Author(s), Title and Publication
Maiorescu, R. D. (2017). Using online platforms to engage employees in unionism. The case of IBM. Public Relations Review.

While upper management can impede employee participation in activism in offline settings, the possibilities of engagement in activism are limitless online. The present study examines how online union communication emerges and by assessing whether it is strategic and engaging enough to foster increased online interaction. With this purpose, the study used the case of IBM´s employees union and collected data from its official Facebook account, Watching IBM, over a period of nine months in the aftermath of layoffs and offshoring allegations. The final sample of analysis consisted of Facebook posts made by both IBM’s employees (N = 1344) and the company’s union (N = 309). The author adapted three predictors of online contributions, namely self-efficacy, group norm, and social identity to ascertain the degree to which the online communication of IBM’s union was effective in triggering an online community.

The results revealed that the union’s communication revolved around social identity in a proportion of 4.8% as posts failed to convey a sense of belonging to a unique group whose purpose was to trigger organizational changes. A similar low presence was found for the constructs that made reference to group norms (3.1%) and self-efficacy (2.8%). Much of the union’s efforts denoted a one-way communication style meant to inform on the latest developments at IBM and the managerial decisions regarding offshoring. Surprisingly, the analysis for the users’ online contributions to the group revealed that identification emerged in 19.4% of the coded posts, a relatively high presence given the low extent to which the union’s communication focused on increasing social identification. Overall, the results of this analysis show that, despite the fact that the union failed to engage the company’s employees online to generate increased interactivity, to a certain degree users contributed to the group, sought out, and shared information. Their impetus for online activism could have stemmed from the uncertainty caused by their precarious positions as well as from the lack of a communication channel with IBM’s leadership.

Implications for Practice
Unions should (1) use an inclusive communication style (“we”, “together,” “our,” etc.) to engender identification with the cause, (2) increase the followers’ self-efficacy by urging user to contribute online, delegating certain online tasks to specific users, and discussing the progress the unions have made, and (3) communicate about the norms and rules of the online community, as these would determine the quality and frequency of comments.

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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