This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Center.

Enterprise social media (ESM) refers to web-based platforms that enable employees to post, view information, and interact with everyone in organizations. This study examined why and when ESM can foster employee innovation in the workplace. ESM enables high levels of communication visibility (the extent to which third parties easily see what content others exchange and with whom they share the content.) The researchers argued that communication visibility afforded by ESM would promote employees’ voice behavior (i.e., the expression of challenging and change-oriented ideas to improve organizational performance). This is because high communication visibility can aid employees to tailor their voice content to be relevant, useful, and more acceptable for the voice receivers. The authors further proposed that employees’ expression of ideas to address a specific organizational problem or issue could generate employee innovation behaviors, which involve collecting and applying new ideas at work.

The authors also analyzed employees’ personality traits. They hypothesized that employees with a promotion focus (i.e., those who focus on growth and development and are sensitive to gains) are more likely to speak out and engage in innovation when the level of communication visibility is high. In contrast, those with a prevention focus (i.e., those who are sensitive to losses) would likely avoid risks and not engage in voice behavior.

The authors conducted a field experiment at a large company in the service industry with over 1,000 employees in Northeast China. The company adopted Enterprise WeChat as its ESM. While some departments have started to use the new function of Enterprise WeChat, which is distinguished by high communication visibility (e.g., employees can freely post and share work-related content), other departments continued to use the old simple version of Enterprise WeChat, which is low in communication visibility. The authors sampled 154 employees from departments that employed the new function of Enterprise WeChat and 102 employees from departments that were using the old WeChat. Overall, there were about 60% of male participants, and a majority of participants were between 26-35 years old.

Key Findings
1.) Participants in the high communication visibility condition (i.e., new version of Enterprise WeChat) tended to voice more ideas than those in the low communication visibility condition (i.e., old version of Enterprise WeChat).
2.) Communication visibility increased employees’ voice behavior, which in turn, promoted employee innovation behavior.
3.) Communication visibility has a stronger positive effect on employee voice behavior and innovation behavior among employees who are promotion-focused.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should 1.) make employees aware of the communication visibility afforded by ESM, 2.) consider introducing ESM into the workplace to facilitate employee voice and employee innovation, and 3.) implement strategies to improve the promotion focus of employees.

Liang, L., Zhang, X., Tian, G., & Tian, Y. (2021). An Empirical Study of the Effect of Communication Visibility on Innovation Behavior. Management Communication Quarterly, 08933189211053875. Online Advanced Publication.

Location of Article
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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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