How Effective is Enterprise Social Media in Internal Communication?

free essayThis chapter reflects the major findings of available literature on the topic and identifies the key themes reflected in focus groups, interviews, and survey. The chapter is aimed at establishing the relationship between the findings, the aim of the research, and the literature review. Moreover, it analyses whether the findings agree or disagree with the reviewed literature.

For the purpose of the current dissertation, the selected definition of internal communication by Kalla (2005) states that it is the “interactive two way communication process which should help achieve a shared understanding between employees and encourage others to take new ways of thinking.” From the research findings, it is evident that employees understand the importance and value of internal communication. For instance, one of the individuals from the first focus group stated that people, who used Yammer in their organization, did it in the wrong way. The respondents suggested that Yammer should be used to connect with people and understand their views, as opposed to it becoming another broadcast channel. It should also provoke discussions and build relationships through such deliberations. In addition, they suggested that it should be less formal, which would in turn reduce the level of politeness. Such sentiments indicate that employees understand the importance of internal communication, and they need to separate formal and informal communications. Different opinions on internal communication coincide with various definitions and descriptions given by various authors, including Verčič and Sriramesh (2012); Berger (2008); Munodawafa (2008); Grunig (1992); Likely (2008); and Lyn (2008). The internal information sharing is an important factor as it provides the people involved with an idea of what is happening within the organization, and makes them feel as a part of entity. Moreover, it provides them with such feeling as loyalty, which is essential for organizational performance. As indicated by Kalla (2005), an organization’s ability to share information internally can contribute to its competitive advantage. Thus, according to her study, the organizations that had effective internal communication procedures performed better. This finding agreed with the empirical results of Smith (2001). Some individuals from the second focus group suggested that it was essential to maintain a balance between work and social interactions within the organization, as they found this balance to enhance productivity. Therefore, internal communication is an essential factor within an organization, which needs to be maintained, and different platforms of communication have to be adopted with this goal, including enterprise social media. These findings agree with McAfee (2009a) and McAfee (2009b) on the importance to focus on the risks associated with communication, thus creating the necessity to adopt different approaches.

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Enterprise Social Media Understanding and Activity

The respondents expressed that they were quite active on the enterprise social media (ESM), with 50% of the respondents stating that they were semi-active, 36% were active, while only 14% were not active. It proves that social media plays an important role both in the business and personal platforms. However, the participation rate of most people on the enterprise social media reduced due to inadequate training on its use, as well as, lack of awareness on different activities it could perform. Training is essential as indicated by O’Reilly (2007). The findings from the first focus group showed that one of the inactive users believed that even if the ESM was aligned with the company’s expectations, she would not become active due to the amount of pushback experienced from other employees and leaders. Therefore, some employees experience pressure when they engage in the ESM within their organization. There is a close relationship between the use of contemporary social media outside the work environment, and the use of ESM (Smith, Hansen & Gleave 2009). The use of social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, may influence the ability of individuals to adopt ESM at the workplace (Duggan et al. 2015). The results from the first focus group showed that a few active users of ESM found it appropriate to post whatever they found interesting on their LinkedIn profile on the company’s ESM platform. When asked about the use of the other social media platforms in their personal lives, one interviewee said, “No, I am actually against Facebook, I have never wanted to use it and don’t want to use it.” In addition, some claimed that they have never heard about Twitter. On the contrary, two interviewees confirmed that they used social media, and one of them said that he/she used it only for personal purposes. One question required the interviewees to state whether they had been on ESM, since they received their account. One of them said, “Yes I have been on to follow the leadership workshop two years ago, but it is not a reflect and although [name of other department] is very active, the organization I work in is not.” Another interviewee said, “Yes I have been posting when there is a big message.” One respondent, who has a role of a leader in the company, expressed interest in ESM, saying, “Yes I have been reading the updates, it is interesting to see people’s views on different topics. And I am part of some groups.” It shows that management is supportive of ESM, what encourages all employees to utilize the network.

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The first focus group also showed that employees required much from their leaders in reference to ESM participation. It appears that the leaders hardly ever post or engage with others in ESM, and only create posts when they are asked to do so, and, otherwise, they are reluctant to post anything even if they agree that it is important. The findings from the interviews with some executive members of the companies indicated that inactivity of most workers resulted from the lack of training on Enterprise Social Media. The four interviewees included the two chief of manufacturing sites, and two executives. All four interviewees stated that they did not receive any training on ESM, and they were all willing to learn and expand their knowledge about the use of platform. It indicated that other employees probably did not have any trainings on ESM, which could be a main reason for inactivity experienced. The interview results also agreed with survey findings, in which 74% of respondents stated that they felt that it was necessary to receive training on ESM. The employees and their insights coincided with the findings of Leahy (2014), who stated that most of the respondents in her study stated that they felt it was necessary to receive training on the use of social media within companies, while some of them stated that during their induction, they received such training. Similar, Carter (2014) claimed that training in relation to the use of social media within the organization to assist with communication is essential.

