Social Networking at the BBC

Just a few hours after winning the IWR Information Professional of the Year Award, Euan Semple from the BBC keynoted the track on social networking. The BBC has created a gateway allowing its employees to use a number of social networking tools. The first is a forum with 11 different discussion groups, including Editorial, Production, What’s Going On, etc. Over 11,000 people use the forum to ask questions and get answers. One result of this platform is that trivial questions can turn into interesting issues; misinformation gets corrected, and lurkers (people who read but do not participate in the discussion) get the benefit of the discussion. Euan stressed that these types of systems must be sociable places where people will want to go to get their information, and it can be a challenge to get conversations started. Once the conversations begin, the statistics show that thousands of people may read posts, but only a few contribute comments or replies.

Other social networking tools that have been added to the BBC’s gateway are:
• Connect.gateway—used to identify and find other people in the organization. A search tool allows employees to find others with specific expertise (foreign language speakers, etc.)
• An internal blog has had a large impact on journalism processes. Over 250 people within the BBC are blogging, even senior managers. Blogs have started to replace “all hands” broadcast e-mail announcements from upper management.
• Wikis are used by over 1,500 people and have become a rich resource for all kinds of information. With their freely available editing capabilities, wikis are very different from traditional documents. For example, when new policies are proposed, employees are encouraged to comment and change the initial documents, and then they are considered for incorporation into the final policy.
• RSS software that runs and syndicates content for those interested.

The BBC environment is a dispersed one, but it is very powerful. Social networking will increasingly impact workflows in companies. Younger people coming into the workforce are already heavy users of these technologies and will not accept a lack of them in their working environment. If we do not establish social networking within the organization, they will do it on their own outside the firewall, so we must bring the technology inside now and start learning about it.

After his talk, I asked Euan some questions about the points he discussed. Click here to hear his remarks.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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