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Social network web sites and intra-organizational relationships: Using Facebook to build employee relationships at Serena Software

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University of South Florida Scholar Commons Graduate Theses and Dissertations Graduate School 2009 Social network web sites and intra-organizational relationships: Using Facebook to build employee relationships
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University of South Florida Scholar Commons Graduate Theses and Dissertations Graduate School 2009 Social network web sites and intra-organizational relationships: Using Facebook to build employee relationships at Serena Software Rianna K. Lee Sing University of South Florida Follow this and additional works at: Part of the American Studies Commons Scholar Commons Citation Lee Sing, Rianna K., Social network web sites and intra-organizational relationships: Using Facebook to build employee relationships at Serena Software (2009). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by the Graduate School at Scholar Commons. It has been accepted for inclusion in Graduate Theses and Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Scholar Commons. For more information, please contact Social Network Web Sites and Intra-Organizational Relationships: Using Facebook to Build Employee Relationships at Serena Software by Rianna K. Lee Sing A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts School of Mass Communications College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Kimberly Golombisky, Ph.D. Kelly Page Werder, Ph.D. Kelli Burns, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 18, 2009 Keywords: computer-mediated communication, relationship management, organizational communication, computer-supported social networks (CSSNs), public relations Copyright 2009, Rianna K. Lee Sing Dedication I dedicate this thesis to my mother, Sharon Lee Sing Barnes. You are and have always been the force that drives me to succeed. All of my academic endeavors culminate with this thesis, and none of them would have been possible without your love, encouragement, and support. When I decided to leave the nest to forge my own path, you did not once hesitate to help me along that journey, and I am truly grateful for your constant care and nurturing for my goals and dreams. Thank you, Mommy, for always being there for me through the good and the bad. Thank you, Mommy, for always reminding me that I can achieve anything I set out to do and do so to the best of my abilities. Acknowledgements In everything I do, I acknowledge God for the life He has given me. I am eternally grateful to Him for providing the opportunity for me to pursue my education and my career, and for keeping me healthy, safe, and able long enough to reach this point in my journey. Dr. G., thank you so very much for agreeing to be my thesis chair and for continually guiding me in the right direction. I appreciate your working with me, being available to help me during your off-time, and for supporting me throughout the entire process. I am also grateful that you formed and led our thesis support group because it kept me on track and gave the entire group a chance to learn from and assist each other. To Dr. Werder and Dr. Burns, I am thankful to you both for agreeing to be members of my thesis committee and for being interested in my thesis. I very much value the time and energy you gave to me and the knowledge you shared with me to make sure all my bases were covered. The opportunity to be a graduate student in USF s School of Mass Communications would not have been possible without Dr. Holtzhausen. I am forever indebted to you for having faith in me and believing from the beginning that I would be a successful student. For all the forms I needed signed and the other little things, I thank Dr. Killebrew, Angela Mason, and Emily Smith. Your timely assistance was always appreciated. To my family and friends, thanks for keeping me sane during my grad school experience. And finally, to my classmates, I am glad to have taken this journey with you. Table of Contents Abstract... ii Chapter One: Introduction...1 Chapter Two: Background...3 Chapter Three: Literature Review...5 Computer-Mediated Communication...6 Internet Social Networks...9 Organizational Communication...13 Relationship Management Theory...17 Chapter Four: Method Interviews...21 Chapter Five: Results...27 Attitudes toward Using Facebook to Build Employee Relationships...28 Impact of Facebook on Employee Relationships...31 Practical Aspects of Facebook that Affect Employee Relationship Building...34 Characteristics of Relationship Quality...37 Relationship Quality: Communal or Exchange...41 Chapter Six: Analysis...44 Chapter Seven: Conclusion...59 References...64 Appendices...69 Appendix A: Serena Software Press Release...70 Appendix B: letter of invitation...73 Appendix C: letter of consent...74 Appendix D: letter of participation...76 Appendix E: letter of thanks...78 i Social Network Web Sites and Intra-Organizational Relationships: Using Facebook to Build Employee Relationships at Serena Software Rianna Lee Sing ABSTRACT This study explores the use of Facebook as a tool to build relationships at work among employees of global technology company Serena Software. interviews with 13 Serena Software employees demonstrated that the social network site is in fact building relationships among them. Participants attributed information sharing as the element that most helped them to build relationships with each other. The interviews revealed evidence of the characteristics of relationship quality: trust, commitment and satisfaction. However, participants expressed a different definition of the fourth characteristic control mutuality in their Facebook relationships. The results showed that participants did not define their Facebook relationships with colleagues as either communal or exchange. Research on social media is emerging because social media are relatively new compared to traditional media. This study is significant to organizational and public relations literature because it examines how social media can support internal organizational and public relations functions such as building relationships. Public relations research on employee-employee relationships is limited, so this study builds knowledge in that area. Furthermore, there appears to be no research on the use of Facebook to build employee relationships, making this study original. ii Chapter One Introduction Social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are not the wave of the future. They re the wave of now (Kugler, 2008). Using these sites as an organizational tool to build employee relationships, however, may be the future