Did you know that 80% of knowledge is tacit? That means the information is unique and hard to replicate. So, when employees leave an organization, they take the majority of their knowledge with them. This shows how important it is to implement systems that support knowledge transfers. These include wikis and knowledge bases.
Table of Contents
- Wikis vs. Knowledge Bases — What are they?
- What are the benefits and challenges of a corporate wiki?
- What are the benefits and challenges of a knowledge base?
Wikis vs. Knowledge Bases – What are they?
While these terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not synonyms. Let’s dive deeper into each one.
A company wiki resembles Wikipedia. It acts as storage for all of the company’s information. Employees can freely share knowledge in written format, review it, and update it if necessary. But unlike Wikipedia, which is accessible to the entire world, a wiki is reserved only for a company’s employees.
At Contenki, I work with Anna Rubkiewicz as a freelance content duo. We’ve used Notion to create our wiki, and it helped us massively in organizing our work. It’s where we store:
- Ideas for promoting our business.
- Pricing packages.
- Templates for cold outreach.
- An overview of our writing process that we share with clients and many others.
It’s hard for me to imagine not having a place to centralize our knowledge. Having it dispersed would cause pure chaos and kill our productivity.
What is a knowledge base?
A knowledge base is a comprehensive online resource that stores verified company information. Your team can refer to it whenever they need to learn more about a specific area or topic.
This can include internal and external company policies, step-by-step technical guides, and product feature specifications. To minimize errors, these repositories are moderated by subject matter experts.
When I worked at a software development agency, my manager would encourage us to contribute to the knowledge base with our learnings from customer interactions. These insights were used to improve the company’s risk management strategy. However, a senior specialist always took a look at our notes before the content was published.
How does a wiki and knowledge base differ?
We already know that a knowledge base and a wiki aren’t the same thing. So, how do they differ?
Wikis are more collaborative in nature. Any employee can contribute to it and write about anything they like — moderation comes after.
Since anyone from within the company can share information, new content appears more frequently, as it’s published instantly. However, this comes at a price. Wikis might include content that’s inaccurate or irrelevant.
A knowledge base is more formal. It includes important company information, such as FAQs, video demos, and product knowledge. These systems call for stricter controls.
New or updated content in a knowledge base must be reviewed by a moderator before going live. While this makes the process slower, it also makes the knowledge base more reliable and authoritative than wiki.
What are the benefits and challenges of a corporate wiki?
Let’s now take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of using a company wiki.
Corporate Wiki Benefits
The first, and perhaps the most obvious benefit, is retaining knowledge. Employees come and go. And as soon as they leave, not only do you lose a great team member but also all the knowledge they’ve gathered. It’s a massive setback for the company.
If you actively encourage your workers to share their expertise — whether in written or video format — you can retain at least part of that knowledge. This will not only serve your existing employees but also be of great help to new ones.
Higher Job Satisfaction
IBM ran a study on its internal wiki and discovered that employees contributed to it because they enjoyed doing so. People feel satisfied when they can share their knowledge. They can show their expertise and help others.
Contributing to a wiki allows employees to gain exposure, which positively impacts job satisfaction.
Better Productivity and Increased Collaboration
Few things at work are as frustrating as spending hours searching for information. You know it’s somewhere, but you just don't know exactly where. By keeping knowledge in a single place, you save people from wasting their time searching for information or disturbing their colleagues.
Part of running a business is keeping your pipeline full, and this often involves email outreach. As a writer, I need to include industry-specific writing samples; I’ve been writing for over eight years, so there are plenty of articles I could share.
In the past, whenever I wanted to email a prospect, I had to look for a relevant sample, which took a lot of time. Luckily, I had a eureka moment and decided to add writing samples to our wiki. I categorized them so that whenever I need to include a writing sample, I can easily find a relevant one.
Corporate Wiki Challenges
Less Control Over Content
The beauty of a wiki lies in its collaborative nature. However, this can also be a drawback. Anyone can upload and update content without prior approval, leading to inaccuracies and outdated information. As a result, wikis might be viewed as less trustworthy.
Less Structured Than a Knowledge Base
With fewer guidelines comes less structure. For example, sometimes I add new information to our wiki, only to discover that the same info is already there, just in a different spot.
This not only results in content duplication but also makes information difficult to find, contradicting the wiki’s purpose — to make knowledge accessible and easily discoverable.
Unlike a knowledge base that can have built-in analytics, traditional company wikis lack this capability. This makes it hard to understand how employees consume the content. If you had analytics, you could:
- Identify the most popular content.
- Spot the least popular one and possibly remove it to improve the structure.
- Notice any content gaps, which you could then address.
What are the benefits and challenges of a knowledge base?
Here are some advantages and potential risks of running a knowledge base.
Knowledge Base Benefits
Building a Single Source of Truth
Knowledge bases make a world of difference when it comes to information discoverability. Your team won’t wonder where they can find answers, nor do they have to worry about conflicting information. Not everyone has editing rights, reducing the risk of file duplicates or factual errors.
Consistency is about more than unequivocal answers. It’s also about the company image and employee productivity.
When I worked as a project manager, I commonly referred to my company’s After Action Review library, which was part of the wider knowledge base. When in doubt about a customer situation, I checked how fellow PMs tackled similar issues.
Each record featured a recommended course of action. This gave me a confidence boost and allowed me to more easily follow company guidelines.
Knowledge bases can also help you train and onboard new staff.
How? You can use content in the knowledge base to supplement traditional on-site training with self-paced guides. Your senior staff members can stay focused on their daily work, instead of dedicating several hours or days to training sessions.
Better yet, you’ll be able to refine your knowledge base articles by collecting feedback. A simple “Was this article helpful?” button could do wonders.
Knowledge Base Challenges
Encouraging Employees to Share Knowledge
Certain team members might be reluctant to contribute to your knowledge base. Some may lack the time, while others will be tentative about sharing their expertise.
This might not be a huge inconvenience for as long as they’re available for any ad hoc assistance. But what happens when one of your organization’s key figures leaves the company? Unfortunately, they’ll take all that invaluable, first-hand knowledge with them.
That’s why it’s so important to get buy-in from your staff and encourage employees to contribute to your knowledge base from day one.
Since things change at your company over time, you’ll need to continuously check your knowledge base for accuracy. This can be daunting, particularly if you’ve built a massive knowledge ecosystem. If it’s hard to notify the moderator about an outdated resource, there’s a risk that some employees may not do so.
The best way to tackle this issue is to schedule regular checkups — for example, once a quarter — where each department checks the validity of articles from their field.
Maintaining your knowledge base security must be a top priority. As it stores all the key company information, some of which might be confidential, you’ll need to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
When choosing the right platform for your knowledge base, make sure that it’s protected from data leaks and unauthorized access. Then, carefully consider which employees should be granted editing and moderating permissions.
Investing in a Wiki vs. a Knowledge Base
There are multiple ways your company can benefit from running a wiki or knowledge base. Both help you retain knowledge, making sure that no information goes missing if any of your experts leave your ranks. They also help your employees help themselves whenever they need an answer to a question.
To decide between a wiki or knowledge base, consider whether you want the resource to be open for edits. If you want to encourage everyone at your business to share their ideas, wikis work well. A knowledge base might be better if you want to create an unequivocal source of truth that’s edited by just a handful of employees.