As we just learned recently, “first noted by The New Scientist and Animal New York, Facebook’s data scientists manipulated the News Feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts to see how it affected their moods.”

There are many posts and articles around discussing the moral questions of this study. In this post, I do not want to be one more of them – instead, I decided to write about the flip side of this story: when, how and why to use similar techniques in the business.

Note: No, I am not encouraging you to do things that don’t fit your moral values. Please keep reading – I am going to share some messages of this research you can use (and get benefits of without breaking your moral rules) in your business.

Message #1: You can make an impact by WHAT you publish.

It is more or less obvious. If you publish a report on your Intranet that is about your company’s poor performance last year, there is no doubt everyone starts worrying about the consequences immediately. If you publish the date and location of the company’s annual Christmas party, everyone gets excited. There are content with positive feelings and content with negative feelings. Publish more content with positive vibes and your users appreciate this.

(Moreover: happy users are always more creative and have better performance.)

Message #2: You can make an impact by HOW you present what you publish

The best example of presenting information I have ever heard is Dr. John Snow’s map of the 1854 London cholera outbreak. Instead of  listing deaths by cholera in the traditional way, he “mapped the 13 public wells and all the known cholera deaths around Soho, and noted the spatial clustering of cases around one particular water pump on the southwest corner of the intersection of Broad (now Broadwick) Street and Cambridge (now Lexington) Street. He examined water samples from various wells under a microscope, and confirmed the presence of an unknown bacterium in the Broad Street samples.”

(Source:, thanks to Rafal Lukawiecki)

With the traditional list view of deaths, he would have never proved the relationship between the shallow public wells and cholera deaths.

Same happens in the business, day by day. We have much more information than we can process in the traditional way. Information overload gets more and more serious. As I always point during my presentations at: an average information worker gets about 63.000 words of new information every day. Just to compare: the average length of novels on Amazon is 64.531 words. (Yes, we get a book of new information to PROCESS every day!)

If we do not get any help with this, we get lost. Filtering out the irrelevant information is one key. The other is the way we present the relevant information. If our users do not understand the information, they cannot process. If they can see the data in a way that makes sense, they can get their jobs done, much faster than ever.

Message #3: Don’t hesitate to involve your key users

Key users can help a lot, with creating content in the proper way, as well as with tagging. Also, they can help to decide what is important in their areas, what have to be promoted (relevant) and what can stay hidden (irrelevant).

This process is called “content curation”: it is a method of collecting, organizing and displaying information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest. Content curation is not a new phenomenon. Museums and galleries have curators to select items for collection and display. There are also curators in the world of media, for instance DJs of radio stations tasked with selecting songs to be played over the air. As content curators, these key users can be “DJs of the business”.

Message #4: As an end user, don’t assume everything is visible

In your end user role, sometimes you have to be skeptic, in a good way. This means, when you cannot find the content you are looking for, don’t give up and don’t go to create it (again!) immediately. Consider some other options before doing so:

  • If you cannot find a content, maybe it is not promoted (in your segment). Look around and check the “hidden” places, items and documents as well. (Use Enterprise Search, for example.)
  • If you still cannot find the content you are looking for, still assume it does exist. Maybe you just don’t have enough permissions to access it.
  • Be sure, you do not miss any location, any system, any source of content. Maybe the content you are searching for can be found in a file share where you have not checked (and which is not included in the search content sources).

Be proactive, assume the content does exist. There is nothing worse than having duplicated (or multiplication) content in the business. Create the content only if you are 100% sure the content does not exist yet. Plus, don’t forget to follow your company’s governance rules (for organizing and tagging your content).