still. Building employee relationships at work is important to an organization s functions (Wright, 1995). Facebook may be one way to facilitate employee relationships. On its site, Facebook is described as a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family, and coworkers. This study examines employee interpretations of their participation in Serena Software s Facebook experiment allowing employees to use the social network to connect with each other. Serena s experiment is original; it is an innovation that no one has studied. Serena management s purpose in adopting Facebook, a contemporary but understudied communication technology practice, corresponds with the literature on relationship building in organizations. Building relationships is one of the principal goals of public relations (Kent & Taylor, 1998; Wright, 1995). However, research in public relations is thin on the subject of building relationships with employees. Even scarcer is public relations research on the role of technology in relationship building. This study asks: Do Serena employees interpretations of their Facebook participation confirm or disconfirm both Serena management s goals and the relationship building literature? 1 Chapter two provides some background on the implementation of the officially sanctioned use of Facebook at Serena Software. It also provides information on Facebook s utility in executing an internal function of building relationships among employees. Most research on Facebook has focused on its marketing and advertising functions. Chapter three scans the literature on computer-mediated communication, Internet social networks, organizational communication, and public relations approaches to relationship building. All this literature suggests that online social networks may help to create and maintain employees connections and communication with each other and, therefore, build relationships among them. Chapter four describes the interview method for this study and explains the procedure used to collect and analyze information. Chapter five presents the results of interviews with 13 Serena Software employees. Chapter six offers a discussion and analysis of the results. Finally, chapter seven discusses implications for public relations pedagogy and practice in terms of Facebook s role in relationship management. This chapter also highlights the study s limitations, and offers direction for future research. 2 Chapter Two Background Serena Software appears to be among the first companies in the United States to announce publicly the officially sanctioned use of Facebook by employees. The president and CEO of the California-based technology company, Jeremy Burton, an enthusiastic Facebook user, views Facebook as an opportunity to mobilize his workforce to open, build, and maintain relationships at work (Arteaga, 2007). In November 2007, Serena Software issued a press release (see Appendix A) announcing the launch of Facebook Fridays, an initiative that allowed Serena employees one hour of company time to use Facebook and connect with colleagues, family, friends, and customers via the site. The initiative applied to some 800 employees in 18 countries where the company has branches. It gave Serena employees an opportunity to learn about each other on a personal level. Burton led his company in this self-revelation of personality by highlighting his avid interest in racecar driving, for example, on his Facebook profile. This demonstrated to his employees that he is as normal a person as they are. He exemplified the purpose of his plan to bring that sense of personal interaction and community back into the workplace (Arteaga, 2007). Eventually, Facebook Fridays extended beyond one hour on one day, and Facebook is now used more regularly during employees everyday routines. 3 While the company s primary goal for using Facebook in the workplace was to improve personal interaction and build relationships among employees (Arteaga, 2007), the company also had a secondary goal. In the press release (see Appendix A) about the launch of the initiative, Burton said, Social networking tools like Facebook can bring us back together, help us get to know each other as people, help us understand our business and our products, and help us better serve our customers on demand. The secondary goal was to help employees understand the software technology that Serena developed and sold (Arteaga, 2007), and that Facebook used for its applications. Using Facebook would give employees hands-on experience with the software technology. Burton s intentions were clear when he thought about and implemented the officially endorsed use of Facebook at Serena Software. To find out if Burton s goals on relationship building are in fact being achieved, it is necessary to find out from employees if and how they are using Facebook to build relationships. The reader should note that while this study was being conducted, Jeremy Burton was president and CEO of Serena Software. However, soon after the study was completed, he resigned from the position. 4 Chapter Three Literature Review Several factors come into play on the topic of Serena s use of Facebook as a relationship builder among employees. First, Facebook is fundamentally a computermediated mode of communication. Research on computer-mediated communication has focused on both the negative and positive aspects of this technology-based process of interaction. While some have criticized it for its absence of social cues (Bargh & McKenna, 2004; Postmes, Spears, & Lea, 1998; Walther, 1992, 1996) others have commended it for its ability to connect people, especially across long distances (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984; Tidwell & Walther, 2002; Wellman, Salaff, Dimitrova, Garton, Gulia, & Haythornwaite, 1996). Next, Facebook is a social network site. Social network sites impact on forming and maintaining relationships is viewed as an advantage (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2006; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). They contribute to building relationships among employees in organizations. Furthermore, organizational communication is said to lead to the formation of relationships among colleagues (Downs, Clampitt, & Pfeiffer, 1988; Taylor, 2005). Last, relationship management theory has been applied to several studies dealing with organizations relationships with internal publics (Jo & Shim, 2005; Ni, 2007, 2009) and is apt for this study. 