Wiki Collaboration has permeated virtually to all forms of on-line collaboration and social media. It was a seed concept which was invented and developed in 1994, came to be used so widely today. The best example of Wiki collaboration, the Wikipedia, is the most referenced online content repository in the world.
Talking about Wiki collaboration, James wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia has recently announced that he will be starting a new publication called the ‘Wikitribune’ to cover fake news. James says, ‘Wiki tribune’ would be a ‘news site with a sense of community’ with ‘Evidence-based journalism’ on the underline.
Wikitribune will bring together the public and the journalists on the same plane. Wikitribune will project facts as it is and news content will be taken out of bias. It will be unrestricted for all with a genuine sense of community. Commendable.
I am not going to talk about what ails Wikipedia or the rise and decline of Wikipedia. There has been a number of articles written on the decline. I feel that there is a lot to learn from Wikipedia. Now with the announcement of the Wikitribune, my sincere hunch is that it would reverse the trend for the better.
Vannevar Bush the celebrated engineer, inventor and administrator must be one happy man in his grave. He left a legacy and passed away. His invention of the Memex in the 1930’s, led to the development of the internet as we know today. The memex also led to the development of the Wiki collaboration software.
It was in 1994, Bird cunningham the inventor of Wiki software, was inspired by Vannvar’s ideas on Memex and further developed it into a software where people can share and collaboratively edit documents. His desire was that people can collaboratively contribute and talks about their experiences by adding and editing content without much technical know-how on computers.
There are thousands of active wikis in use around the world. They are used as team collaboration software, knowledge management tools, corporate intranets and community forum websites.
A wiki is an online software that lets you share and collaboratively modify and edit contents and documents with others using a simple web browser.
Did you know: Wiki is a Hawaiian name, which means ‘Quick’.
Wikipedia: the best know Wiki collaboration software
I was amazed to know that about 10 billion people visit the Wikipedia in a month for the English version alone. No wonder it is the 6th most widely read magazine in the world.
An article from MIT technology review from Tim simonite was a thought to provoke. Though the article was written in 2013, the title of the article ” The decline of Wikipedia’ caught my attention’. You can find the article here.
I saw some valid points. Apart from that I have not seen much written about it in the recent years. There is one from Andrew Lih titled ” Can Wikipedia survive” published in the Newyork times. You can find the article here.
A lot to learn from Wikipedia
I came to know that there were a lot of improvements that Wikipedia was working on, ground up. Surely, there must have been a lot of challenges that Wikipedia as a Wiki collaboration software would have faced over the years.
How did Wikipedia face them and what were those? What are lessons that we can learn from its journey?
are the few questions that came up to me.
There is a social instinct in all of is to collaborate and contribute content. We do it for the greater good. Wiki collaboration needs a good dose of altruism. On this take, Wikipedia is a strong example of wiki collaboration and stands tall as a beacon.
Its success and sustainability are far more important to students, academicians and knowledge seekers of the world than to the volunteer professionals who regularly edit and contribute content.
Though Wikipedia in the recent past has suffered from a lack of young contributors, it is still doing fine.
There is no centralized control. No restriction. Anybody can contribute. The Wikipedia foundation is a non-profit organization and yet the volunteers contribute on their own free will. A commendable sense of community spirit. They are a set of passionate folks. They do it for the ‘Love of the WWW (World wide web).
There is a lot to learn from Wikipedia as a channel for wiki collaboration. Though Wikipedia has been so popular, it is not been seen as social media tool by many. Perhaps, the founders and volunteers need to shape it up in such a way so as to encourage a lot of public contribution.
Best practices for Wiki collaboration
There has been no alternative to Wikipedia so far, as a Wiki collaboration tool. It is online collaboration at its best.
A good characteristic which distinguishes itself from others is the concept of NPOV (Neutral point of view). Wikipedia depends on its volunteers to update and contribute information. The final information that is presented to the user is neutral in nature.
Volunteers update information from various sources. Some may agree and some may not agree on the information presented. The contentions and disputes among volunteers on information sources and claims are quickly resolved. What finally is presented is the information on a topic or subject matter from a neutral point of view (NPOV). A good best practice, that even today there are many regulations on information management and databases that are derived from it.
