Working social media

By Lyndsie Bourgon June 2012

Don't ban it — use it to encourage dialogue.

Ah, social media: The time-wasting yet creative force that many firms just don’t know how to approach. Social media allows employees across industries, and firms, to share information and think outside-the-box when it comes to problem solving. But how do you make sure it’s not being used to simply share photos and funny jokes?

“There’s a saying going on around knowledge management circles, that social media is delivering on the promise that knowledge management made,” says Connie Crosby, principal at Crosby Group Consulting. Still, many firms are unsure of how to adopt these programs, and so have been slow on the uptake.

Andrew Terrett, the national director of knowledge management at Borden Ladner Gervais, believes that while social media’s not the life-saver of KM, it’s not to be ignored. He says one way to reach middle ground is to develop an internal network that can be used through a company’s secure firewall — ensuring safety, while still encouraging dialogue.

According to Blake Melnick, chief knowledge officer at KM Institute, using social media is so integral, that firms which don’t won’t be around in another 10 years. “Young people do it so naturally,” he says. “So when I see organizations that ban the use of social media, I think it’s like the ostrich approach.” He agrees that developing a company-run way for employees to use social media is key — “If you ban it internally, you push it externally, where you can’t control it. So figure out a way to make it work.”

Crosby boils down the importance of social media to one point: “[It allows] people to talk back and forth, to find out who’s done this already, who has the expertise, ask questions back and forth, and have it reside so that other people can see it.”

Take a hint

“Knowledge resides within the larger industry itself,” explains Blake Melnick of the KM Institute. So take a hint from these industries, which have developed effective knowledge management practices:

  • The health care industry: Driven by the amalgamation of hospitals, the health care industry has become a leader in effective knowledge management, especially using digital tools and record-keeping.

  • Electricity industry: Knowledge management is the No. 1 priority in the electricity industry in Canada, says Melnick. “It’s hard to backfill retiring experts with young recruits.” So, treat knowledge like a product within your organization.

How can you measure your return on investment?

Quality over quantity: Make this your firm’s mantra.

When measuring return on in­vestment, don’t focus solely on the number of lawyers using the tools. Focus instead on how they’re using them — and why. If your KM plan is good, you’ll have quality users who can show that they’re better off using the tools.

Find the right tool Is it the tools that matter most, or the people who use them?

This is the omnipresent question for law firms trying to effectively invest in knowledge management. “Our firm is a lean culture,” says Laurence Detière of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg. “So we’ve aimed at exploiting technology that wasn’t available 10 years ago.” Some of the tools commonly used include:

  • Document assembly tools, like MuleSoft.

  • Web portals like Microsoft’s SharePoint and Dropbox, which allow users to store and share documents online.

  • Autonomy IDOL, an indexing software that makes sorting digital information easy.

  • Evernote, and Microsoft’s OneNote, which combine many different files into one with easy-to-use browser. Instead of flipping through printed notes, websites, PDFs, pictures and emails, view them all in one spot, which you can also use to write and edit reports.

  • Intranet software and company-built search engines that work the same way Google would. “My philosophy is ‘less is more’,” says Detière. Keep it simple!

  • Yammer, which is billed as “Twitter for the enterprise.”

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