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Social media in internal communications


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This article was written as an assignment for Com433 Corporate Communications Management at Nanyang Technological University by Eugene Ang, Serene Cai, Agnes Ho, and Keith Kay.

This article was written as an assignment for Com433 Corporate Communications Management at Nanyang Technological University by Eugene Ang, Serene Cai, Agnes Ho, and Keith Kay.

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  • 1. @ Issue 1 - OCT 2013 THE GREAT SOCIAL MEDIA CONNUNDRUM Discover the secrets to make social media work for you! Pg 2 TO TWEET OR NOT TO TWEET The Pros and Cons of Social Media at the Workplace. Pg 3 THE ASIAN PERSPECTIVE What does this mean for the Asian communications practitioners? Pg 4
  • 2. 2 In the 21st century, managers are seeing a new breed of employees entering the workforce. These new talents challenge the traditional view of internal communication in their quest to find a job that not only fulfil their career needs, but their aspirational ones. These digital natives, otherwise known as Gen Y, no longer solely look at criterias such as salary and working hours, but also the intangible things like identification with its corporate identity and opportunities to feel ‘involved’ in or- ganisational decisions. As a result, managers have to revisit their approach to in- ternal communications in order to attract and retain them. One of the key solutions proposed to solve this issue is the use of social media. However, according to a recent survey conducted by Towers Watson (2013) among 290 large and midsize organisations from across North America, Europe and Asia, only 56% use social media and only 40% of them find it effective. So is social media the panacea that employers are look- ing for, or is it just an ideal that is beyond our reach? This literature review attempts to weigh the pros and cons of implementing social media as a communication tool in one’s organisation, so as to allow communication prac- titioners to make an informed decision on the matter. COVER STORY
  • 3. 3 BENEFITS OF SOCIAL MEDIA There are many definitions for social media, but for the purpose of this literature review, we will define it as “any highly scalable and accessible communication technology or technique that en- ables an individual to influence groups of other individuals easily” (Friedl & Verčič, 2011). Under that that definition, it includes both in- tranet (e.g. Yammer & Beehive) and internet (e.g. Facebook & Twitter) platforms. Therefore social media in this con- text serves two primary purposes: to inform and persuade workers, and to construct a healthy com- munity within the workplace. To create this sense of community, we have identified three drivers; Communication, Connectivity, and Collaboration; and the value they add to this communication pro- cess. i) Communication Central to the use of social me- dia are the concepts of univocal- ity (single voice representing the organisation) and multivocality (many voices speaking up on is- sues) in the communication of new information (change). Traditionally held by communi- cation practitioners as different ends of the spectrum, research by Huang, Baptista, & Galliers (2013) discovered that social networking sites (SNS) can bridge this divide. Messages that come directly from senior managers can be used as a resource by employees to con- struct messages of their own, re- sulting in a richer, more persua- sive rhetoric. This also enables communications practitioners to identify emerging issues through surveying comments on the com- pany’s post on SNS. Not only does this provide organ- isations with an additional me- dium to spread the message, it also has the potential to allow for more feedback by allowing em- ployees to act as senders, rather than passive receivers (Huang et al., 2013). This “healthy dual rela- tionship between univocality and multivocality” thus creates an or- ganisation which is “contextually ambidextrous” and “fluid”, i.e. it is able to deal with uncertainties, ambiguities and contingencies (Huang et al., 2013). ii) Connectivity With many organisations such as the multinational companies (MNCs) having dispersed work- places, SNS ensure that a com- mon team spirit and culture is maintained by providing opportu- nities for people to signify person- al involvement in organisational culture, and to participate in the values and beliefs of the organ- isation (Bennett et al, 2010). In addition, van Osch and Coursa- ris’s (2012) Organizational Social Media Lifeworld (OSML) model proposes that the social media is simultaneously intrinsic to all as- pects of organisational communi- cation, and thus posits that it fa- cilitates connectivity