5 Computer-Mediated Communication Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is synchronous or asynchronous electronic mail and computer conferencing, by which senders encode in text messages that are relayed from senders computers to receivers (Walther, 1992, p. 52). CMC can be classified by modes such as , chat programs, video conferencing, social networks, text messaging, and instant messaging. Early research on CMC had one common concern about the topic. Compared to face-to-face (FtF) communication, CMC lacked nonverbal codes (cues) that usually provide meta-communication or communication about how to interpret the communication. The absence of these cues was said to affect participants perceptions of communication context and restrain their message interpretation (Walther, 1992). However, social influence among CMC communicators equalizes because hierarchical control and power information is obscured while the absence of social communication norms keeps attention focused on the message itself (Kiesler et al., 1984). Postmes et al., (1998) explain that communication through the computer eliminates nonverbal feedback, making the medium less socially present than FtF interaction. Despite this main negative effect of CMC, research has identified positive effects as well. CMC reduces the constraints that physical boundaries place on people s social contact, is easily accessible and inexpensive, and provides individuals the independence to interact in spite of geographical, national, religious, and other limitations (Postmes et al., 1998). Postmes et al. explain that the breakdown of physical boundaries by CMC leads to a breakdown in social boundaries by giving people freedom from norms and social roles. In terms of group communication, lowering barriers can make group 6 members feel less distant from each other and produce group solidity and collective behavior (van den Hoof & de Leeuw van Weenen, 2004). Furthermore, lower barriers in CMC lead to increased communication and, consequently, increased commitment to the organization (van den Hoof & de Leeuw van Weenen). Different approaches to CMC have addressed the medium s effect on communication. A major approach to CMC is social presence theory. Social presence is the feeling that other people are involved in communication (Walther, 1992) or the extent to which people establish warm and personal bonds with each other in a communication situation (Sia, Tan, & Wei, 2002). Social presence theory predicts that communicators pay less attention to the social presence of others when there are fewer codes within a medium. As social presence declines, messages become more impersonal (Walther, 1996). Social presence is a quality of the medium that affects how people perceive their relationships with their co-communicators. Compared to FtF communication, CMC is very low in social presence because of the scarcity of nonverbal cues (Walther, 1992). The low level of nonverbal cues is said to discourage interpersonal impressions (Walther, 1996). However, users learn to adjust their communication to the limitations of the textual medium, and over time this communication may resemble regular interpersonal interaction (Walther, 1996). Social presence may be increased through features such as emoticons and icons that represent physically absent nonverbal cues. While these features are not ideal, they improve the level of social presence in CMC. For example, Facebook s application called Superpoke allows users to transmit a variety of cues to each other. 7 Another approach to CMC is media richness theory. This theory proposes that communication across media differs depending on the number of cue systems that exist within them (Walther, 1992). It suggests that media differ in richness based on the number of cue systems they transmit, the immediacy of feedback, and the facility of natural language (Walther, 1996). Media are categorized by the terms rich and lean. CMC is a lean medium because it lacks nonverbal cues (Walther, 1992) and is more efficient for unequivocal tasks (Walther, 1996). Walther (1992) identified an advantage of CMC s leanness. When communicators are separated by geographical distance and time zones, CMC may be the best media option available, such as when one communicator is asleep at night and the other works during the day. A third approach is the hyperpersonal perspective. This approach posits that CMC users may engage in more intimate interaction than that of FtF communication because the lack of nonverbal cues, editing capabilities, identity cues, and temporal characteristics assist in the controlled presentation of the social self (Tidwell & Walther, 2002). CMC is hyperpersonal because it permits physically separated communicators to self-present themselves selectively without the intervention of the real environment (Walther, 1996). In this light, the lack of social cues is an advantage to communication. Similarly, the social identity and deindividuation (SIDE) model argues that the paucity of nonverbal cues in CMC stimulates users to shape impressions that are founded on social categories of individuals rather than interpersonal cues (Tidwell & Walther, 2002). When FtF cues and prior personal knowledge are absent between communicators, the few personality and social cues that are present take on greater meaning in CMC; thus, communicators overattribute and build impressions without paying attention to meager 8 information like typographical errors and misspellings, etc. This is especially the case when partners are physically separated from each other (Walther, 1992). The SIDE model focuses on CMC s effect on groups. It argues that factors that usually cause deindividuation actually may reinforce group salience and conformity to group norms (Postmes et al., 1998). The SIDE model predicts conformity to group norms related to its social identity as opposed to conformity to everyday material social norms. When partners are separated, group membership salience strengthens and the presence of paralinguistic cues reduces uncertainty and leads to positive evaluations of others (Walther, 1996). Overall, the SIDE model favors group identity over individual identity. Despite criticism of CMC due to its lack of nonverbal cues, it still offers advantages. It permits communication across distance. It also breaks down social barriers, which in turn, eases the communication process. This breakdown of social barriers contributes to group cohesion, too, which is especially important for employee relationships. Internet Social Networks Since the popularization of the Internet in the 1990s, researchers have investigated its effect on social life. People use the Internet mainly for two reasons: 1) to communicate with others and 2) to access information. Furthermore, they engage in this communication in order to maintain interpersonal relationships (Bargh & McKenna, 2004). Although some scholars have argued against the benefits of the Internet in relationship building (Postmes et al.,1998; Walther, 1992) others beli
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