Jiang, Hua, Luo, Yi, & Kulemeka, Owen (2017). Strategic social media use in public relations: Professionals’ perceived social media impact, leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 11, 18-41.
The deliberate use of social media tools has become an integral part of strategic communication strategies for organizations to gain competitive advantages. Given the central organizational role of leaders, it is thus imperative to study how leaders can strategically adopt these communication technologies as vital resources to achieve organizational goals and to create opportunities to advance their leadership behaviors. As an unintended consequence of social media management and leadership performance, increasing job responsibilities may potentially lead to a high level of work-life conflict, which may result in adversarial outcomes such as burnout, turnover intentions, and reduced commitment. Using the E-leadership theory from the management literature as an umbrella framework, this study examined the impact of social media use on communication professionals’ strategic communication work, leadership behaviors, and their perceptions of work- life conflict. Particularly, this study marked a pioneering initiative to investigate how communication professionals’ strategic social media practices relate to the positive and negative impact of social media use upon their work, how their strategic social media practices and the impact of social media use in specific strategic communication functions influence professionals’ leadership behaviors, and finally how social media use, its impact, and professionals’ leadership behaviors are all associated with their perceived occupational well-being.
Via SurveyMonkey, the authors conducted an online survey of communication professionals (N = 458) at U.S.-based corporations, nonprofit associations, government and military organizations, professional services companies, educational institutions, among a variety of other organizations. Based on a list of 4,700 organizations, the authors and their research assistants sent solicitation emails and several rounds of follow-up emails between October, 2013 and March, 2014.
Using Facebook and YouTube in their work and engaging in proactive environmental scanning helped E-leaders in communication departments enhance their leadership.
The use of YouTube in strategic communication, social media use in media relations, employee/internal communications, and cause-related marketing/social marketing were identified as significant positive predictors of the enhancing impact of social media use.
Social media use in crisis management and employee communications significantly, positively predicted professionals’ perceptions of social media’s aggravating impact (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload) on their work.
The use of Facebook and YouTube in strategic communication, the use of social media in environmental scanning, as well as the positive and negative impact of social media use all significantly and positively predicted communication professionals’ leadership behaviors.
Strategic social media use enhanced communication professionals’ leadership behaviors even when it contributed to heavier workload, longer working hours, and increased job stress.
When the unintended negative effects of social media use occurred, communication professionals perceived a low control over their work and thereby experienced a high level of time-based and strain-based work-life conflict.
Public affairs/governmental relations professionals who were frequent users of social media for their work reported a high level of strained-based work-life conflict.
Implications for Practice
First, this study has provided pioneering and much-needed evidence for communication professionals to link the enhancing as well as aggravating effects of social media use on the completion of work-related communication tasks, specific strategic communication functions, and work-life conflict. Particularly as the results suggest, the more frequently communication professionals use YouTube for job purposes, the more they realize the way social media practices could enhance their work. A strategic and extensive social media use in media relations, employee/internal communications, and cause-related marketing/social marketing will help communication professionals to improve their ability to do their job, increase their productivity, obtain more flexibility in the work hours, enhance their ability to share their ideas with coworkers, and strengthen their professional relationships. On the other hand, an intensive use of Twitter in communication work and using social media tools in employee communication and crisis management led communication professionals to feel increases in workload and job stress.
Second, this study reveals that E-leaders can advance their leadership by using Facebook and YouTube to understand an organization’s internal and external environments, adapt communication strategies to accomplish organizational goals, inspire other organizational members to share common visions reflecting key organizational values, facilitate team collaboration across different organizational units, adhere to professional standards and codes of ethics, cultivate mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its strategic publics, participate in internal strategic decision making, and apply communication knowledge to develop effective communication strategies. Furthermore, this study showed that the enhancing and aggravating impact of social media use completely mediated the influence of the use of Twitter, YouTube, and social media use in employee/internal communications, cause-related marketing/social marketing, media relations, and crisis management on professionals’ leadership behaviors. Communication leaders thus need to be cognizant that their social media use can indirectly influence how they play their leadership role in communication management.
Third, results of this study strongly suggest that managers think about how the intensive use of social media may affect employees’ physical and psychological well-being. Despite the advantages (e.g., flexible working hours, improved work productivity, additional time to fulfill other non-work responsibilities, etc.), technologically mediated work renders unintended negative consequences (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload, more stress, etc.), which in turn contribute to a high level of conflict between employees’ work and personal life. Particularly, the more social media tools that professionals used in practicing public affairs/governmental relations, the higher their perceived level of stain-based work-life conflict. Public affairs/governmental relations professionals therefore may need extra supportive resources and networks to help them reconcile the conflict and be better off in both professional and personal arenas.
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