256px-Sharethis.svg copyAs a workplace professional, I believe strongly in the value of sharing. I’m not talking about the monetary value of a social share (which business people are keen on doing), but rather the less tangible value that comes from sharing knowledge, making an individual more productive, effective, and efficient. In other words, the value that is manifest in the form of improved personal performance in the workplace.

On its face, sharing knowledge seems illogical and associated with giving something away. Children need to be taught to share; it’s not instinctive. Now as adults, we share often and in many ways. According to Wenger,1 learning and sharing are critical elements in establishing one’s identity in a social community. That’s true for the work community as well as in public networks. I would even argue we can’t build our professional networks without sharing our knowledge and establishing our identities. As Wenger points out, identity is a powerful incentive for learning and sharing.

Sharing from the Inside Out

Sharing knowledge with others inside an organization can be easy: speak up at meetings, offer a solution when needed, offer detailed knowledge that helps solve a problem, connect people who are working on similar problems, and so on. As Euan Semple says, “Knowledge must be shared to have value,”2 and successful workplace professionals become better at doing so with experience. The value to the organization is clear: more coordination, more cooperation, more efficient processes, better products, and a more responsive organization. The value to the individual is closely tied to his or her workplace identity: enhancing reputation, demonstrating a dedication to the organization’s mission, and building influence, to name a few. Job security and satisfaction are a few personal outcomes.

Sharing outside the organization may not be as easy. I wrote earlier that organizations tend to be private, almost “secretive” places. Complete transparency would prevent their ability to maintain an edge against competition and growing the value of products and services. Proprietary information must be steadfastly protected, such as organizational knowledge, unique processes, trade secrets, products in development, and intellectual property, among others. Although organizations have always had rules to assure this protection, many then wrote new social media policies to restrict what employees can share on social media, most likely driven by fears that violations would spread quickly and visibly.

In some cases, the new policies overstepped into individual rights to share opinions, and may even have been unenforceable. In many others, policies restated existing rules in a new context. In all cases, they became one more thing for employees to understand and comply with or face discipline. Without question, social media policies represent a barrier to employees engaging with others in public social media.


Sample social sharing options (from YouTube)

The Value of Sharing Outside the Organization

With such barriers, it’s easy to fall into thinking that it’s not worth sharing on public media. However, I previously wrote about connectedness, and how workers who build and maintain effective networks both inside and outside their organizations can achieve the highest levels. Bringing knowledge into the organization from outside can greatly enhance products and services, but knowledge is rarely given freely. Where influence is the economy of a social network, knowledge is its currency. Relationships are built through a mutual exchange of knowledge. It helps to pay it forward.

Rather than focus on what can’t be shared by workplace professionals on social media, it helps to focus on what can. A great deal of information can be shared under many circumstances, as long as the aggregate knowledge doesn’t give away proprietary information. For example, an individual can share a lot of what he or she:

Use existing knowledge to, “Pay it forward.” Respond to requests for help, offer known public solutions, or connect the requestor with someone who has relevant knowledge or expertise. All these can help begin to establish new relationships with others who have similar interests.
Share current thoughts related to work in a way that invites response, possibly in the form of a question. Blogging is an excellent way to do this, but it’s not required. Another way to share thinking is to reply to blog posts of others. Work to fully understand responses, which can lead to clearer thinking or new ideas.
Share learning on blog posts as comments, seeking clarification as needed. Blogging again is an excellent way to share new learning, inviting comments to refine understanding. Bring new learning back to the workplace and socialize it. Be open to comments and think carefully about questions asked. 
When finding something particularly useful or enlightening, share it with others. Most media allow notifying the originators, which provides them with valuable feedback.

To some extent, depending on the nature of the work and whether it’s done for the organization or on an employee’s time outside the workplace, the individual might also be free to share what he or she creates, as well as how he or she works. We’ll explore some of these working out loud issues in another article.

Knowledge sharing is a vital part of  establishing identity in the workplace and within public networks, but it also helps to build personal and professional relationships, even with people we’ve never met. We all then benefit from our collective wisdom.

  1. Wenger, Etienne. “Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.
  2. Semple, Euan. Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Managers Guide to the Social Web. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley, 2012.

Thanks for reading!

Special thanks to Jane Bozarth for pointing me to the work of Wenger on sharing and communities of practice.


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