Another important practice that Wikipedia does is to weed out vandalized information on a continuous basis. Online Wiki collaboration has its bane as well. Anything good information found on the internet which is free and easy to edit and collaborate is also prone to information being vandalized. The volunteer editors at Wikipedia have a very tight network where they immediately discard unwanted information in a matter of minutes.
Many other publications had tried to emulate the success of Wikipedia. One such example which is worth mentioning is “LA Times”. LA times introduced ‘Wikitorials’ which was shortlived. They introduced it with the intent that the public would edit and collaborate with each other to work on their editorial page. But with the absence of dedication and commitment from the administrators and volunteers, the site was quickly vandalized by some elements in the public. They had to shut it down.
So, it was the sheer dedication and the spirit of community among the Wikipedia volunteers that led to its success. Maintaining such a comprehensive repository of information and knowledge on the public domain is no mean challenge for Wiki collaboration.
There was harmony among the volunteers to produce content which was acceptable to everyone. It was done for the ‘love of the World Wide Web’.
Off-late some pitfalls
Wikipedia was at its peak in 2005 and it its English language version was the most visited reference site in the world. Andrew Lih in his New York times article talks about the staff crunch that Wikipedia faces.
It was said that they had about 60 editors who were allocated for admin roles in a month. Now, it is hard to allocate even one editor in a month.
The number of volunteers who contribute new information is dwindling. There is a dearth of young contributors, who have the potential and zest to write about topics, agrees Tim Simonite from MIT Technology review.
Obviously, there seems to be a generational gap within the old timers who stick to the traditional approach for updating information and are unwilling to change. Wiki collaboration has to change with the time. The newcomers and the younger generation want information to be updated on the new mobile computing infrastructure. There is a learning curve attached as well. These governance issues need to be sorted out.
The Wikipedia foundation which runs the administration and infrastructure portions have plans to bring in new software and editing capabilities, to steer the way the Wiki collaboration happens among the volunteers.
It is time now that Wikipedia is used by its users as a social media tool as well. Just like how Facebook serves as an entertainment social media. Wikipedia should place itself as a ‘knowledge social media’. Though I have been hearing talks, I haven’t seen any ‘share’ or ‘thank’ buttons incorporated yet.
The Final word
Wikipedia will succeed and overcome its challenges. It is a matter of time. There is now enough impetus with the introduction of Wikitribune. As a Wiki collaboration software, Wikipedia offers us many lessons to learn not just about how Wiki collaboration should function and work but on the remarkable spirit of community and for the power of free expression.
The current post, “Benefits of social media in the workplace – An employee perspective” is an updated and enhanced content version of the earlier post “Benefits of social media at workplace”. The article talks about the visible benefits of social media in the workplace from an authentic employee’s perspective.
The best practices and content is drawn and distilled from world class organizations and research publications (Including the Harvard Business review, HBR working knowledge and MIT Sloan management review) around the world.
In the recent times there has been a lot that has been written about social media collaboration, its usage and its associated technologies as one of the prime trend areas that will shape the future of work.
Understanding and exploring the benefits of social media in the workplace has enormous potential, not just for its designers and proponents but also for the employees who work in the organization.
There was a study that was conducted by an organization called Dynamic markets. It was found that nearly 74% of working population in Europe preferred social networking, social media sites and online communities to solve problems at workplaces. The two biggest benefits mentioned by employees were increase in knowledge for solving problems and secondly, cultivating a collaborative team spirit among employees on a daily basis.
Its impact as a “community building” and “social interaction” tool within the four walls, has social effects within the workplace. These two areas are the two most oft-repeated benefits that are linked to the usage of social media in the workplace. But then, their social effects go beyond these two into other real visible areas.
The positive effects of social media in the workplace is felt by Nerds, Geeks and managers (Who form the typical office crowd) alike within the organization. The term “Social media” is usually interspersed or used synonymously with the word “social media collaboration”, “Corporate social network”, “Enterprise social networking” and “Social collaboration” within an organizational context.
