Sunday, February 24, 2013

When can regulating social media at work be a bad thing?

Once again I tackle the issue of social media policy by organizations. However this time in the context of research and readings that I have been doing.

Recently I read Gavett's (2013) blog post discussing the issues of employees airing criticisms of employer via social media and what's legal. I also read earlier an article by Feldman (2013) on the issue of government looking into company social media policies. Both articles reveal the issue of how employers have been able to take advantage of the lack of legal regulations pertaining to social media use by employees to dismiss workers. However, there are now legal loopholes that Gavett (2013) identifies in regards of workers coming together and organizing themselves similar to unions using social media. My own perspective on the matter is that companies are over-reacting to the negative consequences of social media use, and should adopt a more positive social media policy approach, which I hope to briefly outline here.

To begin the discussion, I would like to raise the issue of how people get work done in this new "knowledge or service economy". Orr (1996) showed us that part of workers' getting their job done is through forming communities in which they can discuss their work ideas and exchange solutions to problems, a practice commonly called forming communities of practice. Further, it has been suggested by researchers that such communities can be enriched innovatively when persons have electronic networks connecting to persons not only in their local geographical communities, but also persons outside of their organizations (Teigland & Wasko, 2005). Usually, top management ignores that the way that people get work done is not just individually sitting at their desk, but also through having ties or relationships with other persons that are able to help them solve problems (Brown & Duguid, 2000). When the work environment is unstable, workers tend to use and trust their online connection rather than their co-located relationships to get information that help them solve work problems (Hirsh & Dinkelacker, 2004). As such, management, by creating strict and stringent social media policies may be actually interfering with the electronic networks that their workers use to get information and communicate in order to solve work problems.

My recommendation is that rather than just specifying in one's policy how not to use social media and rather than attempting to limit or block social media use at work, management and organizations need to

  1. discover how workers are actually using social media to do their work. This could be done by surveys or interviews. One such study that comes to mind is the one by Lampe, Vitak, Gray, and Ellison (2012) that studied university employees for how they use Facebook as an information source. While the study did not conclude whether Facebook was used only for work purposes, it did conclude that some of the employees surveyed preferred to ask questions via social media in order to get more tailored and trustworthy information (Lampe, Vitak, Gray & Ellison, 2012). This perspective of first, applying the Taylorist principle of studying workers before creating policies, can help inform management as to whether or not workers are actually getting information from social media that may be having an impact on the organization's productivity.
  2. Elicit stories or incidents from workers where they were able to successful solve a problem at work because of social media. Having such stories can help management see directly how social media is being applied practically to solve work problems. These cases can also be shared with other employees as a form of knowledge sharing about how social media can be positively used at work. In  Lampe, Vitak, Gray, and Ellison's (2012) study, not all workers saw social media as a place to get answers to information queries. Hence, management can therefore use such success stories to train existing employees to see and recognise when they can exploit social media for work problem solving.

 With regard to point 2,  management may argue that workers may divulge proprietary information to outsiders through social media. My own take on the matter is that social media only documents what people do in everyday life. I am sure workers go to the bar or other unregulated spaces and from time to time share with other outsiders what they do at work. Yet, such sharing sometimes is more beneficial than harmful, as it leads them to find persons working on similar problems or having similar interests or even expertise that can be leveraged to help workers arrive at faster solutions to work problems.

In closing, I just want to argue that when an employer hires a worker, they are not just hiring one person, but they are also hiring that person's network of connections that the worker will turn to in order to get information in complex work problems that he or she cannot solve on his/her own. Hence, the informal networks and connections that a worker uses to get his or her work done is as important to the organisation as the worker's skills and knowledge, especially depending on the type of work being done and the tasks that are assigned. As such, when creating social media policies, companies must not only consider the PR nightmares and tragedies of other companies, but must also consider how social media may be positively used by its own workers to make the company successful.

On that note, I end with some conclusions from Choo (2002) that were written for the Web in general, but which I find also applicable to social media:
  • the Web is not just an information network, but also a work space where employees communicate in order to acquire and access actionable information for work purposes.
  • more liberal Web [and social media] policies are required and fewer controls in order to empower workers to use these resources to 'promote self-directed learning and problem solving' (p. 196).
  • spaces for sharing what employees discover on the Web [or social media] that may be useful to others in the company could be created to permit collective or organizational learning and memory. 
This is the challenge that I suggest organizations take on rather than just adopting a negative or anti-social media use policies.


Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000). The social life of information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Choo, C. W. (2002). Information management for the intelligent organization : The art of scanning the environment (3rd ed.). Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Feldman, B. (2013, February 15). The government is watching social media policies. PRWeek Retrieved from

Gavett, G. (2013, February, 21). Is Your Social Media Policy Useless? Harvard Business Review [HBR] Blog Retrieved from

Hirsh, S. & Dinkelacker, J. (2004). Seeking information in order to produce information: AN empirical study at Hewlett Packards Labs. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55:807-817. doi:10.1002/asi.20024

Lampe, C., Vitak, J., Gray, R., & Ellison, N. B. (2012). Perceptions of Facebook’s value as an information source. Paper presented at the CHI '12 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Austin, TX, USA. 3195--3204. doi: 10.1145/2207676.2208739

Orr, J. E. (1996). Talking about machines :An ethnography of a modern job. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press.

Teigland, R., & Wasko, M. (2005). Knowledge exchange in electronic networks of practice. Encyclopedia of information science and technology (pp. 1757-1762) IGI Global. doi: 10.4018/978-1-59140-553-5.ch309

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comprehensive exam preparation process

It is day 5 before my comprehensive examinations and I am actually feeling less nervous as the days go by. In fact, I almost feel raring to go and get it over with. I have weeks and months of readings behind me, with much of that knowledge extracted in both my personal notebooks and my personal knowledge base. Some of the knowledge are also extracted into blogs, databases, papers and other computer files that I can access when needed.

For those who need a bit of background, the comprehensive examinations is an exam that PhD students do in order to qualify them to undertake the writing of a thesis proposal. In my case, it is a take home exam that must be done within 5 days, after 6 weeks of preparation in reading a list of scholarly works amounting to over 8000 pages. In my particular case, I got to select my topics or areas of focus: Information Sources, Organizational Storytelling and Knowledge sharing and Blogs.

At the beginning the work seemed overwhelming. In addition, some of the readings seemed inaccessible to one's comprehension and one worries if one will actually recall much less master such readings. Now, my anxiety is reduced as the time draws closer. I have been able to absorb a fair amount of knowledge from what I read. I found myself thinking differently and having integrated what I have read into my daily thought processes when thinking or analysing my social world. When this takes place, one feels more confident going into the exam, knowing that one definitely has sufficient grasp of the literature to sound informed in answering questions, although, one does not actually know exactly what questions will be posed to one's knowledge base.

I must say, that I wasn't as strategic in my preparation and planning of my readings, and did not apply math to help me determine how many sources to read per day. I did use some sort of strategy: basically some general principles:

  • Read books first, since they have more pages and are more indepth and comprehensive. In addition the achievement of completing books with many pages will improve your self-efficacy when it comes to the less paged journal articles and conference papers
  • Complete at least one section/topic of your reading list and at least half of the others. Know one topic indepth, especially the one that is of most interest to you or the one that you know the least. This is especially applicable if you have to select questions, which means that you have a choice in what you can do on the exam.
  • Try to cover new and diverse perspectives in your reading. If time is running out on you and you are unable to read all voices, read the voices/perspectives/authors that are different from each other. After a while, in your readings, you will find that authors mention each other and discuss each other's works. It is then useful to look at those that are not mentioned or disagree.
This strategy will be tested within a week to see if it worked. Then I can post and give you feedback on its strenght and weakness.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The curious case of Edwin Mellen Press suing a university librarian for libel

In a follow up to the blog entry on the threats to the freedom to blog, I just want to provide a bit more perspective on the curious case of Edwin Mellen Press suing a university librarian for libel (New, 2013). 

Prior to this year 2013, when faced with blogs that criticise businesses, corporations either sought to counteract those blogs by responding to them or denying the criticisms. Several of these cases are cited in Kline, Burstein, De Keijzer, and Berger (2005). However, within this year, this is the first time that I have seen where corporations faced with criticism from users of blogs go out to attack the critic by law suit. This is a very precedental law suit that has implications for blogging in general and for librarians and universities in particular.

