KNOWLEDGE BLOGS IN FIRM INTERNAL USE
M.Sc. (Econ.), Researcher
Lappeenranta University of Technology, School of Business
P.O.Box 20, 53851 Lappeenranta, Finland
Tel +358 5 621 7280
Fax +358 5 621 6699
M.Sc. (Econ.), Researcher
Lappeenranta University of Technology, Technology Business Research Center (TBRC)
P.O.Box 20, 53851 Lappeenranta, Finland
Tel +358 40 701 4407
Fax +358 5 621 6699
Ph.D. (Econ.), Professor
Lappeenranta University of Technology, School of Business
P.O.Box 20, 53851 Lappeenranta, Finland
Tel +358 5 621 7286
Fax +358 5 621 6699
KNOWLEDGE BLOGS IN FIRM INTERNAL USE
Knowledge sharing in today’s distributed organizations is a challenge. Hierarchical
structures may not support the fast flow of information or the efficient co-creation of
knowledge from specialized and tacit individual knowledge bases (see Grant, 1996, Miles
et al., 2000, Adler, 2001). There is therefore a need to devise new patterns for leveraging
dispersed knowledge within organizations and across organizational borders. In the
following we explore internal company weblogs as a potential new channel for sharing
knowledge and expertise.
Knowledge is deeply embedded in social interaction. Recent advances in ICT have led to
the production of social software, the primary purpose of which is knowledge sharing
(Teigland & Wasko, 2005). One example of this is the emergence of weblogs (or blogs),
personal Web pages that incorporate regular posts in reverse chronological order about a
particular topic, current events or personal thoughts and expression (Herring et al., 2004,
Blanchard, 2004, Wagner & Bolloju, 2005). Our focus is on internal knowledge blogs. A
small proportion of blogs could be classified as knowledge blogs, implying the online
equivalent of professional journals in which authors share new knowledge in their
professional domains: they report on their research progress, share references and make
observations (Wagner & Bolloju, 2005). However, the application of blogs in knowledge
management is a new phenomenon, and firms have been slow to do so. Current research
fails to promote understanding of the applicability of blogs in networked teams and
organizations, and of their role in the social processes of knowledge sharing and creation.
Thus we contribute to the emerging literature by exploring the critical factors involved in
applying internal company blogs. Most studies have addressed only the rational part of
mediated communication, i.e. the characteristics of communication technologies and their
capacity for managing and transferring information. Our aim in this paper is to include the
social perspective, and to provide a categorization that combines the rational-social and
individual-organizational dimensions. We then report on a mini-case study in order to
illustrate the identified factors. We argue that anyone wishing to exploit the potential of
knowledge sharing through internal blogs should understand their nature and
characteristics in order to be able to make the best possible media choices.
Knowledge blogs are used in internal communication for knowledge-sharing purposes
(Zerfass, 2005): to promote a shared understanding of the perspectives of CEOs and
employees (Dearstyne, 2005), to coordinate projects and present ideas, and to bridge the
gaps between individuals with various views in order to identify new trends in innovation
communities (Wagner & Bolloju, 2005). Knowledge sharing, collaboration and best
practices are endemic in blogs (Ojala, 2004).
Knowledge blogs appear at the intersection of professional communication and personal
reflection. They serve as an ideal medium for experts sharing an interest in a specific
topic: they enable storytelling, reflection, the capturing of information, and the sharing
thoughts or ideas, thus making individuals’ “hidden” processes more visible and
promoting both personal and collective learning (ibid., Röll, 2004, 2006). Thus, they can
offer business representatives a means for expanding the boundaries of knowledge
sharing and creation (Herring et al., 2004). Blogs as a social medium facilitate the sharing
of both objectified (codified) and collective knowledge (social/organizational practices
Approaches to computer-mediated communication
Theories of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have been categorized as rational
or social (see Kock, 2005, Webster & Trevino, 1995). The former rely on the hypothesis
of rationality and effectiveness, involving users who select the communication medium of
appropriate richness and level of social presence for each task. According to the early
theories regarding the effects of CMC, the “richer” the media are (i.e. the more they allow
nonverbal cues, provide immediate feedback, and convey personality traits), the better
suited they are to human-to-human interaction (Short et al., 1976, Daft & Lengel, 1986).
