The Significance of Online Social Networking for Knowledge Management

In the middle of all the enthusiasm about the use of Social Networking and Web 2.0 in knowledge management (in particular in UN organizations), it is of course important to keep in mind that Online Social Networking applications are not the final panacea to all our KM or other problems. Nothing really is. However, it is important to note that Online Social Networking has certainly gone beyond the experimentation stage of IT geeks. And it has proven to do one thing extraordinary well: Connecting people which otherwise would not be connected, and facilitating sharing of exchange which otherwise would not occur.

I’m stressing this, because if the KM community learned one thing during the last decade, then it was the insight that Knowledge Management is most of all about people. We learned that knowledge sharing in an organization (whether working development or other things) doesn’t happen when a paper is written or a file is stored in a database, but most of all when people talk to each other. That is why Knowledge Cafes, Knowledge Fairs, Peer Assists, After Action Reviews and even brownbag lunches are awesome non-technical KM tools, and why email and phone are still the greatest electronic KM tools ever. Facebook & Co. fit the same purpose. It facilitates people talking to each other (both in terms of non-substantive chatter, but often enough in terms of substantive knowledge exchange) in ways and across boundaries we’ve never seen before, which is at the core of what we want to achieve when we do KM. Personal Social Networks have always been the basis of knowledge exchange. That is why in an internet-penetrated organizational environment, I believe we cannot think KM anymore without online social networking. I’m even willing to go as far as to say that it will be together with traditional email the “operating system” on which we will do most of our virtual knowledge sharing beyond face-to-face interactions in the time to come.


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