Sunday, June 6, 2010

Applying Social Media to Harness Collective Intelligence

 -  6/16/10
Social media technologies are pervasive today, and not just because of their novel and innovative nature or because they are some transient fad. Their dominance can be attributed to the inherent human desire to interact, share and learn about and from each other. But why is it then that so many companies are blocking their workforces from social networking sites? And why do people prefer to interact on external social sites rather than their companies’ internal social platforms?
The Dilemma
Today, companies are faced with a great dilemma: Should they allow their employees to engage in social networking at the cost of productivity? Is blocking people from collaborating socially going to hinder the learning process? And since companies can’t always keep track of all employees while they are engaged in social networking, isn’t there a risk of employees sharing things that are not in the interest of the company?
The dilemma on the people side is no less grave. People, especially the young workforce entering the marketplace, love to connect using tools they have grown up with, and they feel lost without them. Members of the older generation also have jumped on the bandwagon because they know that the Web and social networks are where the action is. It is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of the workforce wants companies to have a social media organism.
What approach is best for an organization: allow people to use external social networks or have an intranet-based enterprise social platform of their own?
Acknowledge the Change
The situation demands a solution that suits all stakeholders. Companies and institutions should first accept the reality as it exists. It will be difficult to overlook the changes that are happening in the world. Remember that in the beginning, even e-mail was provided to a limited set of people by organizations due to the same fears that companies have today about social networking.
Companies should start exploring the possibility of turning social networking activities into a competitive advantage by ensuring that their employees’ social interactions are meaningful and intelligent. The collective intelligence paradigm should be used to its maximum. This ensures meaningful interaction among users of social media by providing them with a platform where they can interact, share and solve business problems when they confront them by learning from each other.

It’s Only Natural

Learning is social in nature and is a function of collective communication. Organizations can use the power of social media to foster this culture of learning from each other. It is not always necessary to take a course in order to learn. If companies provide a platform and a framework around social computing tools for their people to meaningfully interact and collectively learn, this will become an extremely useful exercise for both businesses and employees. Companies want employees to become more efficient at what they do, and employees consider growth in learning to be the second most important reason to stick with a job or a company. Both ends can be met via social networking.
The following are key steps in doing so:
• Identify the knowledge domain and key stakeholders.
• Allow selective access to external social networks that add value to the business.
• Have an internal enterprise 2.0 platform that focuses on harnessing the collective intelligence of key stakeholders in the company’s knowledge domain — i.e., employees, customers, partners, and virtual and part-time associates.
• Look at securely enabling an inside-out connection through your internal social platform.
What’s needed is intelligent application of Web 2.0 or social computing features and tools that can help companies and individuals build and sustain knowledge without expending the kind of money and resources previously required for this purpose. What’s also needed is a solution that helps professionals adopt peer networking tools and a technology that helps them improve their knowledge and discover new applications at the same time. Social computing offers a great platform for the expression, organization and discovery of meaningful information. The solution should thus help companies and individuals reduce learning cost and get the desired benefit without going through the archaic models of knowledge management and corporate training.
Thus, by turning the focus of social networking toward collective intelligence, companies will not only save on overall training costs by a huge margin, they will end up with a much larger value from the investment in people development. A collective intelligence solution also helps create a corporate institutional memory, which is a critical need in the wake of changing business priorities and employee attrition.

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