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KM vs. SM? Really?

by Jeffrey Mann  |  November 1, 2011  |  1 Comment


My colleague Anthony Bradley has been courting controversy with his comments on social media vs. knowledge management on his blog.

OK, I’ll bite. I disagree,

I disagree, but not so much on the substance of his comments. Anthony’s characterization of what some knowledge management (KM) projects look like, and what social media (SM) efforts should look like are accurate for many cases that I have observed. But that would be the case for pretty much any comments. KM can accurately be described in pretty much any way you like. It has become so broad a term that it threatens to stop meaning anything at all.

My real disagreement is with pretty much any sentence that starts with the phrase “KM is…” Whatever text follows will be too limiting. There will be plenty of situations that do not align with whatever that characterization is. Many KM projects look exactly like an SM project; in fact, adoption of social techniques is one of the hottest areas of KM right now. Certainly, many managers will mess it up by applying rigid ideas about how these project should be managed, but you don’t have to call it KM to do that; plenty will make mistakes without ever referring to KM at all. There are hundreds of ways to mess up a project.

I have been working with customers trying to do KM for at least 15 years. In that time, I have seen an unimaginably wide spectrum of activities that fall under what they call KM; some of them directed and hierarchical, many of them chaotic and emergent. I have pretty much given up on trying to wrestle down a concise definition of what KM is or should be for all practitioners and use cases. At Gartner, we have adopted for our purposes a wide definition ("A formal program to manage an organization’s intellectual assets.") coupled with narrow use cases that focus on design, justification, management and incentives. The KM activities as described should lead to other projects that deliver actual value. These could look like workflow, search, document management or, yes even social media projects. In our model, KM sets the scene for the real value to follow. Seen in this way, SM is just one of the tools and techniques that could be employed as the result of a KM process.

Not everyone will not use the term “KM” in that way, and that’s fine. If someone wants to call their storage management initiative KM, who am I to say that is forbidden? It is not the term that will cause failure; it’s what you do wrong that will send the project spinning off in the wrong direction.

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Category: knowledge-management  social-media  social-software  

Tags: analysts  anthony-bradley  km  knowledge-management  social-media  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
20 years with Gartner and META Group
30 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a Research VP at Gartner, covering cloud office, collaboration and social software.

Thoughts on KM vs. SM? Really?

  1. […] Social is the New KM Nov 4, 2011 Blogs By Jim Lundy People are getting Social Media, Social Networking, Learning and Knowledge Management (KM) mixed up thanks to a few misleading blog posts by two of my former colleagues at Gartner. Or are they? If you read the responses at HBR, you will see that people are calling them on it. To be fair, Jeff Mann does get it and his blog is also counter what was being said (see his blog). […]

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