Social Influence and Employee Participation Within Enterprise Social Media

  • Sean MacNiven

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate of Business Administration (DBA)


Employee engagement has been connected to a variety of real-world business benefits, from reduced attrition, to lower absenteeism, higher productivity, operational efficiency and greater levels of innovation. While the war for talent is often fought regarding recruiting new employees, ensuring existing employees develop and maintain a sense of loyalty towards the company is even more critical regarding organisational knowledge and networks, as well as overall corporate success. Employee communications have been found to be one of the ways that employee loyalty and engagement can be fostered, particularly through the rise of greater opportunities for employee voice via Enterprise Social Media (ESM).

The aim of the research was to investigate the role of social influence on participation within ESM, and to explore the language and behaviours of online influencers in terms of fostering the expression of peer-level employee voice. Combining hypotheses derived from the literature of media effects, social influence and personality, an initial model was developed and empirically tested.

Adopting a post-positivistic worldview and a deductive research approach, a research strategy of observational Internet Mediated Research was applied to the case of an employee newsroom. The research design is quantitative and applies hypothesis testing for both group differences (independent t-tests and Chi-Square tests of frequency) and explanation (negative binomial count regression) to a dataset comprising 35,704 comments and 11,866 unique users. The research hypotheses were tested at the level of individual content (comments), as well as the aggregated level of users. For both comments and users, highly significant effects were found, suggesting that influential content differs in its ability to trigger participation among peers and that influencers exhibit those behaviours and language traits at higher levels on average.

Among the key findings, content and users within the employee newsroom that led to higher peer-participation, were less positive and more negative, exhibited higher levels of gregariousness (frequency of contributions, length of comments and sociability), used more complex language, and triggered higher levels of peer-agreement. Agenda setting had an effect on peer-level participation within conversation threads, with personal relevance via workplace topics leading to greater reply behaviour. Through a comparison with external media (blogs), substantial differences were found indicating that languages within ESM may vary from external social media and offer insights into an organisational culture. Most notably, the use of affective and personal language appears to vary from the newsroom to external social media. These findings were then used to update the initial model of the impact of social influence on participation within ESM.

The findings are significant for both practice and academia. The implications for practice are that influential employees may have a disproportionate impact on their peers and the overall expression of employee voice, and therefore on both employee engagement and, potentially, enhanced corporate performance. Similarly, the use of digital trace data from ESM represents a scalable and readily available opportunity to explore corporate culture. For academia, the research represents a novel contribution to the media effects and social influence literature in online environments and especially within the context of ESM and employee voice.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorPeter Duncan (Supervisor) & Margaret McCann (Supervisor)

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