While using social media technologies for business has been gaining momentum, understanding how to most effectively take advantage of these tools across the enterprise is still evolving. Here are 5 steps to successfully implement your social knowledge network (SKN). 

Some organizations have failed to achieve real business benefits from using social technologies because they tried to bolt these tools onto their existing intranets or portals, without a goal-oriented strategy driving it.

To achieve business objectives like increased productivity and organizational effectiveness, companies must start with the business problem and the needs of the business user. From there, it is necessary to encourage acceptance and adoption across the organization.

The Social Knowledge Network

One new approach that some companies are taking is called Social Knowledge Networks (SKNs). These are virtual environments where content combines with human resource assets and subject matter expertise around a business process or problem to increase productivity, foster innovation and improve the retention and preservation of knowledge.

Content -- such as data, documents, images and other knowledge assets -- is the backbone of a successful Social Knowledge Network strategy. And context -- such as human resources assets and subject matter expertise -- is the lifeblood.

Context provides a shared reference point, a reason to connect. Collaboration happens and problem solving accelerates because socially connected people have a basis for their discussion, instead of merely voicing their comments on an intranet.

Social Knowledge Networks go beyond connecting people, and help drive our interactions to solve a business problem.

Here are five steps for successfully implementing Social Knowledge Networks in your organization. These steps are derived from a culmination of customer feedback and experience with enterprise pilot deployments.

1. Define the Problem

This is probably the most cliché step across implementation best practices. Everyone knows they need to define the problem at hand, but so few actually follow through with a process for definition, or reach a collective agreement of what that problem is. For example, knowledge retention might be one of the business issues to address by way of implementing a Social Knowledge Network, but it’s rarely the only objective.

For the initial implementation, identify an existing process or practice where past experience and information is valuable and reusable, and where the wisdom of the community can enhance content. Examples include proposal development, product development/innovation, customer service, competitive intelligence, partner relationship management and facilities management.

However, you can’t know what problems to solve, what friction points your employees encounter or what they consider relevant until you ask them, which leads us to our next step.

2. Pick your People

Whether it’s explicitly defined or not, there should already be a community of people focusing on a project or objective. This group will understand the value of sharing ideas and recommending high-quality work because with a core group of people dedicated to the task at hand, projects are easier to complete and knowledge is captured for similar tasks in the future.

Users rely on SKNs because it helps them solve real problems, makes their jobs easier and is truly relevant. Building the SKN around the needs of your core community -- and addressing the challenges that they come up against will expedite the implementation process.

As the staff realizes that the tool improves their performance by making it easier to quickly produce higher-quality deliverables, participation will increase -- both cross-functionally within departments, and cross-departmental throughout the organization.

Editor's Note: Also read Enterprise Collaboration: It's About the Culture, Stupid

3. Find a Fearless Leader

One cannot implement a successful social strategy alone. While there is much debate about whether successful strategies are the result of grass-roots efforts within the organization, or because the culture and corporate leadership have bought in to the idea, the fact of the matter is you need both.

Just like the SKN combines top-down vetted content and bottom-up wisdom of the community, successful implementations also combine top-down corporate buy-in with bottom-up end-user adoption.

So it is important to get one or more people from the senior team to sponsor and participate in the initial implementation, and make sure that their participation is active. Leadership has a trickle-down effect. If senior staff is contributing comments and blogs, the rest of the group will be more eager to participate and more likely to view the SKN as an important resource. Do as I say, not as I do is not a successful practice for senior staff to perpetuate.

4. Make Content your King

Think of content as the key to your castle. It is the basis for collaboration and the driver behind reaching business objectives. The objective of a SKN is to bring together the right information in order to solve a specific problem and make that information readily available to end users.

As you implement your information strategy, the necessary information can come from many different sources. And because of this, it must be managed and accessed differently.

For example, managed, cached and federated content each require a different approach. Managed content refers to new sources of information or information no longer managed with a legacy application. A SKN provides full management of all of your information. You create information, you edit it, you delete it, etc. And unlike the consumer social media site, the objective of the SKN is to create a high-quality repository, not a tremendous mass of users.

5. The Rules Rule

Every organization is different and requirements for social capabilities will vary. It would be naïve to think enterprise organizations will implement a social strategy without guidelines or rules. Would you allow your sales team to edit price sheets or legal agreements? Of course not. It’s just too risky.

But that’s not to say that there isn’t a happy medium between a social dictatorship and a social free-for-all. SKNs come equipped with a social volume knob. The social volume knob is controlled by an appropriate content administrator or information professional who determines when, what and how social capabilities are added to information.

For example, who should be allowed to blog? Which content should be enabled for tagging? For commenting? For rating? Access control means socialization of content can flourish without compromising the integrity of the knowledgebase.

Final Thoughts

A little known fact about successful technology implementations is this: You must first have the right technology to meet your needs. Trying to put a round peg in a square hole will leave your implementation to struggle or worse, fail.

Editor's Note: Read The Tools and Technology That Enable Enterprise Collaboration

Social Knowledge Networks provide a one-stop shop for information. It is a secure place where content and social media can be controlled using a social volume knob, and the community can enhance and inform the content, creating social intelligence.

When we work with clients all around the world, we are trying to help them increase the value and use of their information assets. This means helping them move from a state where information is disorganized and privately held, to a state where information is organized, accessible, enhanced and informed by the community. Through successful technology implementations, customers are on the track to gain productivity, wisdom, and truth.