Author(s), Title and Publication
Verheyden, M., & Cardon, P. (2018). Social software and internal communicators’ gatekeeping sense of self. Public Relations Review44(2), 299-307. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2017.12.004

Social software creates opportunities for internal communication. The authors of this study focused on how social software impacts the role of internal communication professionals. More specifically, they wanted to know how they align a traditional gatekeeping sense of self, developed during a time in which broadcasting was the norm, with the network structure found in social media. Recent research about external communication via social software has shown that professionals seldom use the interactive potential of social media to establish two-way “symmetrical communication” with their publics. One purpose of this study was to understand whether the unrealized potential of social software for symmetrical external communication was also the case for internal communication. Face-to-face, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 60 internal communication professionals from 54 large enterprises.

Results indicated that the internal communication professionals liked to think of themselves as spokespersons or advocates of the upper echelons in the organization’s hierarchy. A strong identification with management and a professional self-conception as management’s ideological agents led internal communication professionals to focus their attention on the use of communication as a way to nudge employees’ behavior in ways that would benefit the organization. Even though some respondents described their work in terms of “journalism”, descriptions of their activities bore more resemblance to bringing “the good news show” than it did to providing neutral information through independent journalism. Many respondents believed that providing information was not the goal in itself, only a means to achieve higher employee engagement levels. Only a handful of respondents spontaneously mentioned two-way interactions with internal stakeholders as being an integral part of their role as internal communication professionals. Their approach is prone to result in asymmetrical forms of communication with a strong emphasis on the unilateral push of information. Therefore, the nature of their activities still fits the classic definition of gatekeeping. Most interviewees were not openly negative towards the idea of interactivity or the use of social software. However, the concern of losing control over internal communication as a result of the more decentralized nature of social software platforms emerged from several interviews.

Implications for Practice
Internal communicators should be aware that they are (1) currently using social software predominantly as a one-way channel in the context of internal communications, and (2) attempting to control employees’ behavior on social media by means of filtering, monitoring and rule-setting. The resulting scenario of these practices could hamper the development of employee voice mechanisms, which in turn may lower employee engagement.

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

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