Think of a store where you, the salesperson, must talk to every customer to find out exactly what they want. There is nothing on the shelves for them to choose from — only your expertise! That's how online companies work when they don't have a knowledge base for users to look through. Keep reading for examples of knowledge base examples in different industries and tips on how to create your own.
The term knowledge base refers to a library of data in which information is collected, organized, shared, searched, and used. Knowledge bases are intended to act as a resource for the reader.
Many knowledge bases offer:
- answers to frequently asked questions
- detailed procedures
- process manuals
- how-to tutorials
- articles on a specific subject
- demonstrative videos
- definitions and glossaries
Having a clear and updated knowledge base can separate a company from its competition. A knowledge base should be easy to find and easy to use, no matter who is looking for it.
Unless you have enough customer service representatives to meet every customer need, knowledge bases are a must for your website. But not every knowledge base is created equally. There are several different potential audiences for knowledge bases: external audiences, internal audiences and machines.
Public databases on a company or organization's website are for people outside the organization, such as customers and consultants, to use for their own reference. That way, they don't waste their time (and the company's resources) waiting for a customer service representative. The best knowledge bases for public audiences look like high-quality help pages.
Examples of public knowledge bases for external audiences include:
- a guide like Asana, which provides options for users to choose their next action
- companies like Shipt, which finds relevant articles based on a customer's search inquiry
- Dropbox, which includes helpful articles and tools in its knowledge
Some knowledge bases are actually created and maintained by external audiences. They are called open-source knowledge bases, and while they may be moderated by a company or organization, they depend on public participation.
Some examples of open-source knowledge bases include:
- Wikipedia, which hosts user-generated and maintained articles
Most modern companies have at least one knowledge base for their employees. It's a lot easier than sending out countless memos and emails with company information and much more efficient than creating thick employee handbooks and binders.
Knowledge bases for internal audiences are only accessible to people who work for the company or organization.
Examples of the types of knowledge bases you'd see for internal audiences include:
- HR (Human Resources) knowledge bases
- legal documents
- onboarding information
- company calendars and schedules
- meeting agendas
- company vision statements
- team presentations and resources
- IT (Information Technology) manuals
- best practice guides for team members
- internal process documents
These knowledge bases are important for employees and members of an organization. They often include confidential information that is not intended for public viewing.
Some knowledge bases are human-readable, meaning that they can be read and understood by people. But others are machine-readable, which means that they are analyzed by AI (artificial intelligence) systems. The information in these knowledge bases is created with structured data in data file formats such as CSV, XML and JSON, which can only be read by computers. Basically, these knowledge bases exist for machines to talk to each other and transmit information.
It's easy to confuse the term knowledge base with the more common term database. But the difference between them is as easy as reading their names. Knowledge bases store knowledge; databases store data.
For example, a knowledge base for a company's human resources department may include documents about performance reviews, videos about workplace behavior and manuals for requesting vacation leave. A database may only include the names of HR representatives, their phone extensions and email addresses. Knowledge bases are for learning, while databases are for quick reference.
The basic design of a knowledge base requires a software provider that makes it easy and effective to provide the knowledge to be delivered. However, it also requires a sophisticated (but straightforward) concept from designers. Here are some basic tips for creating a knowledge base.
- Make instructions clear. The last thing anyone wants to do when they see a knowledge base is to learn how to use it. Make your knowledge base intuitive and easy for any level of tech-awareness.
- Use conversational tones. You want users to feel welcome when they use your knowledge base. Avoid overly formal or official language.
- Include hands-on activities. No one wants to scan through a bunch of documents to find the information they need. Include ways for users to get involved, including polls and interactive tools.
- Use lots of media (video and images). Users don't all learn in the same way. Some people do better with reading documents, while others retain knowledge more easily with videos, images and infographics.
- Keep it up to date. Respect your users and keep your knowledge base updated. If they see that the most recent results are several years old, they're not going to want to stay on your site much longer.
Including knowledge bases in a company or organization's website makes them more accessible and transparent. However, knowledge bases aren't the only part of a website. Use these examples to design professional bios in your company. Or if you're interested in additional transparency, post your code of conduct on your website for customers and employees.