by enabling all communication activities in a specific goal-oriented context. The model accounts for the ways in which rules and resources op- erate as important mediators of communicative interaction, and thus can be adapted to account how SNS act as a construct for internal communicative inter- actions (van Osch & Coursaris, 2012). Employees also regard being con- nected on SNS with their boss as an avenue and opportunity to es- tablish stronger ties with them. Findings from Peluchette, Karl & Fertig (2013) identified that employees might perceive them- selves to be part of the boss’ in- group. This fosters better rela- tionships, which allows employers to communicate easily with em- ployees with regards to change. Granovetter’s (1973) theory of strength of weak ties argued that weak ties among people present Inowhavecontactswithinmycompanythatwent uptoaVPlevelandI’mactuallyabletocrosscon- nect,…crossbrand,crossdivisional. “ ”
  • 4. 4 the opportunity for individuals to meet with new social groups and this could open up access new resources, information and con- tacts. When harnessed correctly, this theory will have a powerful impact in organisations (Bennett et al, 2010), especially when com- municating via SNS. iii) Collaboration SNS also provide opportunities for both formal and informal in- teraction and collaboration with fellow employees which aids knowledge transfer and commu- nication (Bennett et al, 2010). This resulted in a shift from “informa- tion gathering” to “information participation”, allowing employ- ees’ voices to be heard. As presented by Fraser and Dutta (2008), employing social network- ing tools encourages transpar- ency and open access to expertise and solutions for problems, al- lowing for more collaborative in- put from employees. This process enables employees to be recog- nised for their valuable opinions - which is what makes for em- ployee productivity and satisfac- tion (Bennett et al, 2010). Similar- ly, when employers communicate change, employees will be more open in voicing out their concerns on SNS. An additional study done by Xiao- jun & Venkatesh (2013) supports the idea of SNS enhancing col- laboration. Their study found that online direct and indirect ties were significantly related to job performance. Employees are able to reap the benefits of hav- ing greater “access to important resources that in turn serves as a key mechanism contributing pos- itively to job performance” (Xiao- jun & Venkatesh, 2013). Other ad- vantages mentioned about such online communication were the fast transmission of information, along with minimising temporal and spatial constraints. One ex- ample given was that employees not longer need to spend time scheduling physical meetings, but could instead interact through on- line communication mediums and develop stronger relationships. HURDLES TO IMPLEMENTING SOCIAL MEDIA While there many scholars advo- cating for the adoption of social media in the workplace, some studies have shown that in reality, this is not the case. Despite a strong usage of SNS in their personal lives, Friedl & Verčič (2011) found employees, even those belonging to Genera- tion Y, are not as inclined to incor- porate it in their workplace. The study showed a stronger prefer- ence for traditional channels of communication such as email newsletters, intranet news, and employee meetings. i) Social dilemmas One of the potential reasons iden- tified by scholars (Peluchette et al, 2013, & Skeets & Grudin, 2009) is a lack of boundaries be- tween private and public spheres which presents a dilemma for in- dividuals. They discovered SNS can be revealing and uncomfort- able for individuals when they are presenting different sides of themselves to different groups of friends (Peluchette et al, 2013), and generally prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate (Skeets & Grudin, 2009). There were also tensions that arose from the delineation of hi- erarchy, status or power bound- aries. Similarly, both studies have discovered that employees expressed discomfort in receiv- ing friend requests from bosses, and would take measures to block their bosses from all or most con- tent. However, results from Frampton & Child (2013) study proved oth- IsharewhatIthinkmycompanyisdoingwrong… Iwouldnotdothatinapublicenvironment.Iwould sharemorestuff insidethanoutside.Outsidethereare thingspeopledonotneedtoknow. “ ”
