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posted 1 Mar 2011 in Volume 14 Issue 5

Making sense

David Gurteen breaks down the KM and and networking practices that fall under the umbrella of social business

In the early days, social tools (blogs, wikis and the like) tended to be called social networking or social computing but as these tools entered the corporate realm, the dominant name became social media.

More recently, social tools have been widely adopted within organisations and called Enterprise 2.0 to set them apart from their use on the web and the realm of Web 2.0.

Back in 2007, I was one of the first to talk about social KM – using social tools to help manage and share knowledge.

With so many terms, it is all a little confusing: social tools, social software, social computing, social networking, social media, social marketing, social KM, Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. To make matters worse, everyone has a different take on what they mean and that meaning is changing over time. This is OK, given the rapid evolution of the tools and their application.

More recently still, people have started to talk about social business. So what is this?

Many people think Enterprise 2.0 is only about the technology while others, like me, think it is about the technology plus the organisational structures, processes and behaviours that govern its use.

To my mind, Enterprise 2.0 and social business are the same, although I personally prefer the latter as a term.

Others, who see Enterprise 2.0 as solely about technology, will probably continue to use both terms to draw a distinction. I would rather see the Enterprise 2.0 label dropped and replaced by the term social computing or social software.

So where does social KM fit into all of this? Well, if social business is the umbrella for the use of social tools within an organisation, then both social media and social KM can be seen as part of social business.

In the world of social KM, we also have two categories of tool: soft-tools such as after-action reviews, peer assists and knowledge cafés; and techno-tools such as wikis and blogs. That is a powerful combination.

In summary, taking a simplistic, tools centred view:

  • Social computing or social software is the technology;
  • Social tools are both technology tools, such as blogs and wikis and soft tools, such as after-action reviews and knowledge cafés;
  • Social marketing is about using social tools for business development;
  • Social media is about using social tools for a marketing or communication purpose;
  • Social networking is about using social tools to network;
  • Social KM is about using social tools for a KM purpose, such as knowledge sharing or collaboration; and
  • Social business (also known as Enterprise 2.0) is all of the above and more. It’s about how social tools are used by a business in its totality.

This is a good start in understanding social business but we have to remember that it is not so much about the tools or the technology, although these have been the drivers. It’s about a fundamental shift in how we work. It’s about moving from hierarchies to networks; to a business world where knowledge sharing, collaboration, connectedness and relationships are important and are leveraged towards business objectives. Social business is more a mindset and an approach to business than it is about technology.

But there is one final twist. The term social business has an alternative meaning that has been around a little longer than in the Enterprise 2.0 sense.

A social business is a non-loss, non-dividend organisation designed to address a social objective. This use of the term has grown through the work of people like Muhammad Yunus. The Grameen Bank, which he founded to provide micro-credit to the poor, would be a prime example. The measure of success of a social business is not profit but the impact that it has on society, on people and on the environment.

We need more social businesses to create a sustainable world. In order to survive, we need to collaborate more, to make better decisions and to be more innovative. This to me is what KM is all about and will need to be in the future. It’s social business in both senses of the term.

David Gurteen is the founder of Gurteen Knowledge and a member of the Inside Knowledge editorial board. He can be contacted via his website at www.gurteen.com


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