Internal corporate wiki is an information sharing powerhouse

Internal corporate wiki is an information sharing powerhouseThere is more to social media than marketing. Indeed, companies are increasingly recognizing the value of social media as an internal tool.

In this post, I will examine one of the most important social media tools for companies, an internal wiki.

What do you want – information

The lack of correct and timely information is a problem that is ever present in companies. The larger a company grows, the more severe the issue becomes. In a large corporation, it is nigh impossible to know what everyone is working on and what competencies everyone has.

The results are many, none of them good:

  • Duplicate work, because people do not know something has already been done.
  • Inefficiently assigned resources, because all competencies are not known.
  • Reduced sales, because the company is not aware of all the available resources.
  • Reduced innovation, because people who could create something great together do not meet.

Why does this happen and how could a wiki help? First, we need to take a little peek into sociology, namely, strong and weak ties.

The strength of weak ties

In 1973, Mark Granovetter published his classic paper, The Strength of Weak Ties. In this paper, he argued that weak ties between people are essential to understanding macro-level events.

The strength of an interpersonal tie is defined as “a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.”

Granovetter goes on to argue that people often share the same strong ties: if A and B spend a lot of time together, and C also spends a lot of time with A, it is likely that C also spends a lot of time with B. Thus, people who share the same strong ties form a group.

Furthermore, groups of people are connected to other groups of people through weak ties. These are not usually shared, so each group of people is connected to a number of other groups over a variety of weak ties.

In order for ideas to spread, they must do so over weak ties, because the strong ties are confined to small groups and the ideas need to pass on to many groups in order to spread.

Strong and weak ties and social media

I do not claim to have made the connection myself. In fact, I became aware of Granovetter’s work through Andrew McAfee’s book, Enterprise 2.0.

McAfee recommends wikis for work carried out with people with strong ties, for example, for collaborative writing.

However, I will present use cases that suggest that wikis are an excellent tool also for people with weak ties, perhaps even more so, because harnessing the power of weak ties is crucial for information sharing within large corporations.

Internal corporate wiki use cases

Let’s take a look at some of the ways internal corporate wikis can be used. These use cases should give you some ideas on potential applications in your organization.

Many of these use cases derive their utility from the improved utilization of weak or potential interpersonal ties.

Internal phone book. Who is this person? What does he look like? Do these questions sound familiar? Most corporate wiki platforms include user profiles. So, go ahead and create profiles for all the employees, complete with phone numbers, job descriptions, and photos. Taking the photos for the phone book can even make for a nice event!

Meeting minutes and memos. Instant sharing of all meeting minutes to participants and all stakeholders with the ability to comment, discuss, and modify them. Extend the influence of your meetings beyond the conference room.

Recreational activities and sign-ups. Many companies organize or encourage the employees to organize various recreational activities. Move the planning and sign-ups to a wiki, and people will catch a glimpse of work issues on their way to sign up for a barbeque.

Idea contribution and discussion. Create a space and template for submitting new ideas and feedback. With new ideas appearing in a wiki, a much larger portion of employees are exposed to them, which results in more discussion and more varied points of view. Wiki may even work as a serendipity engine that brings together people interested in similar development project, but who work in different units and have no other way to get to know of each other.

Research and development. With R&D data in a wiki, it is possible to easily see what kinds of development projects are ongoing and what has been tried before. This can be of substantial benefit later on, when information on attempted solutions and reasons why some alternatives worked and others did not are easily searchable.

Internal knowledge base. Whether it is about maintenance, support, or development, moving your know-how into a wiki makes it easily searchable and usable.

Business intelligence. Maybe one of your engineers saw a new competing product, or a part or solution that could be used to enhance your product. With business intelligence in a wiki, you dramatically increase the number of potential observers from a few people working on it to your entire workforce. Similarly, a wider range of your employees become aware of competing solutions and their relative strength, which helps them in their work, whether it is sales, marketing, engineering, or service.

Collaborative writing, reviewing, and commenting. Perhaps the most traditional use for a wiki there is. Author documents together, or use it as a review tool: for example, write the text of an upcoming brochure and let the stakeholders comment it in a wiki, thus ensuring full exposure of all comments and allowing people to agree or disagree with suggestions as they are presented.

Making the wiki work

Alas, things are not as simple as launching a wiki and then watching the events unfold in an explosion of edits and comments.

It takes work to make a wiki work, although not as much work as you’d spend on information sharing without one.

Wiki needs to be easily accessible. If it’s difficult, people won’t bother. Preferably, the wiki should work on single sign-on so that no separate credentials are needed for accessing the wiki.

All use cases need an owner. The owner is a gardener and an evangelist who looks after that part of the wiki and encourages others to contribute.

Move as many thing as possible to in-the-flow. Another concept I picked up from Andrew McAfee, this one originates from Michael Idinopulos, who writes that “In-the-Flow wikis enable people do their day-to-day work in the wiki itself … Above-the-Flow wikis invite users to step out of the daily flow of work and reflect, codify, and share something about what they do.” In effect, people will contribute more when the contribution is a part of their work instead of being an additional step.

Information sharing powerhouse

A corporate wiki is a hugely potential tool for effective information sharing, which in turn can provide a significant boost to productivity.

I can’t really come up with arguments against implementing a corporate wiki, except for one: if your company culture is built on restricted access to information, a wiki might not be an ideal tool. The fewer secrets there are, the better a tool a wiki is.

This does not mean that companies cannot have any secrets. Quite the contrary, the board of directors might do well to have a restricted wiki for their own use: they are busy people and being able to write down their thoughts to the correct audience whenever they have the time can help them manage their workload as well.

Photo: William Murphy (infomatique) on Flickr (cc)