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Time Spent by Employees on ESM

Social media has become a part of personal lives of most people throughout the world, and it would be ideal to understand how to incorporate it in their daily business lives. The findings indicated that on average, 86% of the respondents spent less than 30 minutes, while 7% spent between 30 and 60 minutes, and another 7% spent more than one hour on ESM daily. There were numerous reasons explaining the amount of time that people spent on ESM. It was evident that most people spent less time of ESM, since they did not find the posts useful and most of the individuals that they wished to communicate with were also not active on the platform. In addition, some of the respondents stated that they did not find the posts were irrelevant, and, thus, viewed the platform as a waste of time. Due to the fact that some people posit their personal social issues on the platform, as it acts as both as a social and a business site, the content does not always attract attention of employees. In addition, some posts may be technical and related to a specific division of the organization, and some employees may find them unrelated. The content is often a major hindrance to the use of ESM by employees. As one of the respondents to the survey stated, “ESM is too cluttered with useless information.” Some of the respondents indicate that their working schedule was tight and they did not find time to browse often through the network. In addition, some respondents suggested that it was useful for specific groups of people, but not for the general population of an organization. Some of the employees believed that information was also available elsewhere, and they did not have to use ESM to access it. Another major issue that discourages employees from joining ESM is email overload, which is common with subscriptions to social media platforms. One of the respondents stated, “If you join a platform you will receive almost fifty to one hundred emails per day related to posts and comments by the people.” However, it is important to note that this problem can be solved through trainings, as most of the platforms that send emails let the individuals unsubscribe from notifications by clicking on a given link included in the email. As such, the problem indicates the need to train employees when an organization intends to use ESM in their internal communications (Cheney & Christensen 2001). One more reason that was raised by some of the respondents was that they preferred to use other more traditional means of communication including emails, telephone calls and face-to-face meeting as opposed to using ESM.

How It Works

Use of ESM in organizations

The research findings have shown directly and indirectly the different purposes of ESM. The results included both business and social oriented uses of ESM within organizations. The respondents of the survey, who were knowledgeable on the use of ESM, listed a wide variety of activities that they were conducting on the network. The function that was used by most of the employees included liking posts by other people and commenting on other people’s comments. The third function that people used the most was posting statuses. According to employees, these are the major functions of ESM. In addition to the three functions listed above, the other functions that received the attention of employees included tagging other users to posts, creating groups, hash-tagging, uploading resources, live chats, poll and praise, as well as, using mobile and desktop applications. In addition, 24% of the respondents stated that they preferred to use ESM for sharing, while 16% chose learning as their main reason for using ESM. 14% intended to use the network to stay updated on what was happening in the business world, while 13% would use it to build project teams. 9% believed that it would be useful to engage in ESM to interact with colleagues on both business and social issues. Sharing is also one of the main issues that were raised by Mäkelä, Kalla, and Piekkari (2004). According to the authors, it is a mean of communication within MNEs. In response to the type of information that employees wanted to see on ESM, 60% of respondents stated that they wished to observe both social and casual information. On the contrary, 21% of the survey respondents said that they would like to see work-based information, while 19% selected casual information as their preference on ESM. One of the questions that executive interviewees were asked required them to state whether they were aware of the functions of ESM. However, the results of the interview showed that three of four interviewees knew the functions of ESM. The one who said that he/she did not know its functions stated that all he/she knew was that it sent a weekly email to the inbox, and he/she was not aware of any other functions, such as, tagging and creating groups.

There were also different suggestions from the respondents on how they felt it was appropriate to use ESM. The suggestion was to have leaders post their ideas on these platforms. The respondents believed that it would be a compelling case to draw in users. Leaders should introduce authentic conversations and present honest opinions and views. One of the respondents suggested that the posts on these platforms should start organic discussions, and talk less about corporate issues. It should also be presented in a way that employees experience on the intranet is different and, thus, worth the effort. Receiving honest responses from leaders was also raised, as one of the changes that employees felt was necessary to attract more users. Their opinions agree with the findings of Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman (2010) as well as DiMicco et al. (2008). They suggested that the platforms could be used as tools to guide the people on how to use the ESM. With different individuals, stating that the platform would be useful for social interactions among different parties, agreed the research by Leonardi, Huysman, and Steinfield (2013), who identified ESM to be a platform that would allow socialisation within organizations. Leonardi et al. (2013) also added that the ESM is an opportunity for employees of a given organization to:

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(1) communicate messages with specific co-workers or broadcast messages to everyone in the organization; (2) explicitly indicate or implicitly reveal particular co-workers as communication partners; (3) posts, edit, and sort text and files linked to themselves or others; and (4) view the messages, connections, text, and files communicated, posted, edited and sorted by anyone else in the organization at any time of their choosing. (Leonardi et al. 2013)