The senior management, would like to the see the word “Collaboration” attached to the word social media for obvious reasons. They understand “Collaboration” can bring in results, productivity and profits. On the contrary, there is a perception that, employee’s time on community building and social interaction alone, may be unproductive and may not add value.
The below paragraph provides a quick summary of the benefits of social media in the workplace and then we will go into the greater details later in the post.
Consumer social media has its influence on the benefits of social media in the workplace
True. We have already seen that happening. People across the world are more well versed (Particularly, the younger generation millennial) towards the usage, general acceptance and friendliness towards consumer web social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and others. This has influenced the behavior at workplaces as well. People at workplace, are now more open to ideas, sharing information, being collaborative and creating communities.
Many Fortune 100 companies have opened the doors and have become trailblazers for the adoption of social media in the workplace beneficially within their organizations.
Some of this collaboration, has taken the garb of innovation hubs and idea banks while others have become knowledge sharing platforms. They all share a common purpose aligned to business goals. With management commitment they are well shaping up to be the future of work. The business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace is obvious.
We are all aware of the recent news that Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn. LinkedIn, is again a social media network tool on the consumer web space for working professionals. The advantages might be many for Microsoft but then the importance of the benefits of social media in the workplace cannot be anymore understated.
Defining social media in the workplace
From a consumer point of view, there are many terms which are used interchangeably with social media, namely web 2.0, social technology, social media collaboration and so on. From a workplace perspective, it is all about ‘social collaboration’ and ‘enterprise social networking’ with specialist tools for chat sessions, community forums, collaboration platforms and tools for employee advocacy.
But at heart,
Social media is an attitude and an evolving culture. At a very basic level, it consists of a set of digital tools to connect, interact and collaborate.
Having said that, there are various tools used for realizing the benefits of social media in the workplace. Let’s have a cursory glance at some of them.
The common Social media tools used
Some of the commonly used social media tools are :-
Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
Social Networking Site: It is a website that allows people to interact with each other. Information can be shared and received. The site exists for forming beneficial relationships with others.
Forums: It is a site where people can ask questions and get answers. People can in-turn reply on those answers in a threaded comments fashion.
Wikipedia: It is a website which serves as a good repository of information on any topic. The information is filled in collaboratively by the general public. There are options to add, delete and edit content on the wiki site.
Micro blog: It is a form of blogging where the content consists of far less words and transmitted quickly. There is usually a notification which goes to all the participants. “Twitter” is a good example of this.
Virtual worlds: A simulated artificial online environment where users take up avatars to participate independently or as groups to communicate and interact with others. There are many Massive multiplayer games of this genre and they usually depict huge ranging worlds of super heroes and science fiction. “Second life” is a good example of this.
Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
Web conferencing: Runs on many internet technologies. It allows people in remote locations to meet, interact and collaborate. Webcasts and webinars are some of the examples.
The prime benefits of social media in the workplace
The benefits of social media in the workplace are many. Please find the prime visible benefits of social media in the workplace. These benefits have the maximum positive business impact. They are listed below.
Knowledge creation and dissemination.
Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
Creation of collaborative social capital.
Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
Providing most valuable “Context” to information.
Let’s look at them one by one.
1.Knowledge creation and dissemination
The organization creates knowledge all the time. On one hand there is the highly subjective insights, which are valuable and are called the ‘Tacit’ knowledge. Tacit knowledge rests in the minds of the people. On the other hand, there is explicit knowledge, which is available in the organizational procedures and structured processes. Usage of social media captures these valuable tacit knowledge and helps in converting them into explicit knowledge. The context surrounding that information helps in this conversion.
Other forms of social media in the workplace also capture tacit knowledge. For example, formal collaboration platforms within workplaces encourage employees from different business units to share structured information with other employees as well.
Social media in the workplace encourages knowledge sharing
The presence of social media in the workplace, encourages employees to share knowledge. Social media facilitates the quick spreading of information where it is needed. Employees are generally not comfortable with the jargons of market share, ROI and productivity nor with the mission and values of the organization. They are not interested in hard numbers. They are more interested in getting the work done and to be in the good books of their managers.
