Social Networks Help Businesses Share Knowledge

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Social networking is providing new ways for businesses to unlock tacit knowledge within their organizations, according to Dr. David Jacobson, director of emerging technologies at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada.

Tacit knowledge is the "most valuable distributed database in any organization," said Jacobson, author of several PwC papers on social networking and business. But "this accumulated knowledge is not easily accessible or explicit to those around us."

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Classical means of exchanging tacit knowledge are telephone conversations, cocktail parties and face-to-face meetings, he noted. But social networking, which transcends borders, time zones and cultures, enables people to exchange tacit knowledge in a much easier way, he explained.

With social networking, "you can take action as the thought crystallizes in your mind because it is an ongoing conversation. That's what social networking enables and that's what the exchange of tacit knowledge means," said Jacobson.

Role Inside the Company

Nicole Haggerty, associate professor of Information Systems at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business, agrees that social media can help a business unveil tacit knowledge.

"I do think there's a role that social networking can play inside organizations to promote the kinds of conversations that can start to liberate tacit knowledge (but) I don't by any means think it's the end answer," she said.

Tacit knowledge is that "deeply embedded experimental knowledge" within people's heads that is difficult to express out loud, said Haggerty. "Tacit knowledge is often best conveyed through conversations and that's one thing that social media tends to support quite well," she said.

While tacit knowledge is "probably the most valuable kind of knowledge," it is very difficult to codify and embed within a traditional knowledge management system, said Haggerty.

With social media, the value to the business is not the codifying strategies but the connecting strategies that allow people within an organization to find each other, know who the experts are and make it easier for them to connect and communicate, she explained.

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