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Learning to Pull Information

Advocates of social networking in business often talk about the cultural change required to make the most of social business programs. There is talk about the shift from a “push” model of information consumption to a “pull” model, which leverages a constant flow of information and knowledge, available anytime and anywhere via a cloud-based social network. This shift enables discoveries, uncovers untapped sources of expertise and reduces the time needed to solve business problems.

Most people in business have spent years living in an email-centric “push society” where other people decide what information they should see by choosing whether to include them on the message. A “pull society,” on the other hand, allows people to choose what information they consume.

The implications of moving from push to pull may not be clear in companies that have just started to adopt social business programs. The hardest part may be dealing with the change in work habits required for successful implementation. Employees may remain wedded to working practices that discourage knowledge sharing or that impede the flow of information around the company.

Despite complaints about overflowing email inboxes, the push mentality is a deeply engrained habit, and becoming a pull society requires changes in attitude and behavior. Further, there is no simple set of rules on how to do it, but the following suggestions may help.

In a pull society:

• As a network user, one person doesn’t decide whether other people are interested in content. They decide based on availability, not relevancy.
• People take more responsibility for keeping themselves informed. Content isn’t pushed at someone, people have to go and pull it. If they don’t, they have no excuse for their ignorance.
• People will have access to more information than they can possibly consume, but they should not gorge on it. Instead, choose what is most useful to help get a job done.
• People don’t wait until they finish working on something before sharing it with others who may have valuable suggestions to offer.
• People respect the context in which an author has shared content. If it is marked as “work in progress,” it’s bad form to complain that it seems unfinished, and don’t reshare it with others prematurely. Wait for the final version, and consider it a privilege to be given early access.
• People should not resent a comment on their work from a stranger. Instead, welcome the fact that the piece managed to solicit feedback without asking for it, and feel flattered that someone felt it worth the time to read and comment on the work.
• If there is too much irrelevant content in an activity stream, that’s the content creator’s fault. People should take the time to make sure they are following the people and topics that are important to them, and filter out the information that is not useful.

The transition from push to pull isn’t necessarily easy, but using these suggestions can help smooth the transition. Even in organizations with mature social network implementations, some of these guidelines are hard to adopt. But they do lead to a more open, more social way of working together.

Richard Hughes is the director of product strategy at international software vendor BroadVision. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.