Official vs. unofficial social networks and their impact on user adoption

Guest post from my colleague Agnes Kolkiewicz originally posted to Open Text Online Communities Metrics community (Metrics Blog).

In my last post, we looked at the correlation between the success of collaborative systems and user adoption. Many of you struggle to obtain user adoption within your organizations for communities of practice (CoP). We mentioned that staged deployments are usually recommended by analysts and that the resultant 'success stories' can then be showcased within the company to further promote user adoption and justify the investment. But where can you find a good initial 'use case' within your company that is likely to succeed?

Consider the following excerpt here from a post by Etienne Wenger, an internationally recognized expert in the field of learning theory:

"A community of practice is different from a team in that the shared learning and interest of its members are what keep it together. It is defined by knowledge rather than by task, and exists because participation has value to its members. A community of practice's life cycle is determined by the value it provides to its members, not by an institutional schedule. It does not appear the minute a project is started and does not disappear with the end of a task. It takes a while to come into being and may live long after a project is completed or an official team has disbanded." (http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml)

It has long been observed that unofficial networks exist within a company. People join these because they see value in participation. Knowledge is being exchanged within those networks outside of any organizational structure, crossing information silos. When designing an information system that supports communities of practice and collaboration, the challenge of an administrator may very well lie then with initially identifying what unofficial networks already exist within the organization and designing systems that will support these networks.

You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is important to our employees?
  • Where do they find value?

What might follow then is that a community of practice should not be imposed on a group of people according to organizational structures – rather, it should serve as support for unofficial networks that have already been created within the company. The value to the organization exists then because the knowledge that is already being exchanged through informal discussions, IMs, or email is now being captured and archived within a community of practice, and is then easily searchable by newcomers to the organization or people outside of the specific community that also have an interest in the subjects being discussed. This type of exchange is much more difficult to recreate when establishing a community of practice based on official organizational structures.

This is not say that communities of practice should not adhere to organizational principles further down the line, but chances are that by identifying such unofficial networks within a company, and supporting then using social media, you might stumble upon an initial 'success story' that could be then used to promote the technology throughout the organization.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post Agnes.

    Agree that CoPs are organic (whether online or offline). I tell people that I create an online space for them...I'm not creating a community, their community already exists...I'm just offering a more convenient/productive way to complement their real time meetings, telecons, emails...I'm helping them with a sense of place, and to communicate in an asynchronous way that is better than email.

    This is essential to convey to people who don't already exist as a community (via indicators like telecons, email discussions)

    - a lot of the time people approach me and say I want to create a community website

    - I ask then "how do you currently interact as a community"

    - they say we don't, I want to build one

    - these types of requests are tricky as these are the CoPs that usually fail as they really need extreme facilitation (actually you need some sales skills)

    - there is already barriers to technology and time to learn a new thing, the last thing you want is have to convince people to communicate with you using a new tool, when you don't even communicate with them using an older tool

    Even if the community does already exist as a telecon or in email

    - it's essential to do a workshop and find out if this is what people want, and if yes, what they want out of it

    I try to make sure people do the above, otherwise you get some great intention and great looking communities, but no-one using them

    - the irony is that in the same org you will have communities that exist in email that having thriving discussions, but lack an online space (no-one knows they exist)

    In the spirit of your post on the organic nature of communities I thought a pointer to Jay Cross's post was apt (I posted on this also)


    PS - Something that I forgot to mention is that the CoP product is just a set of tools, we have teams using them to do work, the dynamic here is not as organic as traditional CoPs

    - here are my thoughts on that http://libraryclips.blogsome.com/2009/03/12/team-based-cops-compared-to-cross-functional-cops/