Topic: Digital Communication in the Workplace

Authors, Title and Publication

Leonardi, P. M., Huysman, M., & Steinfield, C. (2013). Enterprise social media: Definition, history, and prospects for the study of social technologies in organizations. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(1), 1-19.


This review article explored what consequences—positive and negative—social media used for communication and interaction within the workplace may have for organizations. The researchers defined enterprise social media (ESM) as Web-based platforms that allow workers to (1) communicate messages with specific coworkers or broadcast messages to everyone in the organization; (2) explicitly indicate or implicitly reveal particular coworkers as communication partners; (3) post, 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.

According to the researchers, the emergence of ESM had typically followed one of three primary paths into organizational contexts: (1) use of publicly available sites like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter; (2) private implementations of open source or proprietary software, either installed on a company’s own servers or acquired as a hosted (cloud-based) software service; or (3) in-house proprietary solutions, often built as prototypes by software vendors for later incorporation into commercial offerings.

The authors characterized three roles that social media played inside the organization: ESM as a Leaky Pipe, ESM as an Echo Chamber, and ESM as a Social Lubricant. The metaphor of ESM as a Leaky Pipe suggested that the directionality of a particular communication (to whom it was directed) and the content of that communication (what the parties involved actually said to each other) was visible to people not involved in it. This could influence organizational knowledge sharing and employee abilities to form relationships and build social capital. The ESM as an Echo Chamber illustrated the tensions between the benefits of personalization – which facilitated finding people and content with similar interests—and the dangers of balkanization—which would reduce exposure to new ideas and exacerbate differences that could result in conflict or reduced cooperation. Finally, by acting as a social lubricant, ESM contributed to the development of social capital within the organization.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should 1) understand the opportunities and challenges that ESM could bring for employee communications; 2) utilize ESM for internal relationship management, social capital, and community building; and 3) analyze social relations and produce insights based on social analytics.

Location of Article

The article is available online at:  (Free to download full 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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