Sharing Corporate Tribal Knowledge

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Creating content is never easy. Whether we’re talking text, images, audio or video, you have to have a passion for the industry you serve, and you have to also have a passion (or, at least, a knack) for creating some kind of content.

If there’s one major complaint that businesses have when they first dip their toes into the raging river that is social media, it is that they often "run out of things to say." When these communication and publishing platforms were more nascent, the choices were much more limited. All you could really do was blog. And, if writing wasn’t your thing, you can well imagine how hard it was to truly engage and nurture any sort of community.It should come as no surprise that even though Technorati is currently tracking over 130 million blogs, it’s only a very small percentage of those that are updated frequently (defined as about once a week).

The choices are now endless. You can take pictures and upload them to Flickr, you can shoot your own videos and promote them on YouTube (or even Facebook), you can create your own audio programs (podcasts) and push them out to the world via iTunes, and you can even simplify your apprehension to writing a blog and build your own community using only 140 characters at a time on Twitter.

Creating content is definitely getting easier.

And there are many more platforms (with newer ones coming online every day). Businesses can even forgo all of these choices and edge out even further by creating their own iPhone, BlackBerry or other smartphone mobile apps. The opportunities and potential are limited only by your imagination, appetite for experimentation, and resources for getting it done and keeping it going.

There is a simpler way to not only make your mark using social media, but to get ever-more comfortable with new media: You can simply start sharing content.

It’s often the most overlooked strategy, but it’s the one that will really bring out adoption throughout your entire organization. Just think about "sharing" in terms of your business’s tribal knowledge. Wikipedia defines "tribal knowledge" as, "any unwritten information that is known within a tribe but often unknown outside of it. A tribe may be a group or subgroup of people that share a common knowledge."

Your business is a tribe as well.

Think about your employees and how most communication in the past was passed down from senior management to teams – or from long-time employees to the new cadets. Usually, it was done either orally or in communication channels like email, post-it notes and voice-mail messages. So, when those employees either move on (or up), that tribal knowledge does not get passed on.

It’s one of the key reasons why hiring (and even firing) employees is both expensive and time consuming.

Company Intranets attempted to resolve some of these issues, but it’s only recently that there has been a huge upsurge in implementing many of the social media sharing tools and platforms to keep all of this corporate tribal knowledge alive, updated and available. When many business people think about how to best use a wiki, they think of Wikipedia. Imagine transferring all of your internal corporate documentation over on to a wiki platform – making everything a webpage (or document) that anyone in the company can edit, update and comment on? Imagine how that one simple act of making your content more shareable might affect and improve your corporate culture? Imagine how much easier it will be to bring in new employees (and get over the loss of some others) by having everything about the company in a much more shareable format.

What about news, information and industry trends?

Why not use some of the amazing (and free) bookmarking services like Delicious or Google Bookmarks to share anything and everything with your teams? You can use these tools and share this information privately (meaning only with the people you give permission to) and you can create/choose tags (or words used to describe the content you’re sharing) that your whole team can start adopting – this way, it’s not just you sharing with everybody, but now it’s everybody sharing with everybody.

Your most loyal brand evangelists are the people whose cheques you sign and who walk out the door every day at 5 p.m.

Don’t forget that. Being successful by using the online channels is less about how quick you are to join Twitter and more about how much smarter you can make your team by using these tools to grow your business. Always remember that one of the easiest ways to grow your business will be in how well you help your teams share, grow and build their talents.

Don’t be quick to jump into the latest online social network just because everyone else is, but move as fast as you can to start using these tools to capture and document your tribal knowledge.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

Vancouver Sun – Sharing corporate Tribal Knowledge.

Montreal Gazette – Wading in to Social Media? Get a comfortable start by sharing content.


  1. Reagrding corporate culture I am skeptical whether this will be possible with social media tools. Social norms and behavior is very hard to learn from reading. Here the passing on by a mentor or instructor will always be a of major importance.
    Sharing news and information within a company on the other hand is very useful indeed. If one person at our company stumbles upon interesting or important information, he / she shares it with colleagues he / she thinks will be interested in it via our internal social network. After all we work towards the same goal and in the same industry. So the more information each of our employees gets makes us better at our jobs. Always assuming it is useful knowledge and you don’t bombard them with information.
    For the same reason I follow my contacts on LinekdIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Each of them recommends me information I would never find if I was looking for it myself. In return I share information I think is worth sharing with all of you.

  2. I think this is my favorite article that you’ve posted yet. For people like me, who aim to push our organizations into these channels, you’ve given concrete and relevant methods for how to get in and why it’s important.
    I would even state that as the organization gets larger, the more important it is to catalog their “tribal knowledge” in some easily-consumable form. It makes that onboarding process (shoot me for saying that) that much easier.

  3. Thanks for this timely post. I’ve been telling advisors to start sharing meaningful information using the medium that suits them most: text, voice, video. I didn’t think of pictures. Now I can point them towards your article.
    The big challenge is overcoming inertia. Start. You’ll soon find your voice and develop your skills. Once you have a prototype to show, you’ve got a much better chance at getting support from others.

  4. Mitch, thanks for this post.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can put social media tools and practices to work inside organizations.
    I’m convinced that we have come to a bit of a crossroads here, that we have come to a point where we now have the opportunity to change the game.
    For years, we’ve been talking about employee engagement, empowerment, employees as owners, leaders at all levels, etc. The challenge is that we can only shift our organizational cultures so far… UNLESS we embrace the game changing tools available today so we can accelerate the kind of change we’ve been after for quite some time now.
    Corporate intranets tend to be information dumps; they’re rarely used effectively to power up collaboration and open communication.
    In my view, organizations should mirror what’s happening in the social media space. It’s those same organizations that are always talking about the importance of bringing teams and individuals together, of collaboration for innovation, of working as ONE team, of speaking with one voice. The more sharing, the more understanding.
    I think it will be interesting to see just how far social media tools are embraced and put to use in organizations in the next few years.
    Thanks for provoking some thought.

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