Skillsoft Blog

Social Learning Will Fill Enterprise 2.0’s Empty Drums

By John Ambrose

You can’t dispute the numbers. Social media is having a profound impact on the way we communicate and learn.  If the Facebook community was a country, it would be the third most populated in the world, behind only China and India. In fact, this month, Facebook surpassed Google for the first time as the most visited site on the web. Twitter emerged from obscurity at the SXSW Interactive Conference in 2007 to become the third most used social media network with 55 million unique monthly visits according to

This has opened the floodgates to companies hawking “Enterprise 2.0” versions of social media tools just for organizations.  At last count, there were over 400 tools and technologies offering some element of ‘behind the firewall’ social capabilities.

So how does a learning leader make quick sense of this crowded field?

The dirty little secret is that these tools all have one common trait. Some would call it a fatal flaw: they are all simply enabling technologies. I call them ‘empty drums.’  What I mean by this is that a successful social community needs three ingredients to be successful: 1) Enabling Technology; 2) Vibrant Community; and 3) Great Content.  With no community and no content, you are left with an empty barrel where users don’t contribute because it looks like no one visits and no one visits because it looks like no one contributes.

Trying to build a culture of successful collaboration through social learning with just one of the three is like trying to sit on a one-legged stool. You will get hurt.

For evidence, take a look at a white paper published by McKinsey last year entitled “Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work.”  It looked at organizations that tried using just enabling technology and the lessons learned included:

“Perhaps because of the novelty of Web 2.0 initiatives, they’re often considered separate from mainstream work…Thus, using Web 2.0 and participating in online work communities often becomes just another “to do” on an already crowded list of tasks.” (McKinsey, March 2009)

In other words, after the fanfare of the initial rollout, these sites quickly lost momentum. They did not build or stimulate sustainable collaboration. They did not transform e-learning.

So, what has the potential to fill Enterprise 2.0’s empty drum?  I’ll talk about that in my next blog post (hint: social+learning).  Until then, I’d love to hear from you about what a learning leader should do differently.  Let’s discuss in the comments. 

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