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Can new social media enhance internal business

communications?

Matthew John Roche

April 2008

Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment for the BA degree in Business and


Marketing Communications

University of Oxford Brookes


Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of the dissertation was to identify whether new social media (blogs, wikis,
RSS and podcasts) could be used to enhance internal business communication. Specifically the dis-
sertation wanted to assess if there is the potential for new social media, its benefits and possible
barriers to implementation.

Methodology – The methodology consisted of an intreprevistic approach. Data was obtained using
semi structured interviews and participant observation of company X. The primary data aimed to
collect employee opinion on current communication media and their views regarding new social
media.

Findings – The findings showed that there is scope for the use of new social media and that it can
enhance internal communications. Information overload caused by e-mail was found to be a large
problem within company X confirming companies are trying to reduce the amount of internal
communication. The findings showed that the telephone was a useful one to one medium but it
was constrained by geographical time differences. The research showed face to face communica-
tion is being reduced internally due to financial constraints and the increase in virtual teams. The
research concluded that employees of company X were sceptical of new social media but were
willing to experiment with new technology. The research found that the main benefits of new social
media were that it could increase collaboration, participation and creativity within internal com-
munications. The research concluded that while employees are aware of new social media they lack
knowledge and understanding of how they could be best utilised for internal communications.

Implications – The implication of the research is that new social media could provide great oppor-
tunities for improving collaboration, participation and creativity for internal communications. The
research implies that employees and companies need to increase awareness and understanding of
how social media can be utilised for their individual and team responsibilities.

Originality/value – The dissertation is original as it combines an analysis of both existing and new
communication media. It provides recommendations on how social media could be implemented
for internal communications.

Keywords – Social Media, Internal Communication, Social Software, Business Communication

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Abbreviations and Terminology

Asynchronous Communication – Communication occurring at different times

Communication – The exchange of words, symbols and information

Company X – The company of research

E-mail – A message or mail sent by electronic means from one source to another

Information Overload – Where an individual has too much information to process

Internal Communication – The exchange of information at any internal level of a business

Medium – A method or tool used to transmit a message

MRT – Media Richness Theory

MST – Media Synchronicity Theory

New Social Media – Referring to blogs, wikis, RSS and podcasts

PDAs – Personal Digital Assistants

RSS – Really Simple Syndication

Synchronous Communication – Communication occurring at the same time

Virtual Teams – Teams spread out in different offices or even different countries.

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Statement of Originality

Except for those parts in which it is explicitly stated to the contrary, this project is my own
work. It has not been submitted for any degree at this or any other academic or professional
institutions.

………………………………………...…… ……………………………
Signature Date

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the following individuals for their support during the study.

To all the people from my placement company (they know who they are) who helped me complete
my interviews. Thank you for your time and support without which the research would not have
been possible.

Special thanks goes to my dissertation tutor Sarah Quinton for providing much needed advice and
support throughout the duration of my dissertation.

Finally thank you to my parents who made it possible for to be at university to create this
dissertation.

All your help and support has been appreciated.

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Table of Contents

Abstract .................................................................................................................................. i
Abbreviations and Terminology............................................................................................ii
Statement of Originality .......................................................................................................iii
Acknowledgements .............................................................................................................. iv
Table of Contents .................................................................................................................. v
List of Figures .....................................................................................................................vii
1 Introduction...................................................................................................................... 1
1.1 Background to study................................................................................................. 1
1.2 Contextualisation...................................................................................................... 1
1.3 Significance of the study .......................................................................................... 2
1.4 Research objectives .................................................................................................. 3
1.5 Scope and limitations ............................................................................................... 3
1.6 Overview of the dissertation .................................................................................... 3
2 Literature Review............................................................................................................. 4
2.1 Importance of internal communication .................................................................... 4
2.2 The communication process..................................................................................... 5
2.3 Communication theory ............................................................................................. 6
2.4 Review of current internal communication media ................................................... 7
2.4.1 E-mail.................................................................................................................. 8
2.4.2 Face to face communication................................................................................ 9
2.4.3 Telephone and audio conferencing.................................................................... 10
2.5 Review of new social media................................................................................... 11
2.5.1 Blogs ................................................................................................................. 11
2.5.2 RSS newsfeeds .................................................................................................. 11
2.5.3 Wikis ................................................................................................................. 12
2.5.4 Podcasts............................................................................................................. 12
2.6 Arguments against new social media ..................................................................... 13
2.7 Potential of new social media................................................................................. 13
2.8 Summary of literature review................................................................................. 15
3 Methodology .................................................................................................................. 16
3.1 Research design...................................................................................................... 16
3.2 Research philosophy .............................................................................................. 17
3.3 Research approach.................................................................................................. 17