From a social perspective, alternative approaches concentrating on the applicability of
CMC have emerged, including the social-influence model devised by Fulk et al. (1990),
social information processing theory as developed by Walther (1996), and Lea and
Spears’ (1992) theory of social identity and de-individuation (SIDE). According to the
social-influence model, the technological features are not inherently decisive in the choice
of communication media, but they are influenced by social-group norms and membership
(Fulk et al., 1990, Markus, 1994). Walther (1996), in turn, suggests in his theory of social
information processing that the “cues-filtered-out” conditions in CMC do not prevent
relational communication, although social relationships take a longer time to develop in
computer-mediated groups than in face-to-face groups. The SIDE theory concerns
processes of social identification and self-categorization, i.e. in-group and out-group
membership (Lea & Spears, 1992). Attention should be paid to these processes given that
similarity with group members is believed to strengthen the individual’s identity, which in
turn has a positive effect on their willingness to co-operate (Järvenpää & Leidner, 1999,
Kramer et al., 1996).
THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE ARTICLE
In the following we discuss the critical factors involved in applying internal knowledge
blogs. Some of the issues are naturally also related to other organizational communication
media, but here we assess them in the context of blog communication, its defining
characteristics and patterns of use in organizations.
The nature of blog communication
We strongly believe that there should be conscious media choice in both firm-internal and
firm-external knowledge sharing and creation (Robert et al., 2005). In order to exploit
their concrete benefits, organizations should be aware of the strengths of blogs: they offer
continuity, they concentrate on one or a few topics, and they promote efficient
information management, the forming of networks around specific issues, the
maintenance of shared narratives and the telling of stories (Wagner & Bolloju, 2005, Röll,
2004, Cayzer, 2004). They also facilitate the building of personal identity/status and
simultaneously provide users with high connectivity, thus cultivating the development of
online networks. As a medium, they are time and space flexible as they do not tie the
receiver to a certain place or time. They also allow the receiver to process the message
until it is wholly understood, and to search for extra information to ease understanding or
to evaluate content and creditability. Blogs leave a record of the issues discussed, which
is an advantage in business situations, and typically offer easy access to additional
resources through hyperlinks, trackbacks (reverse hyperlinks) and other recommended
blogs (Cayzer, 2004, Herring et al., 2004).
High-presence media seem to set demands on us that cannot always be fulfilled as we are
not able to process so much information at once. Hence, Robert et al. (2005) came to the
conclusion that rich media with a high social presence may ease the exchange of simple
ideas, and hinder the exchange of more complex ideas (see Markus1
, 1994). This would
imply that blogs could be well suited to more complex information exchange, to
generating ideas, developing insights, and maintaining shared narratives (Wagner &
Bolloju, 2005). On the other hand, they must attract the attention of the receiver: such
low-presence media can be easily ignored (see Robert et al., 2005).
Individual motivation and competence
To be able to contribute through mediated communication, individuals have to possess the
necessary skills and knowledge (Vartiainen et al., 2003). There is also the crucial question
of motivation, as contribution requires time and effort (Kimble & Li, 2005). Articulating
ideas through writing and storytelling seems to be one of the major motives for blogging
According to Markus, 1994, less rich media are often used by managers for handling complex tasks.
(Nardi et al., 2004). It is also a means of self-regulated learning: reflecting on one’s own
learning and simultaneously accessing others’ reflections facilitate the development of a
collective understanding of a topic (Baggetun & Wasson, 2006). In general, the main
reason why people attach themselves to online social networks seems to be the motive to
gain access to valuable information and knowledge for their personal benefit (Wasko &
Faraj, 2000). It is probably employees’ intrinsic motivations that are decisive for active
participation in blogging. However, employee motivation can also be enhanced by
providing interesting content in the early stages of the implementation, and encouraging
the free exchange of ideas (Waterson, 2005, Nardi et al., 2004).
The role of technology
In general, blogs are free, lightweight and relatively easy to apply, as blogging software
offers a platform for Web publishing with no need for additional tools. They are also easy
to maintain. Much of the knowledge is in text form, possibly enhanced by multimedia
attachments (Herring et al., 2004, Kelleher & Miller, 2006). Syndication formats such as
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and Atom allow individual and community aggregators
to collect, merge and sort blogging data from the ever-growing contents of the
blogosphere (Cayzer, 2004).
Organizational policies and support
Kock (2005) stresses the fact that social influence may affect media choice, referring to
the study conducted by Markus (1994) showing that employees used email at the request
of managers even if they perceived it as a “poor” communication medium. Support from
managers and team leaders should be valued in the implementation of internal blogs.
According to Holtz (2005), it is also important for policies on employee blogging to be
clearly defined: the duality between personal reflections and professional status requires
explicit norms. For instance, general guidelines covering each author’s personal
responsibility should be provided – blogs convey individual thoughts and interactions, not
corporate communication. Blogging policies should be made explicit before the
implementation phase (Dearstyne, 2005) in order to prevent misuse of confidential or
proprietary information, for example.
