Corporate wiki vs internal knowledge base: Which is better?

Wikipedia is the primary resource hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett cite in their podcast, Smartless, when interviewing a veritable who’s who in entertainment, sports, and journalism. It’s a must-listen podcast, IMHO, but not because the hosts actually rely on Wikipedia as their source. The use of Wikipedia is an inside joke because one or more of them usually knows their “surprise” guest quite well. As a result, the interviews are funny, insightful, and loaded with personal anecdotes and nostalgia.

What would happen to Smartless if Jason Bateman decided to forego podcasting for more directing opportunities? Could Sean and Will fall back on a wiki or internal knowledge base where Jason had the opportunity to upload his insight into interviews with Erin Gray, Ricky Schroeder, or Alfonso Ribeiro? (Try a reference that’s timelier than “Silver Spoons,” RD.) How about interviews with Laura Linney, Jason Sudeikis, or Rachel McAdams? Comparatively, they’d fall flat without Bateman’s personal knowledge and relationship with those guests.

In the real world, where we all do business with people who haven’t starred in a movie, sitcom, or Netflix series in the past 40 years, falling flat due to ineffective knowledge sharing means not meeting customer expectations, not having answers to prospect questions fast enough, or giving wrong or outdated answers in proposals. It’s costly and embarrassing. It’s also avoidable.

Businesses looking for knowledge sharing tools often end up deciding between two options: corporate wikis or internal knowledge base software. While they may seem similar, they’re actually quite different. In this blog, we’ll break down the differences between company wikis and internal knowledge base software to determine which is the best for your business.

Why is knowledge sharing so important?

In 2020, Forrester asked more than 3,000 sales reps about their main roadblocks to productivity. Finding content or information was at the top of the list. And a McKinsey study found that knowledge workers spend 20% of their time searching for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. Time equals money, and IDC estimates that an enterprise of 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $5.7 million annually searching for information that is never found.

One more bit of bad news (I’ll end on a high note. Promise.): Knowledge workers are quitting. They are not immune to “The Great Resignation” of the pandemic. According to the New Yorker, “Many well-compensated but burnt-out knowledge workers have long felt that their internal ledger books were out of balance: they worked long hours, they made good money, they had lots of stuff, they were exhausted, and, above all, they saw no easy options for changing their circumstances.” Well, the pandemic gave them the opportunity they were looking for to simplify their life. With knowledge workers departing, organizations need to up the ante on knowledge sharing to make sure they’re expertise doesn’t go out the door with them.

Speaking of doors, knowledge sharing is also a boon for onboarding new employees coming in the door. Giving them the freedom to access company knowledge at will and in context gets them up to speed faster while making custom face-to-face training more efficient and effective (i.e., trainees can find answers to common questions in the wiki or knowledge base on their own time). A majority of HR professionals cite improved onboarding as beneficial to overall employee engagement.

As promised, a high note: Knowledge sharing encourages and rewards greater employee involvement, especially when the sharing mechanism is easy, intuitive, and trustworthy. Organizations with highly engaged employees earn about 150% more than their less engaged counterparts. So they have that going for them, which is good.

What is a corporate wiki?

A corporate wiki is developed using an open source model. This means that anyone can submit edits or gain access. Although touted for being “collaborative,” they are not always reliable because anyone can make changes and include inaccurate information. Democracy works in politics and when making decisions with your fellow lifeboat occupants. Crowdsourcing worked for Tom Sawyer and tells you if police are ahead on Waze. Neither are good fits for business content.

As far as knowledge sharing is concerned, corporate wikis follow the rules of the jungle. While they certainly encourage greater employee involvement, power users tend to elbow out the specialists. They also get out of control fast. It’s an environment where content seeds are planted and then vines grow depending on what’s most popular or controversial. Without any strategy or rules in place, old vines don’t get pruned, some seedlings get overshadowed, and Barry from engineering starts every edit with, “Whoever wrote this is an idiot. The correct answer is…” Not the sort of collaborative vibe you were hoping for.

What is an internal knowledge base?

An internal knowledge base exists in a self-contained solution designed to streamline access, creation, and review of your business content. Unlike corporate wikis, internal knowledge bases have verified writers, so that all team members using the knowledge base can feel confident that the answers they are finding are accurate. Whereas wikis are open to any user creating or editing content, internal knowledge bases are read-only. If the corporate wiki is the jungle, then the internal knowledge base is a curated nursery.

