning space is learning/knowledge community management rather than “social learning.” One benefit of this shift in language could be an easier sell to enterprise leadership. Investing in managing the organization’s “knowledge community” does not raise the same red flags as “social learning” often does.

One other trend that could begin to have direct implications is what he labels “The Big Sync.” Users are demanding that more and more information be automatically syncing between their mobile devices and other tools that they use such as computers. Not only do we want constant access to important up-to-date information like email and contacts, but more and more we want to be able to do some work on one device and then continue that work on our mobile devices.

As Mobile Learning becomes more ubiquitous, we will need to explore strategies and implementations that will allow for real-time syncing of up-to-date information. Shelf life for training content may soon be measured in days or even hours rather than months. We also need envision to designs that accommodate the users accessing the training on multiple devices. Just like me email, I may start a learning session in my office, but want to complete it while waiting for a table at lunch.

The other trends he spotlights could have implications as well, however, these two though struck me immediately. His short post is definitely worth a read.

What Can Facebook and Twitter Teach Us About Developing Knowledge Communities?

The social media tools of the tech-savvy have gone mainstream in the last year. CNN and many other news organizations now encourage us to follow them on Twitter for the most up to date and breaking news. And not just follow them, but share news stories as they are happening!

Facebook has gone from a way of connecting with other college students on campus, to an international community that includes not just students but mothers, fathers, and even grandmothers and grandfathers.

These new ways of connecting, communicating and sharing information are now making their way into the corporate world as organizations look for ways to capture, share and manage the knowledge and expertise that exists within them. Social Learning is quickly becoming a new catch phrase in the corridors of HR.

So what can we learn from Facebook and Twitter as we examine how to develop knowledge or learning communities in our companies. I think there are several lessons to keep in mind.

  1. Some people will take to it naturally and some won’t.  Just like any other media, the social media approaches will naturally fit some people’s learning and communicating styles better than others. Some people enjoy the conversations and interactions that social tools encourage, while others find this type of sharing and discourse uncomfortable. Social media tools should not be viewed as the answer for knowledge sharing and information, but be part of an overall strategy that includes a variety of options. These new tools have not replaced the telephone, email and face-to-face contact. They have augmented them. In the same way, they will not replace classroom sessions, online training or reference sources, but provide new ways to enhance them.
  2. Plan for organic growth rather than mandated use. Okay, I will admit it. The first time I checked out Twitter about a year ago, I didn’t get it. Now I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy guy, who enjoys being on the cutting edge of technologies, but I really didn’t care what my friends had for lunch! However, as more people I knew began to use Twitter and use it to share important news, ask questions, and crowd-source needs, I found that it did have a place in my communications toolkit. While both Facebook and Twitter have grown exponentially in the last few months, it has not been through a strong marketing push, but rather an organic pull. Friends ask “Are you on Facebook?” and in online discussions “What’s your Twitter handle?” Sure once CNN and Oprah got on-board they took off, but the initial success was built by individuals sharing: “Hey this works for me, check it out.” Successful implementations of knowledge management/sharing communities within organizations will grow the same way. As people start exploring and sharing with their friends, co-workers and network, the value they are getting, and ways they are using the tools, growth will happen. So plan your roll-out strategy to build off of this organic growth.
  3. The greatest power will come in ways you won’t anticipate or expect.  The founders of Twitter had no idea that it would become a means for people to share breaking news during times of crises (like the riots after the Iran elections). It was simply a way to stay in touch with other tech friends – quickly and easily. But as people started using it, they found their own ways to make it valuable.When Facebook opened up to third party developers all types of additional possibilities were created. Now, I don’t really need any more Mafia Wars or Farmville invitations, thank you! But the variety of applications and ways of interacting that are being created means that there can be something for everybody. Again, not what Mark Zuckerberg had in mind when he started it, but certainly a big part of Facebook‘s appeal for many people. Now if you are a corporate IT person, this probably scares you to death. But the more open and adaptable you make the tool, the more ways people will find to use it to add value to the organization. The more locked down it is, the less it will get used and the less value it will create. Remember the folks who created the Internet never imagined it would become the ubiquitous tool for commerce, communication, and sharing that it is today.
  4. Don’t try to think or plan too far out.  Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace and before that Friendster. Soon there will be something that replaces Facebook. (Some think it could be Google Wave, but that’s for a future post). The technologies are evolving and creative people are developing new ways to connect, share, collaborate and work. And the pace of this evolution is accelerating.Three years is probably a good horizon for planning for any social media/communication tool. To plan beyond that is likely a waste of time and resources. And again, as more people begin to push on the capabilities of whatever you implement, there will be a demand for more, better and faster ways to share, organize and access knowledge.
  5. Finally, make it simple and easy to get started.  One of Twitter’s greatest advantages for growth is similar to one of Google’s, it’s dead simple to use. It’s just a single text box. How intimidating is that? And while Facebook is a bit more involved, the main use that most people start with is simply answering the “What’s on your mind?” question. Of course, there is a lot more you can do with Twitter once you start learning about hash tags, direct messaging, retweets, etc. The same goes for learning about the various features and options available on Facebook. But you don’t need to understand, or even know about those, to get started using them. In fact, go back to point number one, most people learn about these more advanced methods organically. They don’t need a “Here’s how to use Facebook” guide.

There are many platforms or technologies that you can use to implement a learning community or knowledge-sharing infrastructure in your organization. (In fact, we have recently rolled out our own platform Boost!,) Regardless of what platform you choose, following the lessons of Facebook and Twitter can help make your implementation more successful. I’d love to hear what you are doing and what you are learning.