Collaboration in the Workplace via Social Media

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See also LIBR559M class projects 2013 | Collaboration 2.0 | Enterprise 2.0 | Google scholar | LinkedIn | Social media policies

Collaboration in the workplace via social media refers to the practice of co-workers sharing ideas and assisting one another via social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, as well as other tools like wikis, blogs, forums and video posts. Using social media allows workers to communicate in an open, transparent and traceable online environment.[1] Proponents of social media in the workplace argue that social media fosters more efficient work efforts amongst co-workers and allows a business organization to gather feedback from a larger group of people within the company.[1]

Common Workplace Social Media Tools

Studies show wikis to be useful in the workplace as shared repositories allowing easy transparent information access to all users, however workers have also found them disorganized and difficult to edit. Currency of information can also be an issue when no one is directly responsible for updates.[2]
Studies show blogs to be particularly useful in the workplace for communication across large bodies, such as between multiple companies or internally within larger companies. Workers find blogs offer interesting niche information not available elsewhere, but may struggle when too many are available.[2]
Studies show social networking sites useful in the workplace for strengthening ties with coworkers and networking within and outside companies. Workers appreciate the ability to both easily share content or passively browse updates but note managing privacy can be an issue.[2]
Within the workplace, the use of social media in-house and within semi-private spaces is often called enterprise 2.0. Companies such as Sprint and Unisys house their own internal social networks where employees share and collaborate.[3] Software specifically created for facilitating online social networking and collaboration within businesses are also used, such as Microsoft's SharePoint.[4]

Benefits of Social Media in the workplace

  • Speed and Efficiency
A primary benefit of using social media to collaborate in a work environment is the speed and ease at which information can be communicated within an organization. Social media tools provide a company with a fast and easy method of sharing knowledge informally.[5] These tools can foster a horizontal approach to learning and professional development, which is better suited to satisfy employees need for “on-demand” information. Clive Shepard, the Director of the UK based company Onlignment, states that “A great deal of learning takes place on-demand, at the point of need.” A company created, top-down approach is not an ideal fit for this learning need. Instead, “Employees can use social networks to find sources of expertise or offer their own expertise to others....”[6]
  • Affordable and Remote
Another benefit of social media collaboration is the ability to provide affordable, remote opportunities for interaction between co-workers. For large organizations with multiple branches located across different cities, provinces or countries, collaboration was previously limited to infrequent and expensive face-to-face communication.[6] Social media tools such as web forums, Skype and wikis reduce the need for these face-to-face meetings. Shepard states, “Social media have the potential to maximise collaborative learning, not just now and then but on an on-going basis, and not just when and where it suits others, but at a time and place of your own choosing.”[6]

Challenges or Concerns

Face-to-face (F2F) communication in the workplace

While social media has the potential to foster communication and collaboration in the workplace, there are also concerns and criticisms of this technology entering the office space.

  • Personal and Professional Conduct
When it comes to social media in the workplace the distinction between personal and professional conduct is unclear.[7] Confusion can arise when people use their personal profiles to post comments about their professional lives. Constant and Han cite an example of a truck driver being dismissed for posting “derogatory statements about his managers outside of his work hours.”[7] A court eventually ruled that the employee was unfairly dismissed and order the company to reinstate the employee.[7] However, this illustrates the blurriness of personal and professional conduct when dealing with social media and work.
  • Legal Liability
There are also concerns about who is legally liable for employees conduct when using social media at work. Employers can be held liable for discriminatory statements, racial slurs or sexually inappropriate statements posted by an employee.[8] Furthermore, companies also face legal implications if employees reveals confidential information on a blog or other social media tool.[8] see also Blogging and the law
  • Security
Some companies are concerned that social media collaboration at work could pose a threat to company security. According to a 2011 report, prominent German companies, such as Volkswagen, Porsche and Linde have banned personal social networking sites from the workplace citing security fears as a primary motivator for this action.[9] Journalist Catherine Everett state that the anonymity factor of social media sites can make unwitting users susceptible to malware scams. By following links sent by seemingly legitimate online “friends”, employees can expose their company to malicious individuals and malware.[10]

Best Practices in Collaborative Social Media Usage

Several suggestions are commonly made to businesses looking to adopt social media in the workplace.