Structure and strategy are the two biggest differentiators between corporate wikis and internal knowledge bases. Within an overarching content strategy developed for the internal knowledge base, writers create and edit content based on a schedule, which is informed by data-driven insight. Tags, collections, and custom fields define its information hierarchy, making it more user-friendly and efficient to search.

Depending on how you set up your internal knowledge base, you can also gather data to derive intelligence on how it’s being used, what it’s missing, and what it doesn’t need. For example, through RFPIO, users can output an Answer Library Insights Report to see which content gets used most often as well as which search terms receive very few or zero results. In the latter example, content managers can build content production plans around zero-result search terms so users will be able to find answers they need during their next search.

Creating an internal knowledge base is a 6-step process:

  1. Consolidate existing knowledge: Import your most recent sales proposals, DDQs, security questionnaires, and RFPs.
  2. Grow as you go: Add new content as products come and go, markets change, audience triggers evolve, and new departments come on board based on your initial tag, collection, and custom field structure.
  3. Stay accurate and up-to-date: Curate content to keep it fresh (corporate content every 90 days, product content every 6-12 months, and evergreen content that doesn’t change much every 12-24 months).
  4. Provide open access: Make sure everyone who needs to use the content has access to the content. Don’t get restrained by user licenses.
  5. Train your team: Even if the tool is intuitive and easy to use, set up time to train new users or else risk them never even trying it.
  6. Conduct regular audits: Don’t let the internal knowledge base turn into the wiki jungle. Keep it clean.

Learn more about these six steps here.

What’s better: a corporate wiki or an internal knowledge base?

Guessing I probably showed my hand too early with that wisecrack about Barry from engineering. You got it: The internal knowledge base takes the checkered flag when it comes to organizational knowledge sharing.

Its structure and the processes that support it make it a more trustworthy single source of truth, which reduces knowledge hoarding and shadow development of content that may exist in individual hard drives. And just because content is created and edited by designated writers doesn’t mean that all expertise hasn’t been tapped. Systems such as RFPIO enable content owners to automate collaboration with subject matter experts so that knowledge is captured accurately and efficiently, while maintaining consistency in message, voice, and tone throughout.

Besides, it also offers much more functionality compared to a corporate wiki. Instead of opening a new browser window or tab and navigating to the Intranet wiki, users can search content from almost anywhere. RFPIO® LookUp is a portal into the Answer Library, which can be searched from Chrome like you’re searching the Internet. According to Hope Henderson at Alera Group, “We market RFPIO as our internal content Google. If anyone that’s client-facing has a question about a specific product, the RFPIO Answer Library will be the first place they’ll go.”

“We market RFPIO as our internal content Google. If anyone that’s client-facing has a question about a specific product, the RFPIO Answer Library will be the first place they’ll go.”
-Hope Henderson, Marketing Coordinator at Alera Group

RFPIO also integrates with CRM, communication, cloud, and other applications so users don’t have to toggle back and forth to find content. Vicki Griesinger, Director of Business Strategy, Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft, said, “RFPIO® LookUp is available right from Microsoft Teams and surfaces content from all of our content collections without the maintenance overhead.”

With fewer writers and more controls, you might think content ends up sounding too institutional, with too few opportunities to personalize it. On the contrary. With a finely tuned internal knowledge base, prospect- and client-facing workers can find accurate content faster and easier so they’ll have more time to spend on personalizing the interaction.

Plan for unknown knowledge

In your pursuit of the ultimate knowledge repository, remember one thing: It’s going to have to change. In five years, you may need the knowledge you have now or you may not. You’ll definitely need some of the new knowledge you’re going to gain on the way.

Both corporate wikis and internal knowledge bases are updateable, but five years hence do you want to be hacking through a jungle to see what you can update? Or would you rather have the new knowledge curated and grafted onto the existing content for you so that all you have to do is harvest the fruit?

To learn more about using RFPIO to build your internal knowledge base, schedule a demo today.


RD Symms

RD is a senior copywriter at RFPIO. He has more than 15 years of experience in writing, content development, and creative strategy. Connect with RD on LinkedIn.

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