Author(s), Title and Publication
Madsen, V. T. (2018). Participatory communication on internal social media–a dream or reality? Findings from two exploratory studies of coworkers as communicators. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 23(4), 614-628. doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-04-2018-0039
Internal social media (ISM) has been recognized as a communication and information sharing opportunity where organizational members may not only share knowledge, but voice opinions, and create connections socially across hierarchies. Such participative communication has been commended for its ability to democratize organizations and empower employees, which is key to engaging employees. While employee engagement can benefit organizations through employees’ increased productivity, customer service, and organizational citizenship behaviors, organizations have been relatively slow to embrace internal social media as a tool for engagement. For those who have adopted ISM, the question remains whether its purpose is participatory in nature, or whether ISM simply becomes another organizational channel for information dissemination.
Three case studies among multiple organizations comprised of in-depth interviews and textual analyses, two among ISM coordinators, and one among coworkers (employees) were used to gain insight on the use of internal social media. In particular, how coworker communication developed when ISM was introduced into an organization and to what extent the ISM created a new kind of participatory organizational communication were explored among organizations of varying size, function, and using varying social media platforms. Overall, three types of communication arenas reveal in organizations using ISM: (1) quiet arena, one-way communication from one or more departments (2) knowledge-sharing arena, multi-directional communication from multiple participants that develops into shared knowledge, (3) participatory-communication arena, multi-vocal communication where different voices interact about products, customers, organizational identity and other topics that develops into sensemaking. Findings indicate infrequent participatory communication among ISM coordinators, or the presence of a quiet arena. The majority of communication and knowledge-sharing was one-way from the IT, marketing or communication department, and featured very little dialogue. Participatory communication among coworkers, however, was more common and related most frequently to understanding the organization’s identity. Occurring predominantly in a participatory-communication arena, coworkers’ discussions were often positive, and constructive rather than challenging, and contributed to new organizational meanings.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) consider internal social media as an interactive and dynamic component of a strategic communication plan that improves with leaders who listen, and who ask for and incorporate employee input, (2) focus on developing a knowledge-sharing arena to engage employees by inviting employees and leaders at all levels to participate on ISM, and (3) focus on developing a participatory-communication arena to empower employees by working to develop employee trust to reduce potential self-censorship, and by offering employees a “license to critique” the organization.
Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1108/CCIJ-04-2018-0039 (abstract free, purchase full article)