The impact of Web 2.0 technologies and social media on the social capital of organizations forms the center of my research interests. I have conducted several pilot studies at Dell Inc.  on this topic to inform the research for my dissertation.

Accepted Proposal for 2009 ATTW Conference, San Francisco, CA

Co-authored with Dr. Craig Baehr, Associate Professor, Texas Tech University

Title: Assessing the Value of Corporate Blogs: A Social Capital Perspective

Abstract: This study critically examines the results of a series of recent studies of corporate blog usage at Dell, Inc., a global computer manufacturer. The studies explore ways to assess the impact of blogs on organizational social capital, as an extension of return on investment (ROI). The corporate blog was introduced as one tool within a wider communication and collaboration-enabling Web 2.0 technology infrastructure, serving as a medium to capture and archive tacit knowledge, network, and share this collective knowledge, and to create a discussion-based community. Blog users were highly trained knowledge workers in geographically dispersed areas, including those in different time zones, remote employees, and those on frequent business travel. This kind of research is becoming increasingly important to organizations using participatory technologies to collect, share, and reuse information in innovative ways and to explore methods of measuring the social capital and the overall net value that these technologies create for organizations. To date, the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on internal organizational social capital has received little attention, possibly, because of the less evident connection to measurable, economic value for the organization. Our findings recommend innovative and practical ways of looking at measuring organizational social capital as a form of ROI. Defying easy measurement, social capital requires multiple indicators used and derived from the organizational context in which such a system operates. Measuring basic analytics such as page hits, time stamps, and number of posts only skims the surface of assessment and value of these products. Rather, this research advocates the use of a more holistic approach that considers this broad range of indicators, including structural, relational, and cognitive factors, which can lead to a more comprehensive assessment of social capital.

Keywords: social capital, return on investment, knowledge management, blog, Web 2.0, organization, ECM

Presentation at 2008  IEEE IPCC Conference, Montreal, Canada

Title: Intranet Usability under Time, Personnel, and Budget Constraints – Not A Lost Cause!

Abstract: Company Intranets are supposed to be a job aid for employees, provide answers to frequently asked questions, and facilitate the distribution of information to all employees, and, in the best case, forge connections between employees to increase employee productivity. The goal is increased information efficiency that saves the company money; the resulting outcome, however, often betrays the efforts.

Intranets can easily become information dumping grounds that simply shift the burden of finding pertinent information from the HR department to the individual employee, costing the company time and money in lost productivity. The reasons for this are many fold and range from a lack of management support, a lack of funding and personnel to a lack of a unified design, an inconsistent navigation structure, and, in the worst case outdated or inaccurate information that confuses employees.

Intranet sites, as opposed to many Internet sites, don’t sell a product to which a monetary value can easily be attached. The reality for companies, though, is that a loss in employee productivity caused by a badly designed Intranet can be very costly. (Nielsen) To maximize information efficiency it is essential to focus on user-centered design and iterative usability testing during all development phases with representative users performing representative tasks. When carefully adapted to project needs, Jakob Nielsen’s discount usability testing with as few as five representative users offers a cost and time effective way to design Intranet sites that are functional and efficient. Furthermore, an adherence to simple design principles, an awareness of how Web users perceive a site (Baehr 2007), and knowledge of usability heuristics will ensure a user-centered Web interface.

Using the development, iterative usability testing, and improvements based on user feedback of a department site within Dell Inc.’s Intranet as a real-life example, the presenter will walk the audience through a few simple steps that can help to design a functional Intranet site. Always cognizant of representative users’ time and workload and cleared by management, very short and focused user surveys, iterative task-based user testing at the user’s desk, a walkthrough and short interviews, all conducted by the presenter, produced an efficient site that is widely used as a resource. The need for a robust search feature, very simple user-centered labeling devoid of any marketing-type language and clear identification of content supported by consistent navigation that is reduced to the necessary minimum are some of the key findings this study produced. The user testing also produced innovation in that an existing information tool was found to be inadequate and as a direct result, a new more effective information resource along with a new way of online collaboration between groups was created.

Real personnel, time, and budget figures will demonstrate that the typical constraints of Intranet site development don’t have to preclude user-centered design and usability testing. Backed by findings by Web design and usability experts Baehr, McLaughlin, Nielsen, Pieratti, Salvo, and others, this presentation is geared towards the needs of Intranet developers and editors of small and large companies or learning institutions who often have to rely on minimal resources in their Intranet development efforts.

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Konstanze Alex Brown

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