Social networking is a powerful way to bring people closer together. Whether through the informal grapevine or via people of similar interests within and between units, social networks are formed within organizations. One way to capitalize on these networks from a human capital perspective is to establish online communities. Within the knowledge management (KM) field, online communities are probably the most used application of KM for sharing knowledge and building social networks. The World Bank has well over 130 online communities (they call them "thematic groups"). Best Buy, Hallmark, the Federal Aviation Administration, American Management Systems, Computer Sciences Corporation, and many other organizations are actively using online communities.
How do online communities enhance human capital in an organization? First, they help create new relationships and strengthen existing ones by reaching out to others with similar interests for advice, guidance, and support. Second, the online communities should increase employee morale and satisfaction as bonding is strengthened. Last, online communities should allow new insights and increased innovation to be gained through interactions with customers, suppliers, partners, and employees.
Strategically, online communities can greatly enhance partnerships as part of an organization's human capital equation. Hallmark uses them effectively to interact with their customers to gather and share the customers' insights for improved business and customer relationship management processes and ideas for new types of cards. The social capital that is developed through learning from customers enriches the organizational intelligence of the firm.