  • 5. 5 erwise, with a significant number of employees finding it not neces- sary to revise their privacy rule, even when accepting a colleague as friend. This seems to indicate that privacy does not seem to be the issue when adding a co-work- er on social networks such as Facebook. Muller, Ehrlich and Farrell (2006) also raised the issue that certain social media encompasses tag- ging which can indicate an overt self-presentation that can be per- ceived as selfish by peers. ii) Information management Inappropriate communication across the firewall also consti- tutes one of the risks of internal communication on externally- hosted SNS. Employees are con- cerned about accidentally re- vealing company-confidential information on SNS (Skeets & Grudin, 2009). The permanence of the content leaked online, could result in an avalanche of reac- tions from the public given the vi- ral nature of SNS. The clutter on SNS can also con- fuse individuals, making it more difficult for employees to receive and digest information (Ding, Danis, Erickson & Kellogg, 2007). iii) Dominant coalition views At the same time, management visions may also collide with ac- tual benefits that results from the adoption of social media usage. When the dominant coalition of an organisation adopts a technol- ogy, it seeks to have a measurable return - which is manifested in having an increase in productivity. However, the returns of commu- nication on SNS seemed to only be in the creation and strengthen- ing of weak ties among coworkers (Skeets & Grudin, 2009). IMPLICATIONS FOR CORPORATE COMM. PRACTITIONERS IN ASIA Thus far, attempts to implement social media in companies to communicate day-to-day changes have been met with varying suc- cess. Therefore, we propose that the key to social media success for internal communication lies not in the software itself, but in something far more fundamental - the organisation’s culture. Not every company is predis- posed to utilise social media well. It is best used in companies with dynamic workplaces that has a vibrant attitude towards human resource management. Organ- isations which pride itself solely on its product and technical ex- pertise instead of its internal and external stakeholders, as well as government agencies handling sensitive information might ex- perience difficulties in developing social media usage in a meaning- ful way, which might be perceived as ‘forced’ by the employees. But most importantly, the organ- isation culture and leaders must recognise the value of multivocal- ity in the process of communicat- ing change. By actively engaging the employees, an open culture will ensure a conducive climate in which employees feel safe to voice their opinions, and know that they are valued. However, studies by previous scholars (Frampton & Child, 2013 & Quy & Shipilov, 2013) have re- vealed that the extent of partici- pative behaviour from employees is largely dependent on the or- ganisation’s dominant norms and culture. Similarly, connectivity be- tween co-workers are determined by the privacy orientation of the organisation. Quy & Shipilov (2012) posits that the key to social media success within the organisation lies in its ability to build a company’s “emo-
  • 6. 6 tional capital” - the emotion- based assets that the organisa- tion has developed over time with its employees. This increases the probability of gaining more sup- port from employees for incoming policies. Their research has iden- tified four different pillars of emo- tional capital: Authenticity, Pride, Attachment and Fun. Authenticity refers to how much an employee trust the messages from the company. This can be achieved by ensuring consistency between messages and actions on SNS and in “reality”. Leaders have to prove that these messag- es carry weight, and are not sim- ply symbolic gestures that are not work-related issues even outside of their formal working hours, thus “thickening the information exchange” horizontally and verti- cally (Quy & Shipilov, 2012). The last emotional pillar is fun, which encourages innovation and lead to an increased interest to the messages among employ- ees (Quy & Shipilov, 2012). Their study showed that the richness of SNS allows communication prac- titioners opportunities to package information in a way that garners attention from employees, reduce power distances and improve the quality of vertical communication. mirrored in reality (Quy & Shipi- lov, 2012). When leaders recognise employ- ees’ contributions on SNS, it facil- itates peer appreciation and pride in the employees, and this en- courages them to continue airing their opinions that will influence policy making in the organisation. (Quy & Shipilov, 2012). Attachment to a company is formed when employees feel a sense of belonging and find com- monalities between their own val- ues and interests with an organ- isation. SNS can provide platforms for employees to forge informal bonds, allowing them to discuss WhenwestartedusingTwitter,whatwefoundis thatwelearntalotabouteachother,aglimpseof theirlives,theglimpsethattheywouldliketoshare withyou. “ ”
