Amsterdam Center for Social Media

Zooming into social media: Learning the tricks of the trade as individuals, as organizations to stimulate information sharing

How-To-Balance-Social-Media-ToolsBy Nicoleta Bălău

With all the information technologies ‘out there’ it’s definitely easier to share information with others. Organizations increasingly invest in new media to stimulate information sharing among employees. As of 2012, four out of five companies are using social technologies at varying stages of maturity (Overby, 2012), and 86% of managers believe that social media will be important to their business in 3 years (Kiron, Palmer, Phillips, & Kruschwitz, 2012).


However, referring to social media and even to social media tools it means that we only have eyes for the broader picture and this limits our understanding of what and which certain social media tools can or cannot do.  A recent article by Razmerita, Kirchner, and Nabeth (2014) argues that social media can help not only knowledge conversion but also team performance, it can improve collaboration and communication within most companies, and it facilitates new forms of elicitation and externalization of knowledge: self-initiated through blogs or wikis, or requested by others through forums or open questions.  By reviewing the academic literature, reading recent consultancy reports and case studies of big organizations (e.g., IBM, Deloitte), Razmerita et al. (2014) list the benefits but also the limitations of using social media for the individual and organizations. Below are presented some of them:


Social media Benefits/Limitations for the Organization Benefits/Limitations for the Individual
Social Networking Sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn)


Foster personal knowledge sharing; facilitate the exchange of knowledge Personal knowledge sharing; help career advancement


Time consuming; risk of sensitive information disclosure Time consuming; limited utility for communicating with close colleagues
Wikis (e.g. Wikipedia)
Benefits Facilitate capturing knowledge (collecting experiences, best practices)Flexibility Share knowledge, lessons learned; personal knowledge management
Limitations Structuring content; few active contributions and few senior contributors Time consuming; finding and searching updated information
Blogs (e.g., online journals)
Benefits Internal communication;easier expertise location Getting/sharing information; engaging in dialogue
Limitations Lack of management support; guidelines, blog moderation Time consuming; unsure what and how to blog
Microblogging (e.g., Twitter)
Benefits Facilitates networking; fast communication Knowing what other employees are working on; promoting their own work
Limitations Effective adoption and use takes time; predicting the business value is challenging Lack of contextual information sometimes hampers understanding; search
Content Communities (e.g., YouTube)
Benefits Collaboration and non-linear innovation; more proactive participants Engagement and fun; accessing the know-how and ideas
Limitations Intellectual property rights and copyright issues; technical difficulties (firewall)

In addition, Razmerita et al. (2014) classified social media into four categories according to the level of interaction and control (Table 1). For instance, the person who created a blog is in control of the content and the interaction is low, reduced to the possibility of adding comments or referring to the blog. Although microblogs entries can be ‘retweeted’ and thus distributed in different personal networks by the followers, usually their users engage in very limited interaction and normally do not have personal relationships.

Table 1. Level of interaction and control in social media (Razmerita et al., 2014)

                               Level of interaction

Controlled byIndividualsCollective LowBlogs, MicroblogsContent communities HighSocial Networking SitesWikis

With social media, the evolution is thus from user to creator. Knowledge workers are not simply users of these tools, but creators of content for their organizations including publishing blogs, uploading videos, updating status on Twitter and/or social networking sites, posting ratings of products or services, commenting on someone else’s blog, contributing to online forums or wikis, using RSS feeds, adding tags to web pages, and maintaining their own social network profiles within the organization (Majchrzak, Faraj, Kane, & Azad, 2013).

However, the more we zoom into social media, the better realisation we have about its specificity. Whether or not a piece of information is shared is not only a function of the media used but it also comes down to such things as people’s motivations and the attributions of the information (e.g., public, private, important, unimportant). For instance, previous research (Steinel, Utz, & Koning, 2010) showed that information sharing is strategic behaviour affected by social motives. Social motivation rests on the idea that individuals can be either prosocial- or proself-motivated. Prosocials are usually concerned with collective welfare, joint success and strive for harmony in the group and cooperation. Proselfs usually ignore others’ needs, interests and beliefs as long as their own interests are satisfied (De Dreu, Nijstad, & van Knippenberg, 2008). In their studies, Steinel et al. (2010) showed that prosocials share the important private information while proselfs share the unimportant public information just to make a cooperative impression; proselfs even lie about and distort their private important information. Moreover, Sohn (2014) found that people tend to perceive the value of information as greater when they are in sparsely connected networks rather than in the densely connected ones. It’s thus timely to understand also how psychological and social contextual factors jointly shape individual’s information sharing behaviour, especially in a networked environment like social media. Keeping an eye on this website brings you with one blog post closer to the answer.



De Dreu, C. K. W., Nijstad, B. A., & van Knippenberg, D. (2008). Motivated information processing in group judgment and decision making. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12(1), 22-49. doi: 10.1177/1088868307304092

Kiron, D., Palmer, D., Phillips, A. N., & Kruschwitz, N. (2012). Social business: What are companies really doing? 2012 social business global executive study and research project. Sloan Management Review. Summer.

Majchrzak, Ann, Faraj, Samer, Kane, Gerald C., & Azad, Bijan. (2013). The Contradictory Influence of Social Media Affordances on Online Communal Knowledge Sharing. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(1), 38-55. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12030

Overby, E. . (2012). Migrating processes from physical to virtual environments: Process virtualization theory. In Y.K. Dwivedi, M.R.Wade, & L. S.L. Schneberger (Eds.), Information systems theory: Explaining and predicting our digital society. New York: Springer Publishing., 1, 107-124.

Razmerita, Liana, Kirchner, Kathrin, & Nabeth, Thierry. (2014). Social media in organizations: Leveraging personal and collective knowledge processes Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 24(1), 74-93. doi: 10.1080/10919392.2014.866504

Sohn, Dongyoung. (2014). Coping with information in social media: The effects of network structure and knowledge on perception of information value. Computers in Human Behavior, 32, 145-151. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.006

Steinel, W., Utz, S., & Koning, L. (2010). The good, the bad and the ugly thing to do when sharing information: Revealing, concealing and lying depend on social motivation, distribution and importance of information. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113(2), 85-96. doi: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2010.07.001


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