Social Collaboration – The Battle to Keep Content Fresh


In today’s throwaway society, content has developed a limited shelf-life. Not only does consumer appetite for information burn through it quicker than ever before, but with technologies, behaviours and even entire industries changing on what can seem like a weekly basis, the battle to keep content fresh can feel both overwhelming and draining.

To get some idea of the scale of the problem, consider this – whether it is creating new, updating existing or removing out-of-date content, knowledge maintenance costs have been rising an average of 8% year over year – but overall budgets remain the same. Perhaps more alarming when it comes to updating content, recent analyst estimates suggest that Fortune 500 companies are losing a combined $31.5 billion per year from employees failing to share knowledge effectively.

To stand any chance of their content keeping up, brands must therefore make use of every resource available to them – and this means taking a wider look at possible knowledge providers both within their own organisation and outside of it.

After all, who better to know your products inside and out than the people whose job it is to make, market and sell them, and the customers who use them daily. Often representing an untapped wealth of information, customers in particular can have a very unique insight into a brand’s products. Finding a way to gather this input into your knowledge base can be extremely rewarding.

This idea of leveraging information from others – for example customers or employees – to crowdsource knowledge is set to be another of 2016’s most talked about knowledge management trends – social collaboration.

The state of social collaboration

Despite sounding like an easy enough task – particularly in the age of constant status updates and pictures that document our every move – many brands are failing in their efforts to persuade others to share their knowledge with them. Intranets go unused, feedback buttons ignored and wikis fail.

But why is it that people don’t collaborate on knowledge more? Why aren’t we all more willing to provide feedback? What is stopping us?

To share or not to share?

There could be any number of reasons why an individual chooses not to pass on their knowledge to others, but I would point to the following as prime suspects:

  1. Share fatigue – With most of us now having at least five social media accounts (source), we spend our lives sharing every detail of our daily activities. Is it possible that we share so much on social media we’re now suffering from share fatigue? In fact some have started to feel so bombarded by sharing that they have become aggressively negative against it.
  2. Fear of failure – No one likes being wrong, and certainly not having it happen online for everyone to see. Could the shame of having our errors pointed out publicly be yet another reason that we are unwilling to stick our necks out when it comes to information sharing?
  3. Effort versus reward – When it comes to asking for knowledge, all too often brands set the technical barriers to participating too high. If you want people to act, you must ask for as little effort as possible and with sign-in processes to follow, forms to complete, and moderation to wait for etc. the effort required at the moment can be too great. And the rewards too are few and hard to see.
  4. There’s no ‘i’ in team – Another dilemma for brands to grapple with is how to balance encouraging people to feel enough ownership of the content they share to encourage them to do so… yet in the same breath, asking them to create it in collaboration with others and not feel sensitive if their content is amended or later updated.

Encouraging future sharing

These questions are just a few examples that brands must consider if they want to make social collaboration work successfully in the future. The good news, however, is that there are some obvious places to start.

Though it is important to address the technical barriers to entry by ensuring your software is as simple as possible, top of my priority list would not be the ‘how’ but the ‘where’ of collaboration. You need to set up your system in a way which allows for collaboration in the places where you know people are already using knowledge and thus the effort to do so more will be minimal. You’re more likely to share on Facebook, for example, because you’re already there to read about your friends. Social collaboration won’t work if it’s off to one side – out of sight, out of mind. It’s got to be culturally and procedurally built in to the way you work.

There are also a number of ways you can tap into psychology to motivate people to create knowledge:

  • Set out different levels of participation to allow people to start small – for example giving feedback on existing articles versus writing articles from scratch
  • To help build confidence you could also start people off on an intranet before moving to a public knowledge base
  • Think about ways in which you could reward knowledge sharing – for an employee this could include building a related metric into their career goals, and making sure to allocate proper time and resource for people to do so. It shouldn’t feel extra to their job, but part of it
  • Encourage a bit of healthy competition by adding some kind of gamification element to knowledge sharing
  • Think about the materials you share – are you providing people with enough guidance on how, what, when, where and in what tone they should be sharing information?

Knowledge management should be intuitive, innovative and evolving – making information simple to find, use, monitor and manage – and social collaboration is going to be an increasingly important part of the process over the next five years.

So what’s the future of social collaboration? Getting people to collaborate involves mastering many complicated contrary motivations and desires, including overcoming usability, anxiety, engagement and reward-based drivers. As these are increasingly understood, social collaboration will become a reality rather than an aspiration, and businesses will be able to capitalise on this to implement radical improvements to their knowledge-sharing ecosystems.

With thanks to Michael Aston at Transversal

Published On: 18th May 2016 - Last modified: 6th Feb 2019
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