Employees would like to have a collective sense of identity and a sense of belonging with a community. Such innate needs are fulfilled by employee engagement of social media. Knowledge creation and dissemination occurs naturally through the use of social media in workplaces.
From an employee perspective, through knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination, there is generation of new ideas. And when we collaborate with our ideas with each other, there is insight and there by innovation.
For example: – Technical support centers across many organizations rely on collaborative wikis, to share knowledge on support resolutions and technical updates. This revised knowledge is frequently updated by the representatives who work on those service lines. The benefits of social media in the workplace is more visible,as there are efficiencies built in turnaround time and the operations involved.
For ideas to mature and there by lead to innovation, it has to go through many iterations. We may have a hunch. For the hunch to be developed into a workable idea, it needs others perspective on it as well. Social media as a tool within workplaces has provisions to encourage this desired behavior. Employee collaboration, being one of the prime benefits of social media in the workplace, facilitates successive iteration of ideas and thereby innovation.
There are many definitions of innovation. The one that I feel right is:
When we reflect on our own experiences and knowledge with others, and their perspectives and existing knowledge, a new insight is born. And then after a series of such successive ideas and insight, innovation takes form by running through the process of design, development and results.
A manager might possess a path breaking idea about a new technology which can be developed in-house. A shop floor worker with years of expertise, might come up with a process innovation. Knowledge from employees will remain only as “Personal knowledge” as long as they are not shared with each other. Once they are shared, they become organization’s knowledge. This knowledge is valuable to the company as a whole.
By using social media in the work places, the employees are interconnected and grow together as one giant organism called the ‘organizational workplace’.
Social media is very adept at forming collaborative social capital. This tremendously enhances the positive business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace.
I was quite bewildered to read the sentence “Social capital investment is not for control freaks” highlighted in an article at the Harvard business review working knowledge website. The article reviews a book “In good company: How social capital makes organizations work”. You can view the article here.
Communities grow out of freedom of practice. Employees cannot be pushed by managers, to collaborate in a project because they have to. Employees will still do it, because they have to get the job done but it does not encourage social capital.
Strengthening social capital is good for social media in the workplace
Social capital is formed when employees would want to come together and work out of common activities, mutual intention and like mindedness. Employees do not want to work together just because they are friends.
Social capital is the influence a person has over his or her social network. The social network could be even within a workplace.
“Social capital is always strengthened and nurtured in the context of real work” say the authors.
The authors emphasize that, social capital is formed over long periods of working together and where there is mind share. It cannot be formed by “One shot bonding” for sure.
Social media in the workplace, encourages employees towards such orientation. Frequently, it is advised to have managerial intervention to steer employee engagement and social interaction towards stewardship and nurturing rather management control. Employees should be free enough to talk about their stories of accomplishments and failures.
Such social capital formed, is indispensable and works well for the morale of the employees. Who wouldn’t want such motivated set of employees for their workplace. Social media in the workplace exactly enhances this kind of social capital and clearly is a strong case for visible benefits of social media in the workplace.
We have seen many examples, like in the usage of Wiki. People collaboratively create knowledge. Such collaborative wikis exist at workplaces as well.
At Cisco, social media is part of their company culture. Cisco uses social media within the learning and development function. Employees continuously refresh their knowledge and skills using social media. They collaborate with each other exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as connect with their partners, vendors and communities.
The learning and development function partners with the business to understand learning needs of hardware and design engineers and effectively tailors courses for them. Even geographical distances do not hamper them. Self-paced and web-based learning courses are being used where instructors cannot reach. Owing to this, they have reduced their travel expenses and very cost effective in meeting their needs.
4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom
Coming back to our study from Dynamic markets, mentioned quite earlier in our article, the study found that use of social media in the workplace has increased the efficiency in the organization. The study was conducted across 2500 professionals across 5 countries in Europe in 2008. Nearly 46% of the respondents said that the use of social media in workplaces has led to the spark of new ideas and creativity. Collective decision making through the usage of social media solves workplace problems as well.
