The Use of a Blog for Knowledge Sharing

by
Trevor Cook – Director of Jackson Wells Morris

My name is Trevor Cook and I am a director in Jackson Wells Morris, a Sydney-based public relations business of about 15 consultants. My involvement in new technologies revolves principally around my blog, Corporate Engagement, http://trevorcook.typepad.com. I set up my first blog in November, 2003, so I’m something of an early adoptor! Our company now routinely encourages its clients to experiment with new technologies (particularly blogs and podcasts) to help build stronger relationships with the people that matter most to them. At the moment, blogs seem to be most popular as a way of communicating with members or employees but this will change to a greater external focus as social media becomes better established.

1. What have you accomplished that you are most proud of by using social software? What enabled you to achieve this?
In 2004, I helped organise the first Global PR Blog Week which brought together about 40 PR bloggers from around the world and some A-list bloggers as well like Robert Scoble, Jay Rosen, Seth Godin. The event, perhaps the first of its kind in any professional services area, helped to raise the profile of PR blogging and left a long-lasting legacy in the form of the NEWPR wiki. The number of PR bloggers globally has grown ten fold or more in the past two years. We are also using the wiki to raise awareness of undesirable industry practices like astro-turfing.

Over the past few years I have encouraged quite a few friends, clients and colleagues to take up blogging and I very much enjoy seeing their online presences flourish.

2. So far, what have you valued most about using social software for capability development and/or knowledge sharing?
Social software is enabling people in PR and related communication-based professions to share information, experiences and knowledge in a much more fluid and powerful way than ever before. Personally, I have learnt an enormous amount through blogging in a professional sense and I understand the broader profession, beyond my own practice, far better than ever before. PR bloggers share good and bad professional experiences as well as tipping each other off to new ideas, tools and techniques.

The PR blogosphere is like a huge fluid professional association that has gone well beyond the occasional paper or seminar. Access to this remarkable world has recently improved with the creation of a customised Google search engine of over 500 PR blogs and wikis. It can be found at http://www.google.com/coop/cse?cx=007544657325355175609:3jhbsobmksq

Recently, I co-authored (with Adelaide blogger and podcaster, Lee Hopkins http://leehopkins.net/index.php) a free guide to Social Media which has been downloaded by thousands of people around the world. The response has been so strong that we are now going to bring out a version 2.0 of the document in February or March next year. The current version can be downloaded from Corporate Engagement. It has also been posted on the Victorian Public Sector Continuous Improvement Network. http://www.vpscin.org/?p=312.
Our free guide is I think, possibly immodestly, a classic example of the way social software reverses the professional services business model. We are now building business networks by giving away our knowledge (at least the basic stuff) and by sharing freely rather than charging hundreds of dollars for a secret white paper. We are also using our blogs to generate feedback and ideas for version 2.0. The next version will also have additional contributors on more topics (including wikis and second life).

Our business model is not to just tell people we are experts but to show we are experts by sharing freely in a global community and by being leaders and pioneers in the new medium.
I see this also as the essence of PR activity in social media, using it to share freely a lot more information and attract feedback which helps companies serve their clients better.

3. What would you say have been the 3 or 4 key benefits?
Blogging helps you to think, write and argue. If you want to learn to write, get a blog and post everyday. Sure its hard but if your career involves a lot of reading and writing it shouldn’t be that hard! Get a blog and do it. You will learn to write sharper more interesting prose and to do it quickly.

Blogging also gets you used to putting your ideas and work in a public domain and the idea of receiving and learning from critical comment. Following your site statistics and comments, will also help you to understand what people are interested in and what gets them excited. Very useful learnings if you’re in PR.

Second. Use RSS feeds and aggregators, they are a powerful productivity tool. I have feeds of media release headings from both sides of national politics, news and blog searches for all my clients and all my key subject areas, my favourite bloggers and more all in one window. Using these tools, a few hundred feeds are easy to scan for important stuff. It’s impossible to bookmark and visit that many sites on a regular basis.

Feeds help you monitor vast amounts of information in real time, as it is posted to the web, and stay ahead of the game in your field of expertise. This is particularly important in a world where the store of peer-reviewed articles and books is doubling every few decade or less in many disciplines. It’s also critical for helping your client or employer manage their reputations in a world where reading the media clips a day or two after publication just doesn’t cut it.

