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What is a Knowledge Base?

A knowledge base is an online library of information to preserve institutional knowledge about various topics relating to a company or organization.
Emily Nielsen

Emily Nielsen

Mar 09, 2021
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A knowledge base is an online library of information to preserve institutional knowledge about various topics relating to a company or organization.

Instead of information being scattered around across various services, a knowledge base ensures that the most important information is housed in a single place. Knowledge bases increase transparency, make workflows more efficient, and preserve a record of changes over time. There are two types of knowledge bases - internal and external. This guide will examine what exactly a knowledge base is and what its benefits are.

#Internal Knowledge Base

An internal knowledge base, as the name implies, is a resource that is created for internal use within an organization. Information stored within an internal knowledge base can range from company policies to a log of meetings, information for shared use, and even can be broken down by department.

Internal knowledge bases empower people to keep track of information in a more public setting so that team members can always return to the resource. By keeping all of the information in a single place, team members are more likely to make use of the tool and will have an easier time referring back to information. Internal knowledge bases are essential for teams to stay connected and work efficiently. By documenting everything in a shared space, it ensures no team member is left behind and that all information is communicated properly.

To keep knowledge bases from becoming completely unusable, it is important to create structure and organization so that the resources can be properly utilized. Implementing a search function is also critical. Without a search function, it is unlikely that team members will gain any expected value.

The uses for an internal knowledge base can vary by team but at the end of the day, knowledge bases, when done well, are the organized source of truth for information about the department or organization at large.

Here are some use cases broken down by department:

Sales: Workflows, Scripts and Templates, Demo guidelines and examples, Meeting minutes, Department Policies, Case Studies

Marketing: PR materials, Assets, Content Backlog, Campaign tracking, Style Guide

Development: QA standards, Descriptions of features in development, Roadmap, Troubleshooting

HR: Onboarding information, Company policies, Contact information, Company hierarchy

#External Knowledge Base

External knowledge bases provide a similar treasure trove of information however it is intended to be customer or user-facing - and can be publicly accessible or protected behind authentication.

External knowledge bases are the first place users should look when seeking information on the product, best practices, troubleshooting or FAQs. Teams have different ways of approaching external knowledge bases (sometimes called content hubs) depending on their specific use case. In the world of sophisticated digital products, knowledge bases can be an essential tool to provide users with a great user experience 24/7. Instead of calling in every support request or requiring extensive onboarding, knowledge bases can give people the chance to address their questions or curiosities independently via your content first. Some knowledge bases include troubleshooting forums which give teams a detailed log of how other people have approached a problem. This can be particularly helpful with microservices or technical products.

Knowledge bases can include more than just text content. They can also include how-to videos, project starters, or audio files where relevant. Creating a mixture of content will help engage different types of users or encourage them to interact in new ways with the product. By creating a single content repository, users can become familiar with the best practices for a product. Buying into the language, jargon, and assumptions that come with using a new product becomes more approachable when new users have the opportunity to get acquainted at their own pace.

Good things to include in an external knowledge base are:

  • Project starters
  • How-to demos
  • Video demonstrations or explanations
  • Glossaries
  • Feature descriptions
  • Best practices
  • Forums
  • FAQs
  • Troubleshooting guides

#What Purpose do they Serve?

#Internal Knowledge Base

Internal knowledge bases serve as an information-rich database for employees to reference throughout their work. Whether it be a way to store all of the supplemental resources, such as case studies, how-to-guides, and reference pieces, or used to create a history of how projects, processes, approaches evolve over time, internal knowledge bases can be crucial in creating a highly productive team.

Knowledge bases help new employees get up to speed quickly and give them all of the necessary resources to succeed without the arduous task of tracking down various team members and waiting for them to provide you with the information you need. They build a strong foundation for the entire team and allow other departments to have a quick snapshot of processes, projects, and output. Information sharing is essential for teams working to build a consistent, successful brand. Although the use cases of knowledge bases may vary slightly from department to department, using a single tool across departments increases accessibility and usability across the entire company.

Internal knowledge bases should reflect the uses and needs of the team as a whole. Creating a record of projects and processes is essential to a highly productive team.

#External Knowledge Base

External knowledge bases should become the automatic first reference point for customers with a question. Because all of the information on how to use a product, case studies, references, FAQs, can be found in a single place, users know it is a good place to start to find the answer.

External knowledge bases serve as a way to provide high-quality customer service to those who are on smaller-scale projects and do not have support SLAs. This relieves some of the stress on the support team and gives them more capacity to address more complex support problems. By managing what information customers receive and how it is framed, it can also help create a well-rounded consistent brand that is known for providing high-quality information to its user base. External knowledge bases should serve as a content hub for all of the relevant information for working with a digital tool. They should consider the various stakeholders which interact with the tool and make sure that they can serve as a trusted resource along with the various steps of working with a tool.

#What are the benefits of a knowledge base?

