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Managing the Social-Media Paradigm Shift: Ride the current, or be swept aside

Everyone who’s ears have been assaulted with talk of “paradigm shifts” can thank Thomas Kuhn, author of “The She Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” I’ve often wondered why that phrase beguiles so many consultants and technology cheerleaders, and it’s a shame that it has, because in the glare of that overexposure, we may have blinded ourselves to some true paradigm shifts.

Digital social media—including online collaboration tools—have brought about not one, but two shifts. Two true changes in the fundamental model of events. Leaders of any organization, whether government, private-sector, nonprofit or other, can adapt to these changes, or they can stagnate, but one thing they cannot do is return to a world in which their employees, competitors, and stakeholders are not connected all the time.

But—to mix my metaphors—if they understand which way the wind is blowing, leaders can harness the changing tide and use it to raise all the boats in their organization. The trick is to understand the management imperatives that the paradigm shifts engender.

(If you expect a rabbit, plant carrots. If you expect a duck, plant fish)

In this post, I’ll briefly outline two shifts that I’ll explore more thoroughly in subsequent articles.

Shift 1: From Push to Pull Information Economy

The first shift is from an environment in which organizations push out information through their own platforms, controlling the content and even the context, to an environment in which people pull information into their own site, completely controlling the context and even altering the content.

As a subsequent post will explain more fully, this shift is best exemplified in the changing traffic volume experienced by Google and Facebook. Google represents a site in which companies push their content to readers; Facebook represents a site in which readers pull information on their own.

Shift 2: From Centralized to Distributed Information Environment

The second shift, related to the first, is from a centralized model of information management to a distributed model. This shift manifests both in terms of the people who perform information management—through mediated, organized platforms like wikis, or through unmediated platforms like Govloop and Twitter—and in terms of the time when the task is completed. Rather than creating records and support documents as its own activity, information management can now occur as a regular part of everyone’s job description.

As social networking analysis matures as a field, knowledge management will change even more from a separate activity, concentrated in time and practiced by a few individuals, to a highly distributed, ongoing function that encompasses nearly every employee and occurs at all hours of the day.

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