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3.4 Time horizons......................................................................................................... 18
3.5 Internal secondary data........................................................................................... 18
3.6 External secondary data ......................................................................................... 18
3.7 Primary data ........................................................................................................... 19
3.7.1 Participant observation...................................................................................... 19
3.7.2 Semi structured interviews................................................................................ 20
3.7.3 Analysing the qualitative data........................................................................... 21
3.7.4 Access ............................................................................................................... 22
3.8 Ethics...................................................................................................................... 22
3.9 Threats to reliability and reliability ........................................................................ 22
3.10 Limitations and how it could have been improved ................................................ 23
4 Findings, analysis and discussion .................................................................................. 24
4.1 Research objective 1............................................................................................... 24
4.1.1 E-mail................................................................................................................ 24
4.1.2 Face to face ....................................................................................................... 26
4.1.3 Telephone .......................................................................................................... 27
4.1.4 Analysis and discussion of findings.................................................................. 28
4.2 Research objective 2............................................................................................... 30
4.2.1 Awareness of new social media ........................................................................ 31
4.2.2 Blogs ................................................................................................................. 31
4.2.3 RSS news feed .................................................................................................. 32
4.2.4 Wikis ................................................................................................................. 32
4.2.5 Podcasts............................................................................................................. 33
4.2.6 Opinion on new social media............................................................................ 34
4.2.7 Analysis and discussion of findings.................................................................. 34
4.3 Research objective 3............................................................................................... 36
4.4 Research objective 4............................................................................................... 37
4.5 Summary of findings, analysis and discussion....................................................... 38
5 Conclusion ..................................................................................................................... 39
5.1 Areas for future research ........................................................................................ 40
References ........................................................................................................................... 41
Appendix 1 – E-mail Invitation........................................................................................... 49
Appendix 2 – Example Interview Questions ...................................................................... 50
Appendix 3 – Example Interview Transcript ...................................................................... 51

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List of Figures

Figure 1. Communication Effectiveness Drives Superior Financial Performance ..........................4


Figure 2. The Communication Process ............................................................................................5
Figure 3. Hierarchy of Media Richness ...........................................................................................6
Figure 4. Media Capabilities............................................................................................................7
Figure 5. The Research Process “Onion” ......................................................................................16
Figure 6. An inductive approach....................................................................................................17
Figure 7. Interview Participants .....................................................................................................21
Figure 8. Internal Communication Problems.................................................................................29
Figure 9. Summary of employee perception..................................................................................35
Figure 10. Summary of benefits and barriers of social media implementation ...............................36
Figure 11. Suggestions on how to best use each social medium......................................................37
Figure 12. Recommendations for social media................................................................................38

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1 Introduction

1.1 Background to study

The subject of the dissertation stemmed from the author’s placement year at a multinational infor-
mation technology firm (called company X in the research). Following a research project the author
noted the global interest of companies (Ferris Research, 2006) wanting to harness emerging web
technologies such as blogs, wikis, podcasts and RSS feeds to build a competitive advantage. The
initial research also highlighted that companies were trying to use new technology to improve in-
ternal communications. The author wanted to research into whether emerging web technologies
(social media) could enhance internal communications. These two key terms are defined below.