Third. Social software is great for research. Using tags and social bookmarking really helps you to keep across the subjects that interest you and to follow what others are interested in. If you have some friends or colleagues who have del.ici.ous accounts you can follow what they are bookmarking, and that’s a great way to share knowledge.

4. What needs to change for your experience using social software for capability development and/or knowledge sharing to be even better?
More people using it. Blogging and social bookmarking and many other such tools grow exponentially in power with the number of people using them. It’s like the fax machine. If you own the only fax machine in the world it’s useless, when everyone has a fax machine it’s indispensable. Ditto with email. At the moment only a small minority in each profession or occupation is blogging and podcasting, when that becomes say 25% of academics are blogging and 25% of human resource professionals are blogging and so on then the value of that information and knowledge network is going to be phenomenal.

I think educational institutions, ‘think tanks’ and professional associations have a key role to play. They are starting to get involved. When they embrace it whole-heartedly, the store of accessible knowledge available to us all will be amazing. That access, I believe, will be transformational in its impact on society, work and learning. CSIRO and the Lowy Institute have started podcasting and it makes their work so much more accessible; and much easier for them than relying entirely on media coverage to get their ideas and news into the marketplace. I expect a lot of similar Australian organisations to follow their footsteps over the next few years.

And we need better quality podcasting, a lot of great stuff is being spoilt because the recording quality is unacceptable. Being an amateur is not an excuse for being hopeless!

5. From your experiences so far, and thinking into the future (say 5 years or more?) what is your vision of the role of social software in capability development and/or knowledge sharing, and what 3 things would need to happen in the next 6 – 8 months to make this happen?
Social software will force us to completely re-think our business and delivery models for many activities. It’s already happening in the media and many other industries from telecommunications to music and book-selling.
Education, for instance, has been based around old technology: the classroom, the library, the book. Those technologies are about scarcity and the boundaries of geography and time. New technologies mean that texts can be made available to everyone simultaneously; no more library queues. With webcasting and podcasting and so on, people will be able to access knowledge, information and teaching from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day.

Will this mean that more people will do courses from several universities at the same time to complete a degree? Should it mean fewer lecturers and more tutors, to supplement online delivery? Why pay salaries for lots of second-rate lecturers when we can all watch the best in the world on our video iPods? We’ll always want some face to face, I think, but not necessarily in the ways or to the extent we’re used to currently.
Why do we need the one big credential? Why not more flexibility and more learn as you go and as you need it in the workplace or on your notebook using wifi in the local park for that matter?

Across the board the boundaries that used to confine knowledge and information are coming down. I think this means that people will be able to live out the ‘lifelong learning’ vision much easily.

In the future, if I want to learn something; I won’t have to worry about whether my company can help me or if there is an institution nearby with a relevant course. I will download some text, audio or video on the subject from any private or public organisation in the world that seems to have just what I need for the task or activity at hand. Lifelong learning will mean learning as you go, as you need or want new skills, and not the acquisition of a series of qualifications.

Marketing will be different. I’ll find what I want by checking bloggers, social bookmarking etc to see what others recommend. Word of mouth marketing will become far more important. The University of Sydney may have a great brand but it doesn’t matter nearly as much when I can read student bloggers writing about particular courses and staff and when I can read staff blogs in advance and see whether I like them or not? I might even watch a few videocasts of lectures and avoid any boring presenters!

6. What hints and tips do you have for the use of social software for capability development and/or knowledge sharing.
  • Be a participant. Create a blog and / or a podcast. Use the tools. You won’t ‘get it’ until you do it. I hate to say this but I just find it very hard to explain to people how powerful, simple and extraordinary emerging social media can be to people who haven’t experienced it directly.
  • Be innovative. Look for ways that the tools can improve your productivity and make it easier for you to improve your skills and knowledge, the way you do your job. This is new territory and the tools are very simple and flexible – so experimentation is open to us all. People try lots of things – different types of blog platforms, aggregators and so on – and stick with the ones that work for them. Podcasts and wikis also have many different uses and we’re only just starting to scratch the surface.
  • Be open to new ways of doing things. This is about disruptive technologies. We’re talking about a step change. I think it’s important to experiment in cultural terms as well as in a more technological sense. Give some of your knowledge away, admit you make mistakes, partner online with some competitors, go ‘off-message’. In short, find some ‘rules’ to break; it can be liberating even if it’s a little scary. Dave Winer, one of the great pioneers of social media, says if its not scary its not really new media it’s just doing the same old stuff on a new platform. And where’s the fun in that?