Amsterdam Center for Social Media

The Three Shades of Social Media Use in Organizations: @ work, 4 work, as work

By Nicoleta Bălău

The use of social media technologies, such as blogs, wikis, social networking sites, social tagging, and microblogging is proliferating at an incredible pace (Treem & Leonardi, 2012). As social media users, people benefit from information sharing, networking and relationship building within, outside and across organizational boundaries. Moreover, to ensure competitive advantage and especially in today’s knowledge-intensive economy, organizations also increasingly invest in new technologies for knowledge management. However, although social media presents clear benefits for individuals as well as for organizations, many knowledge sharing projects fail. Researchers more and more move their attention to explain factors that may encourage or hinder individual information sharing behavior and this is done also through the social media lenses. When practitioners try, for instance, to have a better control of the influence social media have in organizations, they face challenges raised not necessarily by the use of new technologies but by individual motivations (Gibbs, Rozaidi, & Eisenberg, 2013). In other words, with the widely-accepted reality that ‘knowledge is power’, constant is the challenge to stimulate individual information sharing.

I decided to fill in the blank space of today’s blog post with three specific perspectives practitioners could consider to help them reflect on how social media may inform new ways of working within organizations. Of course, these perspectives could also guide future research but they build on previous research to create, at this point, echoes in practice. I propose therefore three shades of social media use in organizations: at work, for work and as work. Below, I elaborate on each of them. Before that, as shown in Figure 1, social media use is driven by individual motivations such as altruism, expertise recognition as well as the expectation that other people will reciprocate your knowledge contribution.

Figure 1

The first shade of social media use — employees use social media @ work
It is up to decision makers to decide whether this has positive or less positive implications for their organizations. I provide here only two arguments for each side of the argument. First, in supporting the idea that social networking sites represent a positive distraction for employees, Alloway and Alloway (2012) showed that Active SNS users turn distractor stimuli in an attentional test into useful networking information; they also develop certain profiles of attentional control that make them more accurate in evaluation, missing less target stimuli compared with Passive SNS users (Alloway & Alloway, 2012). This profile fits well with reports that Facebook users are frequently bombarded with what can appear as driven—random comments, status updates and so on. Moreover, research has recently shown that social networking sites foster relationships and increase the feeling of connection with other people also when status updates are positive and entertaining (Utz, 2015). Second, in supporting the idea that SNS represent a negative distraction for employees, a relatively recent study of Rooksby and Sommerville (2012) investigated the social network site use in a UK Government department. Results showed that the existence of several social network technologies in use misalign with and problematize organisational boundaries, blur boundaries between working and social lives.


The second shade of social media use — employees use social media 4 work
Several companies have already been using social networking sites (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010) to support the creation of brand communities (Muniz & O’Guinn, 2001) or for marketing research in the context of netnography (Kozinets, 2002). Since September 2007, 1800Flowers.com has been offering a widget on Facebook called ‘‘Gimme Love’’ whereby users can send ‘‘virtual bouquets’’ to friends or, with a click of the mouse, be directly transferred to the company’s website to send real flowers. In this particular case, Facebook is used as a distribution channel of flowers. Thus, besides the ‘traditional’ LinkedIn and Twitter, even Facebook serves work-related purposes; SNS were found to improve efficiency in accessing knowledge or in increasing the number of business contacts (Magnier-Watanabe, Yoshida, & Watanabe, 2010).


The third shade of social media use — employees use social media as work
It was only a matter of time before getting to this state of affairs. In their recent article, Leonardi and Meyer (2015) claim that social media is a social lubricant, it can lubricate stuck knowledge, such as how, when, and in what way to ask your colleagues for the desired knowledge. 81 employees of a large telecommunication company, TeleMobile, in Lima, Peru, participated in an anonymous online survey; participants were also registered as users of Chatter (Salesforce.com, 2014), an enterprise social networking site for organizations, aiming to facilitate communication and knowledge-sharing processes. Essentially, the authors Leonardi and Meyer (2015) found that knowledge transfer is made easier by the fact that “enterprise social networking sites make other peoples’ communication visible and knowledge seekers can gather information about the knowledge and its source simply by watching his or her actions through the technology, even if they never interacted with the source directly themselves” (Leonardi & Meyer, 2015, p. 10).


As a final note, organizations increasingly call for assessments of the need for institutionalization of social media use. Managers need to be able to effectively encourage a tailored approach towards social media use in their organizations. A certain strategy may depend, for instance, on work-related tasks, different in terms of time required to be accomplished, difficulty and on the type of information (e.g., personal, organizational) that needs to circulate within, outside as well as across organizations. As previously stated, researchers’ interest grows in understanding this dynamic context. The study of DiStaso, McCorkindale, and Wright (2011) even calls for social media training in organizations. The authors claim that the training must include not only a focus on how to use certain tools, but also how to determine what tools to use and how to effectively measure their use. Companies must be prepared to efficiently navigate through the ever changing landscape of social media tools as each day brings new forms of social media. In this respect, this blog aimed to represent a guiding source for decision makers.



DiStaso, M. W., McCorkindale, T., & Wright, D. K. (2011). How public relations executives perceive and measure the impact of social media in their organizations. Public Relations Review, 37(3), 325-328. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.06.005

Leonardi, P. M., & Meyer, S. R. (2015). Social Media as Social Lubricant: How Ambient Awareness Eases Knowledge Transfer. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(1), 10-34. doi: 10.1177/0002764214540509

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Alloway, T. P., & Alloway, R. G. (2012). The impact of engagement with social networking sites (SNSs) on cognitive skills. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(5), 1748-1754. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.04.015

Gibbs, J. L., Rozaidi, N. A., & Eisenberg, J. (2013). Overcoming the “Ideology of Openness”: Probing the Affordances of Social Media for Organizational Knowledge Sharing. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(1), 102-120. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12034

Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons, 53(1), 59-68. doi: 10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003

Kozinets, R. V. (2002). The field behind the screen: Using netnography for marketing research in online communities. Journal of Marketing Research, 39(1), 61-72. doi: 10.1509/jmkr.

Magnier-Watanabe, R., Yoshida, M., & Watanabe, T. (2010). Social network productivity in the use of SNS. Journal of Knowledge Management, 14(6), 910-927. doi: 10.1108/13673271011084934

Muniz, A. M., & O’Guinn, T. C. (2001). Brand community. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(4), 412-432.

Rooksby, J., & Sommerville, I. (2012). The Management and Use of Social Network Sites in a Government Department. Computer Supported Cooperative Work-the Journal of Collaborative Computing, 21(4-5), 397-415. doi: 10.1007/s10606-011-9150-2


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