Knowledge Management vs. Social Media

For a little while now I have been subconsciously irked by something, but only today did I realize why.  The trigger for this mild epiphany was a one year old blog post.  I will link you to it as soon as I explain my thoughts on the matter.

First of all, we all have our own biases.  Here is mine.  I came to KM from an IT/process background in 2000.  I came to SM from a KM background in 2004.

The irking I mentioned is being caused by the fact that I continue to practice both KM and SM and yet they don’t seem to be getting along.  KM has not embraced SM nor vice versa, despite their similar ideals: to support the sharing of information.

Many people have heard me espouse my theory that KM will never become more than an academic foundation because as each facet of KM gains a foothold, it breaks off into its own discipline.   However, I don’t believe that is what is happening with SM.  On the contrary, SM from its birth was very opposite to KM in so many ways.

  • where KM seeks to provide structure/control, SM prefers chaos
  • where KM tends towards large top-down systems, SM tends to be grass-roots
  • where KM is often practiced by older professionals, SM has captured the imagination of a younger crowd
  • where KM seeks to define the goal and then select appropriate tools, SM provides the tools and hopes that a common goal will emerge, but at the least everyone will individually find value

The triggering blog post I mentioned above is called Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War by Venkatesh Rao.  Personally, I think he puts too much emphasis on age, but it is at the very least thought-provoking.

One of the parts I like best is where he talks about Generation X being in-between the Boomers who prefer KM and the Millenials who prefer SM.  By the very fact that Venkatesh wrote the post the way he did, it is clear he likes to seek out patterns and meaning which is more of a KM type trait.

This tension between KM control and SM freedom is typified by the discussion of taxonomy vs. tagging.  Only now, as I write this blog post, do I realize that my fervent advocacy of tagging over taxonomy beginning in 2005 was a sign of my shifting allegiance from KM to SM.  I have had many debates with KMers about taxonomy and I am perceiving in new light why we were not seeing eye to eye.

If there is to be a war (as Venkatesh terms it) between KM and SM, then Enterprise2.0 is going to be the battle ground.  In order to have successful E2.0 initiatives, I believe that we are going to need to borrow from both camps.  There may be compromises that make neither happy.  Keep your eye out for these clashes as your organization rolls out any web2.0 tools/programs company-wide.

Addition: Since writing this post, I found an excellent series of slideshare posts that discuss the relationship between KM and SM

Part 2, Part 3

Side Note: I am currently working on building a Twitter driven (SM) community for knowledge management professionals (KM) called and launching end of 2009.  It will be very interesting to see what lessons we learn.


18 responses to “Knowledge Management vs. Social Media

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Knowledge Management vs. Social Media « Future Business [] on

  2. In my view, SM is Social Learning management tools as main part of the future of e-learning.

    KM on the other hand is an integrated access mechanism which can be used accross any management tool type. To get more insight, follow the links : and and also

    I think it is not quite relevant to comparing SM and KM whatsoever. It is more relevant if you compare KM with IM or in the future with Wisdom Management (WM) because both have the same epistemological line. In case KM vs SM, they don’t have such same line.

    And last but not least, try also to see the link (WE ARE THE KNOWLEDGE : HYBRID DEFINITION OF KNOWLEDGE)

  3. This supposed war between social media & knowledge management comes up once in a while… but there is no war.

    KM does not need to embrace social media, nor vice versa. Rather than a war, I would say that there is a misunderstanding, mostly because the (traditional) KM practitioner is not fully embracing/understanding the power of social media, and of course most social media fanatics don’t know much about KM. Is there influencing? Certainly, and it must be mutual. The folksonomy vs. taxonomy issue is a good example. The likes of and other similar social bookmarking certainly understood the need for classification, a typical KM thought. At the same time, they were well aware that a comprehensive taxonomy wouldn’t work (very expensive to develop, no adoption, etc.). Tagging is a way out, brought by social media, for a KM problem.

    Therefore, some form of KM will die: the times of traditional KM with lots of discipline & structure (taxonomies and thesauri, heavily codified knowledge, etc.) are over. But there is a KM that will thrive: the KM of knowledge transformations (the good old seci model), communities of practice, conversations, etc. and it will be enabled/facilitated by social media.

    There is no war. There is an opportunity. Social media will be KM’s savior!