For one, it raises the question of how much freedom do persons have to blog their criticisms and complaints, without being sued for defamation and libel? Second it raises the question of how much freedom do librarians have to blog their analysis of information sources and make it publicly accessible and available to others. Thirdly, it begs the question as to whether universities should permit staff and affiliates to blog any at all?

Unlike the regular complainers or customers, part of a librarian's work is to evaluate information sources in terms of quality and other criteria. As such, librarians in the process of engaging in their work must critically analyse information products and even technologies offered by vendors. From our evaluations, we must make recommendations. And within a university environment, we should be entitled to recommend to our users what sources they must avoid. Is it that, publishers that develop information products do not want us to put our evaluations on websites or blogs? Should publishers not act as businesses have done in the past, by spending the money to address the quality concerns of customers as posted on the Web rather than paying lawyers to sue for damages?

Finally, for universities, I can predict that policies will be put in place to prevent staff from criticising institutions and businesses in order to reduce liabilities and law suits. After all, the new capitalistic university, that has to raise much of its funding from institutions and corporations,  will need as many institutional and corporate friends as possible, and as little enemies as possible. Who else will they go to in order to "beg","solicit" or "ask for donations to their endowment fund"? Especially, if some of those leading/managing those corporations happen to be their alumni.

For librarians, the university's regulation of social media, perhaps may lead to more reliance on and preference for email or intranet as the technology to communicate, while websites and social media will be reserved for restricted and less authentic communication with those outside of one's organization. After all, we can still email our opinions to those who need to know in order keep it out of the public sphere and still have the desired effect. Until, companies and corporations decide to sue librarians and customers for defamation and libel through email.


Kline, D., Burstein, D., De Keijzer, A. J., & Berger, P. (2005). Blog! :How the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture. New York: CDS Books in association with Squibnocket Partners LLC.

New, J. (2013, Feb 8). Edwin Mellen Press sues university librarian for libel. The Chronicle of Higher Education Retrieved from

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Threats to the freedom to blog

In this blog entry, I would like to focus on the issues concerning the growing threats to the freedom to blog. My reasons for posting my views on the matter comes as a result of two particular developments within this month that I see as representing threats to the blogosphere. Specifically, one of the incidents is the case of Edwin Mellen Press suing a university librarian for libel (New, 2013).  Another incident is the issue of employees getting fired for user-generated content as reflected in the Applebee's waitress who posted a receipt with a customer's complaint regarding tipping (Stableford, 2013).

Both stories indicate the dangers of the growing powers of organizations and institutions to take away the freedom to create user-generated content via social media. Organisations and institutions today are able to take away the freedom of people to blog and share content via social media through
  1. law suit for libel or defamation and
  2. the threat of termination of employment. 
I note that today all human beings are affected by organisations and institutions. We are not only citizens governed by governmental institutions that regulate who are citizens and who are not, but we are also either employees of organisations or can be sued by them for rants or exchanges that we make via social media. As such, I note that the freedom of persons to blog, especially blogs critical of organisations or institutions including religious ones and businesses are in threat of being curtailed by:
  1. threats of law suit
  2. threats of disciplinary action from an employer
In light of this, I saw an interesting event by Harvard Business Review on Wednesday, 23 January 2013, the #HBRchat Topic, January 24: It’s My Job and I’ll Tweet If I Want To . While I did not participate, I noted the important questions the public chat raised:
Q1: How much freedom should employees have to discuss work problems online?
Q2: Are you comfortable using social media to complain about work?
Q3: Does your company have a policy about employee conduct on social media?
These are important questions that are increasingly relevant as our freedom to blog and share content via social media is now one that employers and other institutions are now monitoring or are planning to monitor in the future. We must note then that the freedom to blog cannot protect us from losing our jobs or from law suits from organisations and may indeed impact on what information we will be able to share and access on blogs in the future.

This brings me to the issue that such pressures will change forever the information sources that blogs are. Blogs will no longer become authentic and real sources of personal information. People instead will be censored and provide only information that they know they cannot get in trouble for. Imagine the world that this creates, where I want to find authentic and real information online about a company or an institution, and all I can find are positive stories and comments about the company and institution? No complaints? No criticism? No person's real thoughts or beliefs about that company or institution? Is that the online world that we want to live in and create?