There is a fine example to illustrate from the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire” if the main contestant feels uncertain of the response to a question, he or she would choose an audience poll as a lifeline. The audience was always right and nearly as accurate.
This phenomenon is what James Surowiecki has written in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He states that “Large number of individual people with “independent thoughts” will certainly achieve better results than the individual single person alone
The diversity of perspectives, specialized expertise, knowledge and isolated independent inputs makes it unique to tap into this collective wisdom which all pervades in our work environment, our surroundings and the place we live and thrive.
Social media gives us a platform to integrate these collective decisions, encourages and further accelerates the integration and the power of connection among employees. The cumulative effect is obvious as new ideas and wisdom start pouring in, new powerful results start showing up in the form of improved services and products.
Dow Chemical is a Multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Michigan, USA. A wonderful example of social media at work at Dow. who have truly reaped the benefits of social media at work.
Dow created a website called the “My Dow Network” in 2007. Now it happens to be in the name of “Dow Friends” for retirees. The earlier site was created with the intention to cultivate four communities of its retirees, current employees, alumni and women.
The site gave an opportunity and a window for retirees at Dow to look into what is happening within the company, connect with other retirees and explore job opportunities, if they chose to return. Retirees can lend their experiences, expertise and contribute in newer ways. It gave them a sense of new life and a chance to connect with their peers. It received tremendous response from all quarters.
The business world hailed their efforts. Since then the community kept on growing and added newer and newer connections day by day. Dow had described this experience in a wonderful video in their site. We don’t know if it is still available at their site.
It talks about the missing human element which makes all the difference. Interaction through social media, connects people and is the element of change. The sayings in the video,“It gives us the footing to stand fearlessly and face the future” reinforces positive social effects of among the community of employees.
Dow has truly found a way to reach and connect its people.
5.Providing the most valuable “context” to information
We have all been using knowledge management systems in some way or the other. For example, If you want some information, you “Google it”. Context is important and offers help, when there is a need to apply the information immediately. Also in situations where ‘Know how’ and ‘ Previous experience’ is required, context comes to the rescue.
Social media networks naturally has an advantage here. It can provide the context, the human element to the information.
In age old knowledge management systems, knowledge elicitation, capture and collection was good but it lacked the “Context”. When people are introduced to a context, it is easy to find appropriate information.
With this, the Social media networks are indispensable in work environments. We can tap into the experience and wisdom of others and at the same time satisfy and quench our thirst to share, belong and be social.
An interesting offline example for “context” is the Leadership drive called the OST (Open space Technology). An open philosophy of collaboration and self-organization, usually done at offsite meetings at major corporations across the world on complex issues facing the organization. People are free to air their views and thoughts.
Everybody is welcome. All inputs are valid and taken into account. It heavily rests on the philosophy, that no person alone can solve all the problems at work.The collaborative groups usually self –organize and a context is added appropriately to the situation.
As a large company, IBM experiments and always launches a number of social media tools internally for its employees. Few of the IBM’s tools include Micro blogger called ‘Blue twit’ and ‘Many eyes’ which allows employees to upload all kinds of data visualize it and launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks.
A more notable one is the ‘bee hive’ which happens to be more from a bottoms up approach where employees can upload their personal and official information. Employees can upload their “top 5” favorite things and share it with others. It builds employee branding and a sense of ownership within the company.
Lastly, the final word
Many global companies are actually asking employees to reach out and create new external networks to tap into valuable ideas. With this, I would like to bring this part of the discussion to an end. I would like to add more corporate real life examples of the benefits of social media in the workplace as well as the positive effects of the business impact.
In the meanwhile, you can always refer further reading resources below:-
In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.
But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.
It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.
That is a good number.
But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.
The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation. There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time through collaboration and group think among team members.
Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.
Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.
Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?
The answer is – Yes!
Is there an online environment yet? Probably not.
We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.
So what is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.
There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.
Useful note: Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.
There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.
IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.
As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.
Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.
Being spontaneous and passionate for brainstorming
Focus: Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.
One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do. The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.
A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.
Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.
Go for quantity: It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.
Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.
Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.
Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.
Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.
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