Internal communication, as defined by Frank and Brown (1989) cited in Welch and Jackson (2007,
p. 174), is the “transaction of communication between individuals or groups at various levels of
business specialisation to design, implement and co-ordinate activities”. Quirke (2000) explains
that internal communications is also a process, which should empower employees to use their intel-
lect and creativity to provide value for their employer.

Social media has come to mean a collection of new computer based technologies that allow people
to interact and communicate with others and data in a new way (Boyd, 2006). Shirky (2002) cited
in Boyd (2006) explained the term social media is an update to previous terms such as “computer
mediated communication” to highlight the new technologies available on the internet and that the
platform has changed. New technologies such as blogs, wikis, podcasts and RSS news feeds are
examples of new social media illustrating how the next generation of the internet would look and
operate.

1.2 Contextualisation

The way businesses communicate is changing (Argenti, 2007). Internal communication is becom-
ing more important because the expansion of multinational companies caused by globalisation has
resulted in more long distance communication. Research has shown good internal communication
can promote staff commitment and motivation improving a company’s workforce and financial
performance (Quirke 2000; Yates, 2006). Internal communication is becoming more important to
multinational companies who now have teams spread throughout the world increasing the amount
of long distance communication. These two factors combined have led to companies wanting to
harness the talent, intellect and creativity of their staff by providing them with efficient communi-
cation channels.

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The current forms of communication have been criticised for increasing employee workload to the
extent employees have too much information to process (Argenti, 2007). Organisations are now
using electronic media and the internet to for internal communications more than ever (Mintel,
2007). The web is evolving into a more personal medium with even the inventor of the internet,
Tim Berners-Lee, acknowledging the importance of new social media stating, “the internet is a col-
laborative tool and the fact people are using wikis and blogs show the creative side of the web”
(Digital Divide.com, 2005). While many of the American fortune 500 companies have experi-
mented with social media externally to customers few have considered uses for the technology
internally (Lee et al, 2003; Holtz, 2006).

This dissertation is an exploratory research into how new social media could enhance internal
communication and whether the technology is fit for business purposes. The research also wants to
analyse existing forms of internal communication to suggest is there potential for new social media
within business.

1.3 Significance of the study

This research aims to investigate the problems with internal communication and the current media
available to businesses. The dissertation aims to assess current business opinions on emerging
social media and the scope for social media within business for internal communication.

The academic significance of this research is that it hopes to add to a relatively unexplored topic
area (Asif and Sargeant, 2000; Welch and Jackson, 2007). The dissertation also aims to provide an
analysis of both existing and new communication media presenting an academic dissertation that
has not been documented before.

The significance of the research to business is that it could provide insights into current employee
opinion and how possible technologies could be used. Companies are constantly striving to im-
prove communications and it is hoped this important topic may help companies at least gain an
overview of emerging social media and how it may benefit their company.

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1.4 Research objectives

The purpose of this study is to analyse whether new social media can help enhance internal com-
munications. The objectives are:

1. To understand the disadvantages and problems of current internal communication media.


2. To analyse employee perception of new social media.
3. To evaluate the benefits of implementing new social media and to evaluate the current barriers
to implementation.
4. To develop recommendations on how new social media should be applied for internal com-
munication purposes.

1.5 Scope and limitations

1. To understand the disadvantages and problems of current internal communication media.


2. Only the most prominent new social media is considered (blogs, wikis, podcasts and RSS).
3. The dissertation does not review or cover in depth the technical details of social media but
focuses on how the media can be used in a business context.

1.6 Overview of the dissertation

The literature review found in chapter 2 discusses relevant theories, authors and studies on internal
communication and new social media. Topics include the current media used for internal com-
munication, current problems with communication and a comprehensive analysis of new social
media and its benefits can also be found in this chapter.

The methodology located in chapter 3 will provide an account of how the primary and secondary
data for the study was obtained. It will explain the research strategy and philosophy of the study
along with which data collection methods were deemed the most viable for the research. Alterna-
tive approaches, limitations and ethics of the methodology are also discussed in this chapter.

