There’s been lots of negative reaction here and elsewhere in the blogosphere to the notion of mandatory blogging. (See the comments from Patrick Lambe and Doug Cornelius to my earlier posts, Knowledge Management Made Easier and Knowledge Management Made Mandatory. Also see Doug’s post, Making Blogging Mandatory for Knowledge Management.) And, I’m not without sympathy. Nonetheless, I feel strangely compelled to play devil’s advocate a little longer.
We’re already seeing the mandatory use of social media tools within enterprises. For example, project leaders have begun insisting that team members provide project status reports via a wiki. Members of their project team don’t have a choice — they have to use the wiki to record the pertinent information. Similarly, there have been determined efforts to replace most e-mail communication within a group by the mandatory use of a wiki.
This is the thin edge of the wedge. Social media provides useful tools and businesses are going to want to promote the use of these tools for the sake of efficiency within the organization. And, given the nature of bureaucracies within most organizations, if the social media tools are being used for mission critical purposes, that use will be mandatory rather than optional. This is where business use parts company with the extra-curricular use of social media tools.
While it would be lovely to have the use of these tools be perfectly voluntary, how do you get the level of participation you need to meet business goals? What if you’re dealing with a mission critical matter? Are you willing to rely solely on the input of volunteers? What if the folks with the relevant information aren’t inclined to participate?
Years ago, the Doonesbury cartoon strip portrayed President George H.W. Bush as an ineffectual invisible entity who had an active “evil twin” named Skippy. It may well be that the purely voluntary form of social media also has an “evil twin” (at least as far as social computing purists are concerned), and that twin is the particular form of social media deployed within enterprises. We may not like all the ways that businesses put these tools to work, but at least they are beginning to use the tools. And, if they get anxious enough about their investment in these tools they will make use of the tools mandatory. This is how it ever has been and ever will be.
There, I think I’ve nearly exhausted my compulsion to play devil’s advocate on this topic.
So now, let me end by observing that when this conversation started heating up in the blogosphere, I was under the impression that my major crime was that I had unwittingly gored a sacred cow. What I seemed to be hearing at the outset was that while the mandatory use of wikis within an organization was acceptable, the mandatory use of blogs was not. This puzzled me. Was it just that bloggers were extra protective of their particular social media tool?
As the conversation evolved, however, it became clearer that the better basis for objecting was not the mandatory use of these tools per se, but rather the placement of these tools outside the regular work flow. (For an extremely helpful explanation of this concept, see Mark Gould‘s post, Going with the flow, and the accompanying comments.) So, to riff on Tim Leberecht’s proposal, if blogs were used by a project team to capture written conversations among themselves on a specific theme in an organized fashion, most of the blogging naysayers should concede that this is an acceptable form of mandatory blogging because it is “in-the-flow.” However, if blogs were used as diaries to be filled out at the end of each day, for example, this would be an unacceptable form of mandatory blogging because it is “above-the-flow” and is, therefore, an added burden that does violence to social computing principles.
For knowledge managers, the key is to deploy these tools initially so that they are in-the-flow. This should allow a rich repository of information to grow organically without any additional effort on the part of the knowledge workers. However, the contrarian in me says that there is still a place for social media tools above-the-flow. As Mark Gould observed, that’s where users step back from their day-to-day tasks to reflect and codify what they have learned. With that reflection comes an even richer source of information that is so valuable within a KM system.
Social media nirvana is one where each of us is free to choose our respective level of engagement. That type of freedom rarely exists within any organized structures. Why did we think it would be different when social media entered the workplace?