ESM containing information that some people find irrelevant can be compared to a leaky pipe, since the directionality of the particular communication and its content are visible to other people who are not engaged in the dialogue (Muller 2012). Therefore, although the information is shared for an intended audience, numerous other people can take into account the information, and become aware of affairs within the organization. It is true that in some cases, individuals need certain information they share to stay private. In such cases, it is important to use private messaging functions of ESM, or other communication tools. Zhao and Rosen (2009) state that it is possible for people to learn what others are doing by being exposed to leaky information. In addition, third parties, as they get exposed to the information that is shared by different people, learn the information, what can have implications on the development and maintenance of one’s social capital within their organization. Coleman (1988) defined social capital as actionable resources that are accumulated via having relationships with other people. Zhao and Rosen (2009) also add that exposure to communication of others referred to as “people based RSS feed” can help an individual to stay up-to-date with what is going on in other people’s minds. Therefore, ESM can be used by people to learn about other people within the organization, by reading what they post or share on the ESM. As stated by Brzozowski (2009), when ESM information is aggregated, it can be used by employees as a way of orienting themselves in the organization with respect to who and what others know. However, it is also good to note that some people may not express their thought and act as they usually do when they know that either they are being watched, or their information can be viewed by multiple parties, especially in organization (Nardi, Whittaker & Schwarz 2008; Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995; Nonaka, Umemoto, & Senoo 1996).

The ESM can also be seen as an echo chamber, since similarly to the internet, it has the ability to link individuals to their preferred content. Therefore, it acts an echo chamber where people with similar ideas connect and individual with conflicting ideas are avoided (Singer 2011). It indicates that individuals that operate in ESM have an opportunity to decide whether they want to share their ideas with people, they interact with, or they want to avoid them. This explains the findings of the current research, which revealed that some people complain that ESM is a source if irrelevant ideas, and as a result they avoid it. It is evident that there are people who find such information relevant and useful, and as a result, they enjoy using ESM. However, the echo metaphor, even though it has been related to the social media, has a limited application in ESM. However, it does illustrate the tension that exists between the benefits of personalisation, and the threats of balkanisation. Personalisation assists in finding people and content that have similar interests. On the other hand, balkanisation reduces the exposure to new ideas and aggravate differences, which may lead to conflicts and result in reduced cooperation (Leonardi et al. 2013). In the second focus group, one of the points that were raised stated that ESM provided a platform for individuals to interact without involving the senior management. It provided freedom for employees to interact in close groups and enabled them to share their thoughts and sentiments without fear that a member of management team may trace the source of information.

It is important for social network interactions to run smoothly in order to maintain the organizational social fabric. Informal networks are lubricated by social embeddedness, and this can be experienced using ESM (Agterberg, Hooff, Huysman & Soekijad 2010). According to the current research findings, the respondents believed that ESM gave an opportunity to maintain social interactions within the organization. These results agree with the findings of Agterberg et al. (2010). It was evident in the interviews that were conducted with executive members, who indicated being barely involved in ESM within their organization. It emerged that they were willing and persuaded to use ESM if everyone in the organization was using it. In response to the question on whether it would persuade them to use ESM if everyone was engaged in the network, one chief of manufacturing said, “Yes, if I feel like I am truly missing out on stuff, I will definitely become more active. Pictures and photos would attract my attention so I am more likely to comment.” The other manager of manufacturing responded on the same question, saying, “Yes, but it will be very difficult for my direct team to all use ESM. We are all on the floor all the time and we are the management team, it won’t be possible for others to use it because they do not have a company laptop or phone. I don’t even know if the company ever created IDs for those people, they probably don’t know themselves.” This is an indication of ESM being an effective communication tool within the organization. It is expected that the use of ESM will help employees to overcome temporal, epistemic, special, and cognitive boundaries. It will promote the development of new connections, and serendipitous meetings, which in turn will open new possibilities for connectivity and collaborations (Marwick 2011).

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Conclusion

The main objective of this dissertation was to explore the effectiveness of social media in the internal communication of multinational organizations. The results indicated that most of the interviewees were supportive of the idea, and they had experience in using it, which made their views and opinions valid. In general, there was an agreement that the use of ESM was essential for the internal communication within organizations. However, there were different suggestions on what should be done to improve its usability and experience of users. It became apparent that the respondents believed that it was important to make the value of ESM clear, and to have the leaders using it, as they would attract the rest of the team to engage in communication. ESM was also described as platform of duplicating information, which made it unattractive to the users. It is important to separate the issues connected to this platform. Moreover, the dissertation discussed specific barriers to the use of the platform. It emerged that since it was a place mainly aimed at informal interactions, it became difficult to have people from different age groups using the same network. Limited time was also seen as one of the hindrances to the use of the platform. The overall impression was that ESM is used by the MNEs as a tool of internal communication.