The findings of the data collection will be analysed in chapter 4. This chapter will review the re-
sults of the interviews of participants and draw together both existing theories and current primary
data to see whether parallels can be drawn.

A conclusion along with recommendations for future research will be documented in chapter 5.
This chapter will review the findings of the study in comparison with the research objectives and
detail what has been found.

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2 Literature Review

The following chapter provides a theoretical and academic foundation of the research subject by
assessing secondary data sources. The first half of the chapter explores the importance of internal
communication for business while reviewing communication theory and media (e-mail, face to face
and telephone). The second half of the chapter looks at new social media (blogs, wikis, RSS and
podcasts) highlighting potential uses and benefits while evaluating the possible limitations.

2.1 Importance of internal communication

The majority of the literature showed internal communication was a vital component for a success-
ful business (Asif and Sargeant, 2000; Robson and Tourish, 2005). Yates (2006) believes good
internal communication can increase employee engagement and productivity enabling a company
to achieve superior long-term financial performance (figure 1).

Employee
Retention

Effective Greater Employee Superior


Communication Engagement & Financial
Practices Commitment Performance

Employee
Productivity

Figure 1. Communication Effectiveness Drives Superior Financial Performance


(Yates, 2006, p. 72)

The implication is internal communications can improve both employees and the working envi-
ronment of an organisation, which in the long term enables superior financial performance. The
importance of internal communication is expressed constantly within the literature with many
authors highlighting the benefits of good communication. The main benefit cited is how effective
internal communication can reduce mistakes, misunderstandings and conflict within the workplace
(Clampitt and Downs, 1993; Gilly and Wolfinbarger, 1998). Elving (2005) highlights that because
of less conflict employees can form strong working relationships and understanding transforming

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the workplace into a positive social environment. Foreman (1997) and Bottazzo (2005) believe
good relationships formed by effective communication can increase the motivation of employees
because their social needs are being fulfilled at work (Maslow, 1943). With employees feeling com-
fortable in their surroundings Massie and Anderson (2003) argue staff are more likely to contribute
and participate in their work. According to Kanter (1998) higher employee participation and dis-
cussion leads to increased innovation and creative thinking. Welch and Jackson (2007) highlight
internal communication can improve knowledge distribution through the company allowing staff to
obtain greater understanding of topics, which could be applied to their role. Daly, Teague and Kit-
chen (2003) support this claim stating that employees who have greater knowledge and
understanding will be better equipped to successfully deal with problematic circumstances.

The literature illustrates good internal communication can provide a plethora of benefits with the
implication that if managed effectively can have numerous positive repercussion for the business’s
staff and long term profit aspirations.

2.2 The communication process

The author felt it was essential to establish the role of a medium within the communication process.
Berlow’s (1970) communication process model (figure 2) shows the medium chosen to transmit a
message can affect both the form and content of the communication.

Encoding the Choosing the


Message Medium

Idea for the Decoding the


Message Message

Feedback to the
Message

Figure 2. The Communication Process


(Berlow, 1970)

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Berlow (1970) presents a popularised model suggesting that the communication process consists of
five separate stages: idea for the message, encoding the message, choosing the medium, decoding
the message and feedback to the message. Berlow’s (1970) model is a basic interpretation but dem-
onstrates the role of how important the medium chosen can be on the clarity of decoding the
message and its success at generating understanding.

2.3 Communication theory

Daft and Lengel’s (1984) media richness theory (MRT) states each communication medium differs
in its ability to convey awareness and understanding. The theory stipulates highly rich media (face
to face) is best suited for tasks of high ambiguity whereas low rich media is more appropriate for
unequivocal tasks where there is less chance of misunderstanding.

