Communities of practice and social networks
Practitioners of knowledge management, sociologists, and many other business and academic professionals recognize the importance of ‘communities of practice’ or ‘communities of interest’ and social networks both within and across organisations for general human interaction, problem resolution, creativity and innovation, and personal or professional development.
Techniques such as ‘social network analysis’ have been designed to identify the existence of social networks and the people who act as the focal ‘hubs’ or ‘nodes’ within these: the people who, irrespective of hierarchy, others are drawn to as centres of expertise, intelligence, information or support.
Organisations, recognizing the importance of ‘communities of practice’ (those who are carrying out related work), and ‘communities of interest’ (those who have a common interest in a particular field), will seek to encourage and support such groups across the formal organisational structure.
Social media undeniably provide individuals and organisations with a further means of supporting such communities and networks both within and across organisations. This blog describes how social media in general, and the use of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogs can be used strategically to put you and your business at the heart of your community.
The importance of defining your goals and strategy for social media
Although people may have unspoken objectives for using social media, as with any endeavour, some up-front planning is likely to result in a more effective result, and a more efficient use of your time. (Social media, like e-mail and general use of the internet, can be an enormous consumer of time!)
Objectives for using social media may include one or more of the following:
- A need to document and build up connections with those with whom one wishes to keep in touch e.g. when leaving a job, starting up a new business
- To create an on-line presence and monitor reputation e.g. to aid with job hunting, establish or maintain the credibility of a business
- To look for opportunities e.g. jobs or prospective clients
- As a resource for developing an area of expertise
Social media need to be used as part of a wider strategy
Whatever your or your organisation’s goals, the adoption of wider tactics than using social media alone will enhance your use of these tools.
1. Documenting and building connections
A good place to start is to define your target audience: the types of people that you want to connect with (whether they be colleagues, associates, clients, prospective clients) and the organisations, geographical and professional networks or locations, and areas of expertise in which they might feature.
As relationships are built on trust, and trust depends on interaction, just having people on the equivalent of an address book is not enough. Both the act of making connections, and the building of relationships will be enhanced by face-to-face interactions, so that it’s important to find events (conferences, seminars, trade fairs, networking meetings) and initiate conversations with existing and prospective contacts.
With these foundations and supports in place, then the tools available on social media can be used in the following ways to build your electronic contact list:
- Uploading your existing contacts from e-mail
- Looking for possible new contacts or followers amongst your connections’ contacts, followers or lists (on Twitter)
- Searching for new contacts or followers using terms or key words of interest in the social media tools themselves, or in directories such as Twellow and BlogCatalog
- Joining groups (on LinkedIn) or communities (on Facebook)
2. Building an online presence
Again, it’s important to start by developing your personal or business profile on paper, or at least as a separately distinct document: your c.v. / resume, or your business plan.
Establishing company web sites, writing blogs, white papers, publications, giving presentations and identifying key words (or tags) that represent you and your company’s areas of expertise will all provide concrete and substantial material, which you can then draw on in using social media as follows:
- Creating your profiles (LinkedIn will upload your c.v. / resume as a good starting point for this)
- Establishing internet links back and forth (which will help with search engine optimisation ‘SEO’)
- Participating in group discussions and ‘Answers’ (LinkedIn)
- Sharing helpful information through your ‘status updates’ (LinkedIn), ‘newsfeeds’ and discussions (Facebook), or tweets (Twitter)
- Participating in ‘tweet ups’ (Twitter): virtual conversations initiated at particular dates / times, or to coincide with live conferences or seminars.
- Establishing searches on Twitter and GoogleAlerts to monitor tweets or blogs that might be mentioning you or your company in a way that might affect your reputation
3. Looking for opportunities
Recruitment agencies, job fairs, professional events, publications, market research, on-line job sites are all important resources to consider in addition to social media. It is still a fact that face-to-face discussions, personal connections and referrals have a higher success rate in creating opportunities than on-line resources. That being said, social media can be useful in the following ways:
- Job listings within groups, and job search tools (LinkedIn)
- Searching companies of potential interest to find existing or new connections within them (LinkedIn)
- Generally searching or following companies to find out more about them (all tools)
- Participating in relevant group discussions in a generally helpful manner
4. Learning and developing yourself and your business
Becoming a member of, and participating in professional organisations, attending relevant events, reading hard-copy publications, and online resources are all obviously good opportunities for learning and development. They also support all the previous goals as well!
Increasingly, these organisations also have social media presences, which enable a sustained dialogue within their communities of interest in between face-to-face events, and periodic publication schedules.
Following the organisations on Twitter, Facebook and in LinkedIn groups also provides greater awareness of upcoming events, as well as advance notice of who else might be attending to support greater networking.
Finally, LinkedIn’s ‘reading list’ gadget is a useful resource for finding books that members of your network are reading that might be of interest to you, or be a good point of conversation in building your relationships!
Conclusion: how to enhance your social media skills
Trial and error, learning from your friends, reading online resources and books on the subject attending seminars and 1:1 coaching are the many options available to help you enhance your skills in social media. Some specific resources are listed below.
In addition, the following will give you and your organisation a greater guarantee of success in placing you at the heart of your community:
- Having clear goals and strategies for your use of social media
- Thinking holistically about all the approaches you might use, of which social media would be a part
- Putting an emphasis on being helpful to your fellow community members
- Making your use of social media part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine
- Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. She provides 1:1 tutorials and seminars on how to use LinkedIn and other social media for personal and business development.
- Example of a related seminar: Using social media to support, market and develop your business, 5th July 2010, St Ives;
- Presentation to NetIKX, January 2010: Using LinkedIn, Blogs and Twitter for networking and communities of interest
- Social networking tools, empowerment and knowledge management
- Follow the links to find out about the other ways in which Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your and your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.