#Internal Knowledge bases

Avoid content Silos

Knowledge bases bolster team members to be independent, work efficiently and find answers easily, rather than needing to wait for replies from others which can slow down progress. Knowledge bases serve as a treasure trove of information that can help new team members onboard quickly and ensure that they are providing the same high-quality service or output as their more experienced counterparts. They reduce the number of content silos and avoid the team’s output existing in a vacuum. If the Sales team is curious to see what the Marketing team has been working on recently, simply checking the knowledge base will provide speedy answers without having to reach out to the Marketing team and waiting for a reply.

For companies collecting data and using this data to inform their projects and approaches, it can also be a crucial way to keep data accessible across teams. Keeping an internal knowledge base helps make certain that the time and energy that team members invest in gathering information and organizing it appropriately greatly increases the return on investment for these efforts, an important consideration for many fast-growing teams.

Provide more consistent service

Teams with external-facing roles can also provide more consistent service. In referencing a standard database of information, each team member knows that they are giving out the correct, most current information around a specific topic. Instead of spending time answering questions, project leaders can add the relevant information into the knowledge base. and Team members who are answering support requests can then use this information as a base to provide consistent service to users. More standardization of responses enables more consistent answers and the ability for customer support to be split amongst several team members without sacrificing great service. This approach bolsters the overall brand and provides a more professional perception of the company.

Build standardized processes

Development teams benefit from such internal knowledge bases to document how they approach building each feature, the attempts that were successful, and, sometimes, more importantly, the attempts that were unsuccessful. A project status log within the knowledge base helps guarantee that a succinct, consistent development process is followed and that no crucial steps are skipped. In setting up a fixed cadence that will be reflected in the knowledge base, teams can ensure that their output has consistent standards.

#External Knowledge Bases

Empower customers

Knowledge bases give customers the opportunity to onboard, gain more understanding, and problem-solve independently. Customers know that there is one place to go when they have questions or are looking for relevant content for their use case. This helps encourage users to use best practices when working with your product, improving the onboarding experience and encouraging them to seek out answers instead of automatically contacting support. Providing high-quality information for customers in an accessible way builds customer trust and empowers them to think more creatively. Forums or discussion areas within knowledge bases help customers collaborate and use each other’s experiences to solve problems and create new solutions.

Build a consistent brand

Knowledge bases send a clear message to your users that the brand is invested in the success of all of its users. Creating a knowledge base that helps with troubleshooting, building new projects, and more also establishes a singular source where all users can go to get more information. Teams can work to curate the information in a way that is consistent with the values they wish to champion. Creating a single place where customers can go to look for resources, ensures that each customer receives a consistent message and helps standardize the approaches. In creating a consistent voice for external assistance, teams build a strong reputation for support and can easily tailor their voice for connecting with the community.

Reduce support requests while providing high-quality service

One of the most tangible benefits of investing time and energy into a knowledge base is reducing the number of support requests by providing more information upfront. If a knowledge base answers the most common questions of users and provides information on the best practices, users go into the early phases of their project well informed with all the tools they need. This helps prevent support requests down the line due to poorly constructed projects or just a lack of understanding on how to get the most return on investment from the get-go. By having a detailed repository of information, customers will have the feeling that the company cares about the broader community of users, not just the enterprise or high-paying ones, which can lead to more customer loyalty and brand adoption.

#Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Knowledge Base?

A knowledge base is typically a self-serve online catalog of information about a product, service, department, or topic. Knowledge bases may include DIY Guides, FAQs, manuals, troubleshooting guides, and other information that stakeholders may want or need to know. Knowledge bases can be internal (for employees), or external (for users and customers).

What is a good knowledge base?

A knowledge base is a library of information about your product or service. Good external knowledge bases help customers find answers to solve problems on their own, working as an extension to a superior customer support program while improving the overall customer experience. Internal knowledge bases can accelerate your team’s training and onboarding on an ongoing basis through relevant information served in a structured and timely manner.

How do you structure a knowledge base?

This is what a basic process of building a knowledge base would look like:

  1. Decide on whether the information is for internal or external stakeholders to structure the intent and tone.
  2. Decide on the core elements of your knowledge base.
  3. Carefully select and create your knowledge base content.
  4. Agree on a consistent structure of your knowledge base articles.
  5. Add visuals to your content.
  6. Publish your knowledge base.
  7. Analyze and improve your articles.
  8. Monitor the usage, consumption, and feedback of your content, and consistently expand on the information provided.

Is a knowledge base just a portal?

At its core, yes. Knowledge bases are also commonly referred to as Support Portals, Intranets, Employee Portals, and Knowledge Database depending on the use-cases.

Should I use a Headless CMS for Knowledge Bases and Portals?

A headless CMS like Hygraph allows you to structure your content to be served on knowledge bases across devices. When paired with publishing, asset management, structured content, workflows, and a user-friendly interface, creating and managing a knowledge base with Hygraph is a simple and straightforward process.

Blog Author

Emily Nielsen

Emily Nielsen

Emily manages content and SEO at Hygraph. In her free time, she's a restaurant lover and oat milk skeptic.

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