Where are the values of freedom and freedom of information? Librarians and the information professional community need to speak out against this new online world order, where organisations and institutions are robbing individuals of the freedom to make authentic contributions to the blogosphere and user-generated content that gives us expanded realities about our world and the institutions and organizations that inhabit them.


New, J. (2013, Feb 8). Edwin Mellen Press sues university librarian for libel. The Chronicle of Higher Education Retrieved from

Stableford,  D. (2013, Jan 31). Applebee’s fires waitress who posted receipt from pastor complaining about auto-tip. Yahoo! News Retrieved from

Friday, February 8, 2013

The potential role of fictional stories in strategic planning

I am back (for a little while) to share some of the progression of my thoughts that have been informed by my comprehensive reading of scholarship in knowledge sharing and storytelling. In this particular post, I would like to focus on some preliminary thoughts on the issue of the role of fictional storytelling in planning.

I have read a few authors that has advocated the use of fictional storytelling in planning. In previous blog posts I mentioned how the education field (see blog post on Drake) and library and information field (see blog post on Nyström and Sjögren (2012)) have seen a place for fictional storytelling in planning for the future. I have also read Bennet and Bennet (2007), who discuss an instance where storytelling has been used in technology planning in institutions such as the United States Military. In this post, I would like to extend on these ideas with a few of my own.

First, I would like to assert a number of propositions, that I believe future researchers can test. Throughout this post, I use the term stories to mean the account of an event or experience:

Proposition 1: In the absence of factual data and statistics, one can use stories of the past as a precedent to plan for future events.

This is not a new idea. Organisational storytelling already points out that experts based their judgements on their prior experiences (Orr, 1996; Denning, 2005). I already observe that this activity is taking place in fields such as law, where lawyers and judges use prior cases to make judgements about what should be done in a present case. Doctors and other health professionals also use this method of referring to historical cases to make judgements about the treatment of patients in the present.  

Proposition 2: Even in the absence of stories in the past, one can use imaginative storytelling to predict the future.

This second proposition is already being used in some fields under names such as scenario planning or thought experiments. Scenario planning is used in the military; thought experiment in philosophy and game theory in economics. Scenario planning and game theory practices use imaginative or fictional storytelling to help reduce uncertainty and consider how an event may unfold if one take certain actions. Thought experiments on the other hand, utilise one's imagination to attempt to experience a phenomenon or phenomena (Brown and Fehige, 2011). It is on this basis that I argue that fictional storytelling can be deployed as a tool to help one contemplate future events, based on projection of the past into the future or speculation about how the present will change.

I conclude this post by suggesting that organisations and institutions can plan for the future through applying fictional storytelling. This is already done in a number of fields. I further argue that we can predict and perhaps even create the future by imagining worst case and best case scenarios. We can ask questions such as:

  • What are the worst things that can happen if we take a particular action?
  • What bad can happen if we do not address a particular situation?
  • If we pursue a particular strategy, what good could come out of it?
  • If we address a particular situation, what good could result from it?

As such, we can frame our planning in terms of tragic or epic stories. We can use tragic studies to tell us the dangers that we need to protect ourselves or institutions against. However we can also use epic storytelling to motivate ourselves or organisations to aim for new possibilities, goals and achievement. These are some of my preliminary thoughts on the matter, as informed by some of my readings, some of which I have not explicitly mentioned here. Hopefully, after my comprehensive examinations, I will have more time to develop on these ideas and even conduct some research and experiments to test the validity of my propositions.


Bennet, A., & Bennet, D. (2007). From stories to strategy: Putting organizational learning to work. VINE: The Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 37(4), 404-409. doi:10.1108/03055720710838489

Brown, J. R. & Fehige, Y. (2011). Thought experiments. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved from

Denning, S. (2005). The leader's guide to storytelling :Mastering the art and discipline of business narrative. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint.

Drake, S. M., Bebbington, J., Laksman, S., Mackie, P., Maynes, N., & Wayne, L. (1992).

Developing an integrated curriculum using the Story Model. Toronto, ON: OISE Press.

Drake, Susan M. (2010) "Enhancing Canadian Teacher Education Using a Story Framework,"The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(2), Retrieved from

Nyström, V., & Sjögren, L. (2012). An evaluation of the benefits and value of libraries. Oxford, U.K.: Chandos Publishing.

Orr, J. E. (1996). Talking about machines: An ethnography of a modern job. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press.