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Amsterdam Center for Social Media

This week in social media research: The F-word and the framing of Enterprise Social Media

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by Bart van den Hooff

In June of this year I was at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, where Jeff Treem, Stephanie Dailey and Casey Pierce presented their paper on the use of Enterprise Social Media (ESM) among young employees. They use the theory of technological frames to investigate the use of an ESM platform among young employees at a large American financial services company. Based on 76 interviews with newcomers in the organization, they found a general reluctance among these young employees to use the platform.

This reluctance is explained on the basis of the technological frames (the assumptions, expectations and knowledge regarding technology) these workers use to make sense of this platform. Coming into the organization, young employees already had distinct and well-developed frames about how social media should be used, created on the basis of their use of social media outside the workplace. These existing frames conflicted with their conceptions of the appropriate role of technology for communication at work. They regarded social media tools as social and, consequently, not useful for task-related information and communication processes. The fact that the organization explicitly framed the ESM platform as being “like Facebook” increased this discrepancy: if it is like Facebook, employees reasoned, it is not something that is appropriate for work-related communication.

Treem, Dailey and Pierce’s findings have interesting implications for the theory on technological frames, but are especially relevant for practice. In our own research on Enterprise Social Media, we often see that organizations stress the “social” component of these tools, and indeed often frame it in terms like “It’s like Facebook, but for internal use”. It’s important to note that people like to maintain boundaries between their professional and their private lives, and that these boundaries also play a role in the technologies they use. It is also important to realize that the generation currently entering the labor market may not be all that different from previous generations – in spite of all the popular opinions about them being “digital natives”, multitasking through life without making a clear difference between what’s work and what’s not. Thus, framing ESM as being “like Facebook” seems to be counterproductive. Instead, these platforms should be framed in terms of collaboration, emphasizing their contribution to work practices and avoiding the connotation that they are primarily for being “social” at work.

Treem, J.W., Dailey, S.L. & Pierce, C. (2013). Bringing Technological Frames to Work:
Why Young Employees Do Not Want to Use Social Media in the Workplace . Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, London, England, June 2013

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