The critical mass of users
The defining feature of communication technologies is that they require a certain
proportion of users, or a critical mass, and when this has been achieved their use should
spread rapidly: having a critical mass allows the users to reach the largest number of
people with the least effort (Markus, 1987). Blog communication provides users with
high connectivity, as it is easy to form social networks of people who share similar
interests. From the rational perspective, efficient communication still requires a number
of bloggers who regularly post their thoughts and comment on others’ posts. On the other
hand, growth in volume becomes a critical issue, as blogging networks require a balance
between enough connections and the amount of information: one individual can
reasonably manage only a certain number of community ties.
In order for knowledge sharing to succeed and be useful, organizations must value
open-minded and non-hierarchical idea exchange (Wagner & Bolloju, 2005), and share a
common ground with membership, identity and communication procedures, as the
organizational culture is the binding factor for collaboration (Kimble & Li, 2005, Huq,
Kelleher & Miller (2006) considered the potential advantages of organizational blogs over
websites in three experimental groups; they found that blogs were perceived to have a
more conversational tone, which appeared as an appropriate relational maintenance
strategy for virtual contexts. They also seemed to enhance identity building and
information richness through storytelling, which transfers personal and even tacit
knowledge (ibid., Röll, 2004). Both personal and collective identities may be built up
through blogging networks. Shared identity is critical for coordination as it lowers the
costs of communication, and establishes explicit and tacit rules of coordination and
influence. According to Kogut and Zander (1996), a shared identity leads to social
knowledge that supports coordination, communication and learning: it implies a moral
order, rules of exclusion, and norms of procedural justice. Some behavioral studies show
the critical role of group membership in attributing the “insiders” and “outsiders”, and
also suggest that attribution could ease potential dissonance between opportunism and
loyalty (ibid., Kramer et al., 1996).
A lack of trust may prevent knowledge sharing (Kimble & Li, 2005). In general, trust is a
multi-level concept. First, it takes self-confidence to be willing to express oneself openly
and to reveal one’s identity through blogging. Trust in the information and in the
competence of the author(s) is also required. Knowledge has to come from a trusted
source if it is to have a desirable effect on the receiver: processes of word-of-mouth are
inherent in blogging (see Torio, 2005). Sufficient trust in the enabling technology is also
needed, regardless of whether it is open-source software or a standardized company
offering. Finally, the employee needs to be confident enough to express her/himself
through blogs despite the possible threats and sanctions, such as being punished for
making local information transparent organization-wide (Dearstyne, 2005).
Figure 1 summarizes the ideas presented above in terms of the social-rational and
individual-organizational dimensions in applying blogs. We propose that the rationally
constructed factors provide the enabling structure for communication, while the actual
outcomes are determined by both the social and rational factors.
Understanding the nature of blog communication
Rational: features, time, place, level of presence Social: building identities, relationships
ease of use
Organizational policies and support
Individual competence and motivation
access to up-to-date information, reputation,
sharing and learning, enjoyment
Figure 1. The rational-social vs. individual-organizational dimensions and critical factors
in the application of internal knowledge blogs
A mini-case of applying blogs in a multinational firm
The following is a real-life story of blogs in practice in a large ICT company. The
mini-case demonstrates some success factors of knowledge blogs. We conducted a
one-and-a-half-hour telephone interview with four representatives of the company in
order to discuss why and how an internal blog platform had been implemented. The
interview was tape-recorded and transcribed. Earlier, one of the interviewees had
introduced his own wiki for research purposes. The use of wikis then expanded further,
and in January 2005 an internal blog platform was taken into use. Initially, the
organization did not support the development work: the evolution of wikis and blogs
unfolded “bottom-up”. However, later the key developer was rewarded for his efforts.
The use of blogs was minimal at first, but it expanded due to easy implementation and
use, word-of-mouth inside the company, and motivated people, who also blogged in their
spare time. Thus the critical mass of users was eventually reached. “People realized the
value of blogs …It serves as a means of internal marketing, i.e. ‘I know about this, so you
can ask me’. This, in turn, reduces internal overlap.” Bloggers are able to trust each
other’s ability, as blogs efficiently convey expertise. The existence of both intrinsic and
extrinsic motivations (personal status, enjoyment, access to valuable knowledge for
personal benefit, getting to know who knows what) was also implied: for the individuals
concerned, blogging was a means of capturing knowledge, gaining status and forming
relationships within the network. On the organizational level, blogs potentially increase
The interviewees explicitly described the differences between various communication
channels and awareness of the pros and cons of blogging. Due to their highly personal
nature, blogs carry an informal and conversational tone. They offer a more “human voice”
than other low-presence media. On the other hand, they represent “a shot in the dark,
where the echo may or may not resound…”. In this respect, e-mail was also strongly
contrasted to blogging: “E-mail is a channel of power, control and information-hiding.
