Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution? Part 2.

Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution? Part 2.

Knowledge Ecology

This is second post on the topic of emergent social ecology, which embraces social media, social networks, communities of practice, enterprise collaboration technologies, social business, social learning, collaboration, cooperation and sharing. A wide brief, but with a common thread: the liberation and empowerment of people to take responsibility for their own personal and professional development.

In my previous post (Part 1) I identified a number of key challenges and opportunities for anyone who wants to survive and thrive in this emergent social ecosystem:

  • Social media is generating enormous amounts of unorganised content: how to make sense of that.
  • Social networks enable a wider range of connections: how to find people and develop relationships.
  • New forms of collaboration are made possible by social media and networks: how to organise and manage.
  • There are a bewildering variety of methods and tools: how to choose and learn to use.
  • The new ways of making sense, connecting, collaborating, and using technology throw up the need for new skills: what are the new roles and the new skills?
  • The emphasis on open access and sharing changes where value may reside: so what are the new business models?
  • Social capital is becoming increasingly important in establishing trust and credibility in the virtual world: how do we increase or measure our social capital?

I want to explore some of these points in more detail, and specifically how social/collaborative technologies are creating new roles, new skills and new opportunities for personal and professional development.  I will state categorically that I’m not a social media “expert”, and will challenge anyone who labels themselves thus. The social ecology is far too volatile, technically complex and populated by people and organisations with vested opinions and hidden agendas for anyone to fully comprehend the various dynamics. However, I have a lifetime’s experience dealing with people and information, and that most important of human assets – curiosity.  Having some understanding of the environment I belong to gives me perspective on how to work smarter, and what skills I need to survive.  After all, isn’t that what life’s really all about?

To survive and thrive in this century demands a new spectrum of literacies. These include:

  • knowing how to manage and protect one’s online identity
  • recognizing the importance of reputation and how to grow (personal) social capital
  • proficient in creating, organising, repurposing and sharing content
  • capable and adept at using social learning networks for continual personal and professional development

It goes without saying that technology underpins all of these literacies. It is difficult to imagine how today’s knowledge workers could function without access to and familiarity with technology.

In this Part 2 piece I wanted to look at some of the social ecology trends, and specifically:

  • collaborative platforms (or the technology that underpins social networks),
  • email (because it is still the biggest consumer of time)
  • personal knowledge management (the human algorithm)
  • the growing importance of the community manager and the digital curator

Technology Trends

Collaboration platforms and social network facilities are becoming increasingly sophisticated and we can now match the people we are connected to (our social graph) with the work we do or the topics we are interested in (our interest graph). Previously we’ve had to seek out and make these connections ourselves, but (and for example) the combination of Google Plus Circles and Google Plus Communities gives us the capability to discover new and relevant connections, i.e. we can now link our social graph with our interest graph. And as we know from experience, once users become familiar with features and capabilities that get deployed in the Web 2.0 world, they eventually emerge in Enterprise 2.0 technologies (i.e. business environments).  Hence we can expect to see a ‘social’ element being introduced to corporate Intranets that offers more than just blogging or micro-blogging capabilities. We can expect to see automatic connections being made using profile and activity data, i.e. between people, interests, expertise, activities, topics and places.  Capabilities that perhaps many of us take for granted with Google Plus or LinkedIn’s suggestions and recommendations, but yet to fully emerge within the corporate environment. Something that might undermine the traditional hierarchical and silo’d organisational structures? Let’s hope so!

Social & Interest Graphs


A report by Atlantic Monthly claimed that workers waste up to 50% of their time managing unwanted communications, finding the right people to help them and searching for information to do their job. (Image source: Harold Jarche).

Wasted Time

According to the same report, workers spend 28 per cent of their time, reading, writing or responding to email, and another 19 per cent tracking down information to complete their tasks. Communicating and collaborating internally accounts for another 14 per cent of the average working week, with only 39 per cent of the time remaining to accomplish role-specific tasks.

However, I’ve never really understood this growing clamour for the end of email, and get tired of reading the latest predictions about its demise. Did we decide the telephone served no useful purpose once we had social media? No, because it is still a relevant form of communication. How it is used has probably changed over the years, but it is still with us because it’s ubiquitous, easy to use and relatively secure.  I think that companies such as Atos – which has a stated mission to eliminate all corporate email communication within 2 years – and senior managers who ban use of email on certain days, are misguided. They are addressing symptoms of email misuse, and not the underlying causes.  Email has been with us for over 30 years, and I’m predicting it will still be with us for the next 30 years – and more. Like the telephone (or mobile phone), email is ubiquitous, simple to use and a relatively secure method of communication. A telephone number and an email address are the two lowest common denominators in today’s connected world, and that’s not going to change in the short or medium term.

What will change is the move to publish-subscribe communication, where control of the information flow will be managed by the recipient, not the sender.  Having something useful and relevant to say will become far more important than who you send it to.  Email will become the primary means by which we authenticate ourselves and subscribe to the networks and channels through which we want to receive information. And we’ll have better tools for aggregating and filtering this information torrent.