High Face to Face

Telephone
Media
Richness

Written Text
(E-mail)
Low

Figure 3. Hierarchy of Media Richness


(Daft, Lengel and Trevino, 1987)

This is illustrated by figure 3, which shows the Daft, Lengel and Trevino (1987) media richness
hierarchy. Each media is ranked according to four criteria; “the availability of instant feedback,
ability to convey social cues (e.g. body language), language variety and whether the medium can
effectively convey emotions” (Daft, Lengel and Trevino, 1987, p. 358). The theory is critical of
written text considering it to have few advantages for internal communication. The research from
Daft, Lengel and Trevino (1987) does not assess the medium of e-mail and therefore has a flaw in
providing an up to date assessment of communication media richness. DeLuca and Valacich (2006)
confirm this argument believing the MRT is outdated and relies too heavily on the criteria of

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whether feedback is instant or if social cues can be displayed. This dependence on two specific cri-
teria, they argue, has caused bias against written communication.

Dennis and Valacich (1999) present the media synchronicity theory (MST), which categorises me-
dia on whether they enable simultaneous (synchronous) or delayed (asynchronous) communication.
The MST relies on more than just two criteria (figure 4) assessing the ability to have multiple con-
versations (parallelism), the ability to rehearse a message before sending (rehearsability) and the
ability to readdress a message within the context of the communication (reprocessability). The
theory states that if tasks are complex then high understanding and media of high synchronicity is
needed (face to face). If the task is to create awareness then media of low synchronicity will be
most effective (e-mail).

Media Immediacy of Symbol Parallelism Rehearsability Reprocessability


feedback variety

Face to Face High High Low Low Low

Telephone High Medium Low Low Low

E-mail Low-Med Low-Med High High High

Figure 4. Media Capabilities


(DeLuca and Valacich, 2006, p. 327)

The MST provides a balanced assessment of communication media highlighting that face to face
and telephone have weakness and are not always the best forms of communication. The importance
for the dissertation is that both the MRT and MST argue each medium has a particular role and
should be chosen depending on the situational context. The main implication for the research is that
electronic media can present benefits, which traditional media does not possess (figure 4).

2.4 Review of current internal communication media

The author reviewed key literature (Argenti, 2007; Hewitt, 2006; Scholes, 1997; Foster and Jolly,
1997) to identify e-mail, face to face and telephone as the most common forms of internal com-
munication media. The author will now analyse these media to establish the current disadvantages
and problems surrounding internal communications.

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2.4.1 E-mail

The medium of e-mail is described as a message distributed and received by electronic means
(normally a computer) from one source to another (Oxford American Dictionary, 2005). Research
from IDC (2001; 2007) highlights e-mail is a growing medium and while recent results show the
tool is growing at a slower rate than previously businesses are still turning to electronic media to
communicate.

Hewitt (2006) believes the growth of e-mail volume can be attributed to the medium’s ability to be
easily accessible through portable technology devices such as mobiles and personal digital assist-
ants (PDAs). Rudnick (1996) and Hewitt (2006) conclude e-mail is a flexible medium, which
removes past constraints of time and place. Scholes (1997) states e-mail is fast and easy to use tool
that enables widespread communication to a large audience at a comparatively low cost of time and
money. The element of low cost is a benefit, which Hewitt (2006) believes to be increasingly im-
portant for businesses as the amount of long distance communication increases.

Quirke (1995) describes e-mail as impersonal because its lacks the ability to convey social cues
such as body language and tone of voice, which he argues, helps build strong working relation-
ships. Quirke’s (1995) argument could be interpreted as biased and merely a reflection of the
sceptical views surrounding e-mail at the time of publication in 1995. However, Quirke’s (1995)
assertion is supported by subsequent research from Hallowell (1999), Gummesson (2000) and
Panteli and Seeley (2004) who conclude e-mail is a one-way communication medium that does not
create interaction among staff. They argue that because feedback is slow with e-mail the sender
does no know if the message has been received, ignored or deleted.