    Ps. There already is a strong Twitter community of knowledge management professionals. Interestingly, they are one of the professional communities that have rapidly embraced social media…

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  5. Pingback: Knowledge Management vs. Social Media « Sapientia et Doctrina

  6. Just as with Venkatesh’s post, I do feel that you are comparing a strawman of KM to SM — at the very best you are comparing 1st or 2nd gen KM rather then current theories.

    I do, however, believe that you are right in saying that social media believes in just providing tools and trusts that people will create their own value. I think this irks a lot of KM practitioners because we generally try to act from a sound theoretical basis, and this laissez-faire approach seems … I don’t know, lazy?

    You should be working from a Unified Theory of Knowledge, not just making it up as you go along 🙂 🙂

  7. Actually, the “laissez-faire” approach aligns well with principles of complex systems management. Some of us have been practicing KM all along based on grass-roots, emergent behaviors. We are the ones who welcomed SM because it gave us awesome tools to extend this approach.

    Then I wake up one day to find I’m at “war” with SM. I cannot imagine more insipid foolishness (ok, I can – Six Sigma KM) – but this recurring useless conversation grows tiresome.

  8. Great read, thanks to the author. However, I concur with John. SM is part of the evolution of KM. Not sure how “SM prefers chaos.” With Facebook, Twitter, and other SM I see a KM system with more functionality and controls. The big difference is that user-generated content (grass-roots?) is abundant, which is way more inclusive. Cheers, Matt

  9. @John: I agree, of course, with the notion that harnessing complexity and grassroots behaviors is the essence of modern KM.

    What concerns me about some SM advocates is that they seem to stop at providing the tools. There’s no discussion of corporate memory, building problem solving cultures, embedding continuous improvement and the like.

    Social Media should not be “in conflict” with KM, but selling SM without a KM framework is a risky proposition that may, in time, be seen as just another “snake oil” product from the knowledge community that fails to deliver sustainable organisational change.

  10. Thanks all for the comments. In any relatively short blog post there is going to have to be some generalization. There are obviously places/ways where SM & KM work together in harmony, but generally that does not seem to be the case.

    I do believe that SM will gain better defined strategy over time that will likely borrow significantly from KM. Those with E2.0 budgets are unlikely to part with $’s beyond skunk works without a thought out approach.

    While there is a glaring discrepancy between the two, I don’t know how anyone can consider the conversation “tiresome”. On the contrary, it seems that resolving the differences is one of the biggest opportunities available for both KM and SM.

  11. Well, I guess @JBordeaux and others consider this “tiresome” because the same conversation seems to pop up ever again. There’s been talks about “war” and the “death of KM” for as long as social media are around… I mean, one gets the feeling that the same conversation is being repeated (with slightly different actors, arguments) over and over again… I guess a lot of education still needs to be done!


  12. Only no one seems to be embracing the fact (even in this conversation) that neither are sufficient. They both create islands of information that are not related nor is there a layer of architecture/infrastructure to bring it together virtually.

    Neither stands alone without dynamic findability across ALL of it.

  13. KM has been dying long before social media came along (Google results: It continues to die apparently.

    Claiming death is an interesting way of comparing the various approaches to KM from the BIG overarching top-down view to the grass roots approach to ideas that work in the middle. If the opposing view is dead, then the other one must be in the ascendency.

  14. If this is a war (and I am on record as disagreeing with Venkat’s post), then please point me to a real assertion by a KM professional that social media is undermining their work.

    What I see is more like the experience of @cdn and @JBordeaux — people with a KM role taking up social media tools in the open and within their organisations as a means to improve knowledge and learning. That is my focus too.

  15. @Mark – Hear hear! Venkat’s blog was based on some conversations he had with some nameless, faceless “KM” people. Point us to a KM professional who is on record or shut up. 🙂 I’m off to to see if I can get a hoax page going on this “war,” which I’m now calling an urban legend.

  16. @Mark I am in the camp that SM and KM can work really well together.

    However, I believe that those who come at knowledge sharing from two different approaches (KM vs. SM) don’t seem to always “get” the best practices of the other.

    Since there are limited resources (time, money, people) in this world, those who have not learned to combine forces sometimes end up competing for the same resources. While calling that a “war” is hyperbole, it can be conflict.

  17. Pingback: Social Media vs. Wissensmanagement « noledge

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