This article summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communications Research Center. 

In distributed work settings, the development and maintenance of social connectivity can be challenging due to the lack of face-to-face contacts, shared experiences, and common ground. To address this concern, global organizations often adopt enterprise social media (ESM) to facilitate relationship building and maintenance. The authors of the current study focused on disentangling the complex influences of ESM use on distributed workers’ social connectivity in the context of a global organization.

The study was conducted at International Connections (IC, a pseudonym), a global high-tech organization employing 274 employees that provides software and service for product design. Its headquarters were located in the United States and its subsidiaries were dispersed in South America, East Asia, South Asia, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe. To collect quantitative data, the authors conducted an online survey. In total, 214 employees completed the survey. To capture full network data, participants were provided with the complete roster of employees to identify their contacts for task-related knowledge sharing.

Key Findings

1) The use of ESM for public communication is positively associated with globally dispersed workers’ network size.

2) The use of ESM for public communication is positively associated with betweenness centrality (i.e., the propensity for individuals to lie in the path of unconnected individuals, thereby supporting the formation of cross-boundary connections).

3) The use of ESM for public communication is positively associated with E-I index based on hierarchical levels. The E-I index is used as a way to assess organizational members’ cross-boundary connections based on attributes. The E-I index examines the ratio of external ties to all existing ties, indicating the proportion of one’s connections beyond the immediate group to which one belongs. Therefore, the study found that employees who use the public communication via ESM are more likely to build external connections beyond their hierarchical group.

4) Private group communication on ESM is negatively associated with one’s network size and betweenness centrality.

5) Workers at headquarters have a significantly larger network size and betweenness centrality that workers at subsidiaries.

Implications for practice
Organizations should 1) invest managerial effort in observing and examining initial perceptions and usage patterns to understand whether the use of the technology supports or hinders the intended goal of implementation; 2) both organizations and employees should acknowledge that the use of technologies may result in ambivalent or unexpected outcomes, betraying managerial intentions, and 3) be aware that regarding the use of ESM, public or visible communication may be best suited for cross-boundary knowledge sharing, whereas private or invisible communication can better serve within-team collaborations.

Heewon Kim, PhD., is an assistant professor at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. Kim examines organizational, social, and health implications of technology use in a variety of settings including global high-tech organizations, technology-consulting firms, healthcare organizations, and start-ups. Her primary research investigates how disparate patterns of technology use both reflect and refract existing organizational dynamics and structures, such as knowledge-sharing practice, status hierarchies, and participation. 

Andrew Pilny, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Kentucky. His main research areas concerns the develop of effective organizing social systems and structures. His research has been applied to nonprofit organizations, social movement groups, work teams, and dark organizations.

Author(s), Title and Publication
Kim, H., & Pilny, A. (2019). The use of enterprise social media and its disparate effects on the social connectivity of globally dispersed workers. International Journal of Business Communication, 1-19. DOI: 10.1177/2329488419877233

Location of Article
This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase 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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