E-mail’s ability to record information and ease of use make the medium appealing to employees,
which Panteli and Seeley (2004) argue has disadvantages for the business. They conclude e-mail is
often abused with employees relying too much on the medium for internal communication. A key
concern highlighted by Scholes (1997) is that e-mail is often used in favour of more practical media
suited to the situation. There is a gap in the literature on why employees may favour e-mail over
more practical methods. A suggestion from Hewitt (2006) is that because e-mail displays no major
social cues and allows senders to draft their message the user feels more in control of the com-
munication. They can decide when to send the message and when they want to respond to a reply.

Foster and Jolly (1997) highlight the over reliance on e-mail communication can cause information
overload whereby a person has too much information to process. Findings from a corporate survey
carried out by Vander Houwen (Argenti, 2007, p. 146) found the primary complaint of employees
was information overload highlighting the scale of the problem.

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In contrast Robson and Tourish (2005) recommend there is the need for more communication espe-
cially in times of change. Their research could be criticised for using a case study methodology and
therefore the results of the findings may not be applicable to the wider business environment. The
research from Robson and Tourish (2005) is proved to be a minority opinion through the work of
Symthe (1996), Overby (2007) and Brynko (2008) who highlight companies are actively trying to
reduce information overload.

Overby (2007) argues information overload is prominent within the workplace and that communi-
cation has to be co-ordinated and orchestrated in order to be effective. The implication is that
electronic media is susceptible to abuse because there is no control of the volume sent. Quirke
(2000) believes information overload through e-mail needs to be reduced otherwise working rela-
tionships will be stretched affecting employee morale. Quirke (2000) also highlights that because
of information overload the employee’s willingness to consume new messages is shrinking which
could result in messages being ignored or disregarded.

2.4.2 Face to face communication

Daft and Lengel (1984) and Quirke (2000) consider face to face the most effective medium at con-
veying social cues. The personal nature of face to face is considered the main attraction of using the
medium. Hess (2008) and Scholes (1997) suggest face to face is great at building personal relation-
ships because participants have the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings both visually and
audibly. Daft, Lengel and Trevino (1987) highlight that the instant feedback, which face to face
has, enables participants to question, query and clarify messages reducing the chances of ambiguity
or misunderstanding. Howard (1996) believes for this reason face to face should be the basis of a
company’s internal communications where possible.

Howard (1996) states that face-to-face communication is being reduced within companies not
through choice but due to circumstance. There is a lack of recent research to support this claim but
the literature does confirm face to face communication is changing. The literature does show the
growth of multinationals has changed the environment of face to face communication (Argenti,
2007). Time constraints and ever increasingly the cost of face-to-face communication are two of
the problems identified by Argenti (2007). There seems to be support for face to face as a rich
communication medium but Quirke (2000) summarises that businesses have to adapt in an envi-
ronment where employees operate in different locations. Berry (2006) states that face to face
meetings are subject to time constraints as members cannot stay for long periods. Research from
Newbold (1997) indicates face to face meetings are not always the most efficient as they can be
delayed, unclear and the distribution of time on subjects can be unequal in terms of importance.

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The literature is supportive of face to face as a team-building medium, which provides clear under-
standing of messages. However, the literature suggests the current trend towards virtual teams
means that face to face communication is becoming too expensive to be a regularly used medium.
The implication for the dissertation is that new communication media has to be time and cost effec-
tive.

2.4.3 Telephone and audio conferencing

A Mintel (2007) study found that there are 69.7 million subscribers to mobile phones in the UK
illustrating some users have two mobiles. The findings show that the telephone has evolved into a
portable medium, which can be used for communication anywhere. The increase in mobile users
illustrates the increase in telecommunications both for personal and for business use (Mintel,
2007).

Daft, Lengel and Trevino (1987) position the telephone as the second richest medium available for
internal communication. They claim that telephone provides instant feedback ensuring clarity of
messages reducing ambiguity or misunderstanding. Newbold (1997) states telephone, unlike e-
mail, is a personal and two-way communication tool encouraging communication and interaction.

