Three myths of enterprise wiki deployment

A Denmark-based analyst with research firm J. Boye said she’s encountered an organization that, after implementing an enterprise-wide employee wiki, realized it didn’t exactly have the right culture to bring it to life.

Discussions prior to the site launch debated whether employees should contribute anonymously or through profiles, and whether those profiles should include user photos, recounted Dorthe Jespersen. Ultimately, employees were allowed to contribute through profiles with pictures, she said, “but [the organization] had a conservative culture so no one actually wanted to make visible what they were working on right now.”

Jespersen said the employees’ concerns varied anywhere from harbouring concerns around writing about work that perhaps wouldn’t be considered “real” work, or about work that they weren’t supposed to be doing at the time, or even having fears of making spelling errors.

“Even small things, as how you decide to set up the design… that can actually have an effect on adoption,” she said.

With the growing popularity of enterprise 2.0, many organizations are increasingly willing to grant employees a common platform upon which to collaborate and contribute and share ideas. Wikis are often touted as such a platform that is easily launched and to which employees will flock to contribute ideas, but Jespersen said they can prove difficult to get off the ground if not done properly.

One issue is the hype surrounding wikis or the blind faith with which they are approached, said Jespersen. “People often look to Wikipedia as a free form where everyone is contributing, and why could we not do the same with our organization?,” she said, having observed wikis entering the scene to compensate for an intranet that has fallen to the wayside. But, she said, technology alone won’t resolve that issue.

Jespersen lists three myths surrounding wiki implementation that might make some organizations rethink the expectations they’ve built around their platform:

Myth One: Wikis will motivate employees to contribute content.

It won’t happen automatically that employees will freely contribute. Jespersen describes the “Empty wiki syndrome,” or when a wiki is deployed without a clear purpose or is too general in its focus, resulting in a site with almost no activity.

It helps, said Jespersen, to appoint someone to manage the wiki, ensure there is structure like guidelines and a basic information architecture, and that it is launched with content already posted because “it’s very hard to just react to this empty space for the user.”

And, as Jespersen described, a conservative corporate culture that is not based in collaboration to begin with, will have to ensure its expectations are realistic when launching a wiki. If employees are expected to use the platform to critique each others work – as they would normally do through e-mail chains and back-and-forths – it can be a hurdle to openly critique content, she said.

Highly-successful wikis are often driven by IT-savvy employees, noted Jespersen, given the familiarity with technology and previous experience with wikis. But in general, those tasked with driving the project will be determined by the scope of the wiki, which could be either enterprise-wide or group level. The former, she said, will require a person like an intranet manager, whereas the latter can be managed by a member of each group.

Myth Two: Employees know how to contribute.

The concept of a wiki may be simple, but contributing content is not necessarily logical for casual users. Jespersen said some organizations prefer to refer to existing written policies around content creation that say, for instance, employees are responsible for the content they produce. But policies can be tricky considering the goal is to strike a balance between governance and structure and flexibility, said Jespersen, “but it’s difficult not to fall into either extreme.”

Some wiki-specific policies can include guidelines around creating pages that are easy to read by having a table of contents if the page is long, or having a naming system for links to ensure consistency.

Myth Three: Wikis will always provide the information employees need.

Although searchability is often a selling point of wikis, Jespersen said the reality is wikis are difficult to search through, unlike a content management system. Given there is little structure built into wikis, “it is difficult to structure this information to make it findable the next day even.”

Content on a wiki can grow faster than the organization can keep up, she said, therefore the wiki managers must perform regular searches and quality checks of the content.

Overall, Jespersen suggested starting with a pilot so that the true purpose and scope of the wiki can be first ascertained before an enterprise-wide launch.

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