This conflicts with the blogging culture, which is the equivalent of open-source ideology.
You want to share what you know.”
Thus the various cultures in organizations may conflict with each other and form barriers
to the use of knowledge blogs. “Very often people come and ask ‘Can I write this? Who
can publish it?’ The Net is still seen as it was with us, a highly official system. People do
not yet understand that blogging is about bringing the informal coffee-room discussions
into another kind of social space.” Again, the coin has two sides: sometimes bloggers
unwittingly broadcast confidential “coffee-room wisdom” and make it available
organization-wide. It is difficult to define company blog policies, and they seem to form
through trial and error.
The case could be summarized as follows. The process of internal knowledge blogs was
initiated by a small core group, the members of which were aware of the opportunities
and challenges of blogging, and were very familiar with technology-mediated social
interaction. A critical mass of users was reached due to processes of word-out-mouth and
related trust, employee motivation and the easy implementation of personal blogs. On the
other hand, the blogging culture is in its early stages and there is still uncertainty about its
role as a medium, and about personal authority in terms of making contributions. It is also
difficult to identify highly confidential issues from “knowledge to be shared”.
Theoretically, our paper contributes to the increasing understanding of how technology
changes the way in which people interact socially and exchange knowledge with each
other in a firm-internal context. We also categorized the critical factors involved in
applying knowledge blogs for internal purposes. On a practical level, we presented a
mini-case to illustrate the implementation process and the related critical factors.
The role of storytelling and expressing knowledge for its further construction and
refinement could be essential in the transfer of organizational knowledge (Brown, 2001,
Lave & Wenger, 1991, Brown & Duguid, 1991). Blogs seem to be a potential medium to
be applied in firm-internal knowledge sharing and creation in networked and virtual
organizations. They are conversational, inexpensive and easy to use, they allow
empowerment and the free expression of thought, and they convey expertise and
contribute to building personal and collective identities. However, identity building may
also lead to exclusive types of social networks if insufficient attention is paid to
developing a trust-inclusive organizational culture, offering employee education on how
to use blogs, and developing related organizational policies.
In the emerging field of the knowledge-management applications of blogs, the success
factors discussed above should be empirically validated and refined further. More
research is also needed in order to enhance understanding of blogs as socio-technological
innovations. Rice (1987) argues that, while computer-mediated communication systems
process information about innovations, they are also an innovation that organizations
must process, a phenomenon that has recently been illustrated in the development of blog
communication. However, it is apparent from our emerging understanding of the
co-evolution of innovations that organizations must also consider complementary and
administrative innovations, such as organizational structures and processes that support
the implementation of new communication technologies.
We identified several critical factors for applying internal knowledge blogs:
understanding the nature of blog communication, individual competence and motivation,
the role of technology, organizational policies and support, a critical mass of users, the
organizational culture, and trust.
Knowledge blogs may make organizational knowledge-sharing and related social
networks more transparent through their ability to build identities, mediate both personal
and collective knowledge, and serve as an institutional memory. They enhance
storytelling-type of knowledge-sharing, and thus contribute to the transferring of tacit
knowledge in networked and virtual organizations. They also have the potential to link
the informal and the formal organization, which is a major challenge for organizational
innovativeness (see Dougherty & Hardy, 1996). The formal organization may enhance the
application of blogs by promoting open communication and a culture of sharing, while
also providing technological and managerial support.
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A blog (or weblog) is a personal web page including regular posts in reverse
chronological order about a particular topic. (Herring et al., 2004, Blanchard, 2004,
Wagner & Bolloju, 2005)
Knowledge blog is a weblog for experts sharing an interest on a specific topic and for
documenting knowledge in their professional domains. (Wagner & Bolloju, 2005)
Organizational blog is a weblog that is endorsed by an organization and maintained by
its official or semi-official representative whose affiliations to the organization are public.
(Kelleher & Miller, 2006)
Media choice refers to the examination and selection of communication channels i.e. in
terms of media richness and the level of social presence. (Robert et al., 2005)
Social presence is the degree and type of mediated interpersonal contact and intimacy.
(Short et al., 1976)
Information richness refers to the ability of the media to transfer cues and provide
immediate feedback. (Daft & Lengel, 1986)
Knowledge management refers to a range of practices organizations use to identify,
distribute and leverage knowledge to gain competitive advantage.