One of the great things about social networking in the enterprise is the speed and flexibility that it affords us—we can quickly “flash mob” around a topic, collaboratively generate insights, and make progress on the topic in a way that is simply impossible in the traditional world of email and bureaucratic formalities.  

That’s the good news. The bad news is that if we are not careful, our breakthroughs in productivity are ephemeral. A month, or even a few days, later we can’t easily find what we were talking about and decided on in the morass of the threads we navigate. And if we weren’t an actual party to the conversation in question, well, fuggedaboutit.  

On the other hand, fuggedaboutit is what we want to do with the majority of what is happening in our social networks—streams of stuff that simply aren’t relevant to us personally right now just amount to so much noise. Of course, one person’s noise can be another person’s signal. So how can we improve signal-to-noise ratios for everyone in our social networks? In a (dirty) word, discipline.  Specifically, by just applying a dash of extra posting discipline. Posting discipline doesn’t mean losing the spontaneity, flexibility, and ease of use of social networking. But what it does mean is taking that extra few seconds to consider how to best categorize what you are posting by applying appropriate tagging and grouping. You want people for which your post is relevant to easily see it or find it, and as importantly, as adoption accelerates, you want people for which your post is not relevant not to have to trip over it to get to the posts that are relevant to them. 

All enterprise social networks have mechanisms for such categorization. In Yammer, which our company has been loving and using since fall 2010, posts can be allocated to groups and/or topics. In Tibbr, posts are allocated to subjects that are similar in concept to topics or tags but which can be further organized hierarchically. Chatter has similar variations on such categorization structures, as do all the other enterprise social platforms.  Simply posting to “All Company” or the equivalent with no tags should be done very infrequently—such posts just end up constituting “noise pollution” for most users!  

The more categorizing tags or subjects that are applied to a post the better. So, the best practice is to apply categorization early and often. Don’t be afraid of over-categorizing! On the other hand, do re-use—don’t create new categorizations if there is an existing one that fits for your purpose. Categorizations that only apply to a post or two are not ultimately very helpful, nor are categorizations that are used on nearly every post, nor are duplications. Descriptive, distinct categorizations applied to a non-trivial number of posts are very helpful to all.  

Don’t hesitate to apply additional categorizations later on to your posts or even the posts of others. Often topics evolve over time like a tree in which there is a general theme from which more and more branches sprout. These branch posts should be tagged with both the general theme and the more specific theme(s) associated with the branch, which enables users to easily receive or find the post from a variety of perspectives.      

By applying this little extra discipline you differentiate between the truly ephemeral (“lunch at Joe’s) and true knowledge assets. And knowledge assets need and deserve a little more of our attention so that others for which they are relevant can easily find and benefit from them. By creating such knowledge assets we ensure that our enterprise social network can effectively scale by maintaining reasonable signal-to-noise ratios for everyone.