Image courtesy of geralt at

Image courtesy of geralt at

The presence of social media at the workplace has given the employees voice of their own to share work-related thoughts online. It is not surprising that managers wish to govern these behaviors in order to gain advantage and minimize risks. Are these the main motivations behind the social media policies that organizational leaders implement? Is social media management aimed to avoid risk, or to seize opportunities? Or both? Read on to find out!


In their recent publication Understanding social media governance: seizing opportunities, staying out of trouble Annelieke van den Berg and Joost Verhoeven shed light on the rationale behind social media governance policies, and examine the interplay between regulatory focus, communication models and social media governance.


About the research

The data was collected among communication managers of various organizations through semi-structured interviews. The qualitative design was chosen given that it is especially suitable for understudied subject areas as the one in question. The sampling was both purposive and convenient in the sense that the researchers approached professionals from their own network whom they knew were responsible for social media governance. The interviews were conducted between April and September of 2014 in the working environments of the professionals.


Social media governance

Employees have found an outlet in the social media which allows them to express their opinion on topics related to their job, organization or profession. This can be seen as a double edged sword as it presents opportunities but also risks for the organizations. Thus social media policies are being implemented in order to outline organizational guidelines and monitor these behaviors. There are two ways these policies can be perceived – they may focus either on generating opportunities for organizational boost or they can aim at minimizing the potential dangers. This study uses regulatory focus theory which poses that people can have either promotion focus where they align themselves with their “ideal self”, or prevention focus – they align themselves with their “ought selves.” The promotion focus encourages the employees to align their behaviors with the ideal corporate identity and understands their social media activities as a way to enhance reputation. The prevention scheme focuses on safety and insurance against undesired outcomes.


What are the findings?

The study revealed that whether managers applied promotion or prevention focus was connected to the schemes they used to talk about the communication between the organization and its stakeholders. Managers who were employing one-way communication and top-down approach perceived the work-related social media predominantly as a threat. They strived to control it by implementing restrictive governance, using prohibitions. The reason for that is their concern for the risk of employees publishing messages that contradict corporate communication and confuse stakeholders. On the other hand the managers who were engaged in two-way communication with stakeholders expressed predominantly a promotion focus. They recognized the reputation enhancement potential through social media and strived to enable and train their employees on how to utilize the opportunities this new medium offers. They were certainly aware of risks and acknowledged that employees should feel ‘safe’ in order to express themselves on social media, but their approach was based on the opportunities social media provide.


What do you think about this topic? Let us know in the comments!

For more information check out the article in Corporate Communications: An International Journal and get acquainted with the details of the research. For further information you may contact the corresponding author Annelieke van den Berg at