  • Be clear about your goals for social media
Many employees associate social media with leisure time and informal communication, making conceptualization of social media as a workplace tool difficult. Suggestions state businesses should clearly communicate to employees the role social media is expected to play in their jobs so employees know how to engage effectively.[11]
  • Have social media specific policies or guidelines
Employees may hold a mental disconnect between social media platforms and their work environment. On Sprint’s internal social media platform Sprint Space, some employees proved unaware questionable behavior on the platform was equivalent to questionable behavior at work.[3] It is suggested businesses consider developing social media specific policies to ensure appropriate behavior, effective use, and the protection of sensitive data and information.[12]
  • Make social media part of the training process
Social media guidelines are not enough if employees are not aware of them. Businesses find social media training important not just for instilling rules of social media use but in helping employees become more confident and effective in their social media use. Social media training can be given to new hires early but extend continually into employment, especially when embedded into the social media community or platform.[3]
  • Actively encourage participation
Willingness to engage with coworkers through social media can vary widely between employees. Motivating factors in social media participation outside the workplace may not carry over within workplace use and employees may not see informal collaboration or information sharing as worth their time. Studies suggest feedback on posted content, such as comments or the ability to see hit counts, a significant factor in employees remaining active on social media.[13]
  • Adding game-like elements to workplace social media participation has also been shown to encourage use.
Awarding incentives such as shareable badges or points through companies such as Badgeville gives employees goals to strive toward, helps them build personal brands, and adds back another element of fun to social media use within the workplace.[3]
  • Set an example
Managers and other employees may take on virtual leadership roles within the social media platform. As in face-to-face situations, those with good leadership skills can encourage participation and model for employees appropriate conduct and collaboration techniques.[11] Studies suggest that observing a manager recently participate in workplace social media may encourage employees to initiate or resume participation themselves.[13]
  • Listen to your workers
Businesses are encouraged to listen to employee feedback on their experiences with workplace social media and shape policies and practices accordingly. In particular, younger employees who have grown up with social media may provide particularly vital input. Many young employees expect to see social media use within forward-thinking businesses and expect their related skills to be put to use. Cross-mentoring programs or other forms of knowledge sharing can allow those versed with social media to allow their expertise to benefit the entire workplace.[14]

Additional tools in the workplace

See also NNLM Super Searcher: Enhancing Your Online Search Super Powers

More from thought-leaders


  1. 1.0 1.1 Minahan T. How to maximize social media for improved business collaboration. eWeek [internet]. 2010 Apr 19 [cited 2013 Feb 4]; Available from CPI. Q. with full text:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Turner T, Qvarfordt P, Biehl J, Golovchinsky G, Back M. Exploring the workplace communication ecology. Proc SIGCHI Conf Human Fact Comput Sys. 2010 Apr 10-15; Atlanta, Georgia. New York: ACM; 2010 [cited 2013 Feb 3]. P. 841-850. Available from ACM Digital Library:
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Meister J. Social media training is now mandatory: five ways to make sure your company does it right. Forbes [internet]. 2012 Oct 31 [cited 2013 Feb 3]. Available from:
  4. Microsoft SharePoint 2010 [internet]. Microsoft [cited 2013 Feb 3]. Available from:
  5. Sparta P. Getting the most out of social learning: utilizing social media in the workplace. Development and Learning in Organizations [internet]. 2012 [cited 2013 Feb 2] 26 (2): 16-18. Available from Emerald:
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Shepard C. Does social media have a place in workplace learning? Strategic Direction [internet]. 2011 [cited 2013 Feb 2] 27 (2): 3-4. Available from Emerald:
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Constant N, Han M. Australia: when the workplace and social media collide. Mondaq Business Briefing [internet]. 2013 Jan 5 [cited 2013 Feb 2] Available from LexisNexus Academic:
  8. 8.0 8.1 Reinhardt E. Dealing with social media concerns in the workplace. Business Journal (Central New York). 2010 May 21. [cited 2014 Feb 3] 24 (21) 9-13. Available from EBSCO:
  9. Anonymous. German workplaces ban social media. Inform Manage J. [internet]. 2011 Jan/Feb. [cited 2013 Feb 2] 45 (1). Available from ProQuest:
  10. Everett C. Social media: opportunity or risk? Computer Fraud and Security [internet]. 2010 Jun. [cited 2013 Feb 3] 2010 (6). Available from ScienceDirect:
  11. 11.0 11.1 Reappraising the collaborative benefits of social media in the 'borderless workplace' [internet]. Transitional Management Associated. [cited 2013 Feb 3]. Available from:
  12. Mainville D. Social media in the workplace--a manager's perspective [internet]. Navvia. 2012 Nov 26 [cited 2013 Feb 3]. Available from:
  13. 13.0 13.1 Brzozowski M, Sandholm T, Hogg T. Effects of feedback and peer pressure on contributions to enterprise social media. Proc ACM 2009 Int Conf Support Group Work. 2009 May 10-13; Sanibel Island, Florida. New York: ACM; 2009 [cited 2013 Feb 3]. P. 61-70. Available from ACM Digital Library:
  14. Altes K. Social media. J Prop Manage. 2009 Sep/Oct. [cited 2013 Feb 3]; 74(5): 44-47. Available from ProQuest:
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