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Research highlights four strategies for communicating online


In the modern workplace, with mobile devices and social media, the boundaries between our work and social lives are increasingly blurred.  Whilst the ability to work wherever and whenever can bring numerous benefits in terms of flexibility and engagement, it can also cause problems, as we try and delineate our work selves and our personal selves.  Indeed, does such a boundary even exist?

A study published recently, and led by Wharton, set out to explore the issue in more depth, and in particular look at how social media can affect employees work and social lives.  The paper highlights the difficulties we can often face in understanding just who our audience is.  Whilst those who directly interact with our social content are clearly visible, there are likely to be many more who remain unknown to us, both in the sense of who they are, but also, and more importantly, in what they think of our content.

It reinforces some of the risks identified a few years ago in an Altimeter report that looked at the dangers of becoming a social business.  Many of the risks revolved around posting the wrong thing online.  The Wharton paper identified four strategies for coping:

  1. Open and available – this strategy sees the individual be completely open online.  They connect with everyone and publish freely.
  2. The considered user – the second approach is much more careful.  They choose who they connect to and are careful about the content they publish.
  3. Content driven – the third approach is driven very much by content.  They are much more open about who they connect with, but very careful curate the content they share, with the intention of promoting their personal brand.
  4. Segmentation – the final approach sees a users audience carefully segmented so that specific content gets shared with specific people.  This adds a layer of complexity to proceedings, thus making it much harder to pull off.

Suffice to say, there are risks and rewards for each approach.  For instance, an open approach might help you to identify with people who relate to what you’re saying, but there might equally be those that are turned off by your content.  Likewise, the more closed approach is considerably safer, but you are likely to lose some of the benefits of using social media.

The research is an interesting exploration of how social media changes how we communicate professionally, but it’s a shame that the research appears to be limited to external social networks only.  There is no analysis of how we communicate on the various internal communication platforms.

The researchers have stated however that this is an avenue they’d like to explore in future studies.

“One of the things that is really challenging in today’s environment is we’re oftentimes working in global teams where everybody is not co-located. We’re interested in seeing how online social media can be really positive for people who are working in non co-located teams. And asking the question, do some of these online social media strategies help more than others?” project lead Nancy Rothbard said.

Which strategy do you use when communicating online?

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