Personal Knowledge Management

It’s been said many times before, but worth repeating – technology alone will not create a collaborative and learning organisation, and neither will it give us the knowledge or skills to make sense of an increasingly complex and volatile environment.  This requires human effort and application. Something that Brian Solis has called the “human algorithm”. To quote Brian Solis:

The human algorithm is part understanding and part communication. The ability to communicate and apply insights internally and externally is the key to unlocking opportunities to earn relevance. Beyond research, beyond intelligence, the human algorithm is a function of extracting insights with intention, humanizing trends ad possibilities and working with strategists to improve and innovate everything from processes to products to overall experiences.”

One application of the human algorithm is in social media listening and sense-making. In addition to tracking simple data signals such as conversations, sentiment, narration and service inquiries, data can present insights into preferences, trends, areas for innovation or refinement, R&D, co-creation, etc. Even though sophisticated tools can help track data points that can lead to these insights, it still takes a human touch to surface them and in turn advocate findings within the organisation. It’s the difference between insights, actionable insights, and executed insights.

How do we gain the skills needed to hone and improve our human algorithms? We give  time and effort to Personal Knowledge Management (PKM).  And what is “PKM”?

PKM: A set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world & work more effectively. Keeping track of digital information flows and separating the signal from the noise.

Harold Jarche has been a long-term proponent of Personal Knowledge Management and over eight years has developed the “Seek: Sense: Share” model, described thus:

PKM, or learning in networks, is a continuous process of seeking, sensing, and sharing.

  • Seeking is finding things out and keeping up to date. Building a network of colleagues is helpful in this regard. It not only allows us to “pull” information, but also have it “pushed” to us by trusted sources.
  • Sensing is how we personalize information and use it. Sensing includes reflection and putting into practice what we have learned. Often it requires experimentation, as we learn best by doing.
  • Sharing includes exchanging resources, ideas, and experiences with our networks as well as collaborating with our colleagues.

Two specific roles that have been honed on PKM skills and the ‘seek-sense-share’ methodology are The Community Manager and the Digital Curator.  In some cases this may be one and the same role, since the functions are quite similar.

Community Management

Community Managers have become a core part of engaging with customers on social channels. The role has developed from the Facilitator or Moderator role that is well established within online Communities of Practice (CoP).  In either case, the key responsibilities are very similar:

  • Training and educating users (or customers)
  • Encouraging and guiding conversations
  • Providing recommendations on how social media tools can be used more effectively, or identifying new tools.
  • Monitoring platform statistics and trends, and observing behaviours in order to extract new learning and ideas.
  • Signposting useful content; developing and sharing resources and best practices.
  • Weeding and feeding content
  • Project managing

I’ve previously described the role of the Community Manager/Facilitator, and this diagram sums up the key elements of the role:

Community Facilitation

Digital Curation

‘Digital Curation’ is a phrase for a practice that has been emerging over the past two years to filter the overabundance of signal, and create quality, thoughtful, human-organised collections. By focusing our attention, providing context, and creating a specific experience, curators can enhance our online experience. Digital curators are conceptually similar to their counterparts in museums, because they tend to trade in very specialised, focused content. As a part of a wider collective, curators choose a topic they are interested in, and then search and display dynamic content related to this topic, using one or more digital curation tools.

Some examples of digital curation tools include: enables the curator to automatically create an on-line newspaper, selecting content using keywords, conversations and/or links to websites that are relevant to a particular topic or theme.  There is a considerable degree of automation involved, and the curator needs to be able to continually monitor and if necessary adjust the sources in order to ensure the content remains relevant. is a very useful and attractive curation tool, enabling summaries and snapshots of related content from blogs, media sharing sites and other social media. It has an impressively intuitive interface. You pick your topic, add a description of the collection, then you can begin searching for relevant articles and other media to include.

Storify is another style of curation tool, enabling the curator to search for specific content from social media sites that can be sequenced into a blog style story. The curator can add their own text and embed the final product into their blog

Pearltrees, works as a visually-oriented connective network of content, which can be shared, repurposed and linked in a number of ways across social media platforms. The Pearltrees Teams group function also enables users to collaborate to create shared curated collections of content.

All four tools allow conversations and further sharing, and all four are very attractive as a means of making sense of the vast amount of content there is on the web. There are of course many other tools being developed that can also perform similar tasks of consolidating and accumulating content, and offering it in a digest form to busy professionals. A useful resource to follow if you want to know more about content curation is Robin Good’s Content Curation World on

I will continue this discourse on the emergent social ecology trends in a subsequent post, focussing specifically on the importance of Personal Knowledge Management for developing the skills and literacies we need to become effective and proficient 21st century knowledge workers.

8 thoughts on “Social Ecology: Evolution or Revolution? Part 2.

  1. Hi Steve

    I’ve just come across this series of posts via a link in one of David Wilcox’s Social Reporter posts. Thinking about social ecology feels really important. The two parts of your post above which really resonated with me were around Personal Knowledge Management and Community Management. I don’t recall coming across the term Personal Knowledge Management before and the description of the process of seeking, sensing and sharing is really useful. It’s interesting to consider ways that I use different tools and platforms across each part of the process, as well as where good old face-to-face and email discussions come in.

    Your description of a Community Manager and diagram of elements in the role are really helpful to me. My organisation wants me to play a role in improving the ways that we listen, learn and share online, and I think it will be really useful to shape this around the idea and activities of a Community Manager – it looks and feels much more enabling than a more traditional sort of communications label which might otherwise be attached to doing this sort of thing. So thank you – you’ve just saved me a whole load of thinking and work and provided something incredibly useful in the way you have bought it together. 🙂

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