  • 7. 7 RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION As the saying goes, a house built on poor foundations cannot stand. Therefore we believe that it is im- portant to take a step back and ensure that certain measure are taken so that organization com- munication practitioners can reap the benefits social media can bring about. 1) Identify if an organization is ready to shift into an partici- pative form of communica- tion. A few indicators will be the general attitude towards feedback and employee de- velopment,  the organization culture, as well as the company’s current emotional capital with its employees. This can be done through company questionnaires and focus group. 2) Understanding that power distances are generally high in Asian countries, it is impor- tant to implement a phrasal approach with social media (such as company wikis first before networking sites), so that employees can adapt to this new medium, and manag- ers have ample time to make adjustments through the feed- back they receive. 3) Identify a credible leader and use him/her to effect social media. 4) Encourage managers to find ways to integrate social media into key workings of the com- pany so that employees can see it as a good source of in- formation. 5) Constantly engage the em- ployees, not only when there is important changes to be com- municated. 6) Manage dominant coalition’s expectations as the effect of successful implementation REFERENCES [1] Bennett, J. J., Owers, M. M., Pitt, M. M., & Tucker, M. M. (2010). Workplace impact of social networking. Property Management, 28(3), 138-148. [2] Billington, M.G, & Billington P.J. (2012). Social Media Tools for Leaders and Managers, Journal of Leadership, Account- ability and Ethics, 9(6), 12-19. [3] Ding, X., Danis, C., Erickson, T., & Kellogg, W.A. (2007). Visualizing an enterprise wiki. Proceedings of CHI ‘07 Ex- tended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. [4] Frampton, B. D., & Child, J. T. (2013). Friend or not to friend: Coworker Facebook friend requests as an application of communication privacy management theory. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2257-2264. [5] Friedl, J., & Verčič, A. (2011). Media preferences of digital natives’ internal communication: A pilot study. Public Rela- tions Review, 37(1), 84-86. [6] Huang, J., Baptista, J., & Galliers, R. D. (2013). Reconcep- tualizing rhetorical practices in organizations: The impact of social media on internal communications. Information & Management, 50(2), 112-124. [7] Peluchette, J., Karl, K., & Fertig, J. (2013). A Facebook ‘friend’ request from the boss: Too close for comfort?. Busi- ness Horizons, 56(3), 291-300. [8] Quy, H., & Shipilov, A. (2012). The Key to Social Media Suc- cess Within Organizations. MIT Sloan Management Review, 54(1), 73-81. [9] Skeels, M.M., Grudin, J. (2009) When social networks cross boundaries- a case study of workplace use of FB and Linkedin, Proceedings of the ACM 2009 International con- ference on supporting group work. [10] Towers Watson (2013). Just Over Half of Employers Using Social Media Tools for Internal Communication, Towers Watson Survey Finds. Retrieved from: http://www.tower- ers-using-social-media-tools-for-internal-communica- tion. [11] Treem, J.W. & Leonardi, P.M. (2012). Social Media Use in Organizations: Exploring the Affordances of Visibility, Edit- ability, Persistence, and Association. Communication Year- book. [12] Van Osch, W. & Coursaris, C.K. (2012) The Duality of Social Media: Structuration and Socialization through Organiza- tional Communication, SIGHCI 2012 Proceedings.Paper 12. [13] Zhao, D., & Rosson, M. B. (2009, May). How and why peo- ple Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work. In Proceedings of the ACM 2009 international conference on Supporting group work (pp. 243-252). ACM. [14] Xiaojun, Z., & Venkatesh, V. (2013). Explaining employee job performance: The role of online and offline workplace com- munication networks. MIS Quarterly, 37(3), 695-A3. of social media may not be clearly seen in the bottomline. However the intangible ben- efits it brings can result in a more cohesive and united or- ganization that is both adapt- able and resilient. While social media looks to be the next step forward in the field of in- ternal communication, organiza- tion therefore need to understand it is not a simple tool to be used blindly. They will need to understand the benefits and risks involved before utilising social media to enhance their internal communication. We hope that our recommenda- tions will help corporate commu- nication practitioners be success- ful in embracing the future, and in reaping its benefits, especially in the fast-evolving and hyper-con- nected workplace.
  • 8. This publication is made by the students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) as part of a module requirement. All rights reserved. Nanyang Technological University.