Audio conferencing, which uses a telephone, provides a structure for large group discussions.
Audio conferencing according to Argenti (2006) has become a preferred method for meetings over
long distances due to its ability to transmit messages to a large audience. Scholes (1997) raises the
issue that within telephone communication messages can be forgotten, as a written record is not
established. Scholes believes that the effectiveness of the message can rely on the note takers
ability to record which if unreliable could result in communication breakdown or more communi-
cation to discover the true message. Scholes (1997) research also states that audio conferencing can
become a medium where one party dominates the communication leading to ideas being stifled and
lack of participation from members.

The literature demonstrates the telephone has evolved into a portable medium through the innova-
tion of mobile phones. The telephone enables a quick exchange of information while providing the
opportunity to build relationships and rapport through social cues. The implication for the disserta-
tion is that the telephone lacks the ability to continually engage participants during large conference
calls.

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2.5 Review of new social media

The author provides an interpretation of social media in the introduction as examples of new inter-
net technologies (web 2.0). The author analysed literature and identified that blogs, wikis, RSS and
podcasts were the most commonly cited examples of social media. The second half of the literature
review will now analyse these new social media by defining what they are and then assessing their
limitations and potential for internal communication.

2.5.1 Blogs

Kirby and Marsden (2006, p. 148) describe blogs as “ a frequently updated collaborative website in
the form of a diarised journal containing opinions, information and weblinks that reflect the inter-
ests and personalities of the author”. They distinguish that blogs are an interactive medium
allowing readers to post comments and feedback on the views of the author effectively promoting
discussion. Kirby and Marsden (2006) and Holtz (2006) argue that the informal writing style of a
blog makes the medium more personal and engaging than current forms of electronic communica-
tion (e-mail).

Holtz (2006) raises blogs ability to record and store posts chronologically in a user-friendly manner
means it can be used as a tool to review how a process, project or company opinion has evolved
over time. Gillin (2006) and Trombly (2004) suggest blogs could be used in conjunction or as an
alternative to e-mail helping distribute information to a wide audience quickly without having to
maintain the timely upkeep of e-mail distribution lists.

While predominantly the literature focuses on blogs being used to distribute information Holtz
(2006) argues blogs are more interactive than e-mail promoting discussion around topics, which
everyone can see. According to his research, blogs can be used to brainstorm new ideas, manage
events and according to Trombly (2004) can help create subject experts by providing them with an
outlet to express their opinion and knowledge.

2.5.2 RSS newsfeeds

Wusteman (2004, p. 404) defines RSS (Really Simple Syndication) as a


“channel or feed of recent additions to a website” (e.g. news updates). It is
a technology placed on a website whereby users can subscribe to a news
feed that alerts them of recent updates. Users then use a newsreader, which
highlights new stories that can then be easily accessed.

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The implication for internal communication is that users have content pushed to them as soon as it
becomes available saving time searching for new information or updates (Goldsborough, 2007).
Research from Perez (2007) shows that RSS has been successfully used by some US companies to
reduce information overload. This research suggests that RSS could be a useful tool in providing an
alternative way of accessing information, which is more manageable to the user.

RSS changes the process by which information is found and distributed with Gillmor (2004) be-
lieving the medium will consume the web. Holtz (2006) identifies the main advantages of the
medium is that RSS provides the reader with information about the article helping inform whether
the subject is important to the user. Time is saved in searching for updates and new content because
the user receives content when it is published therefore saving time. Also the tool allows employees
to keep up to date with subjects again ensuring quick and efficient access to the vital information
(Holtz, 2006).

2.5.3 Wikis

A wiki may be defined as a webpage, which allows users to add, edit and delete content (Holtz,
2006). The medium has received high acclaim from academics, librarians and researchers as ex-
pressed by Long (2006) and Ramos and Piper (2006) who conclude wikis provide great
collaboration opportunities. Wikis ability to be easily edited means there are no barriers to partici-
pation encouraging users to share their ideas. Bates (2006) comments that the wiki encourages staff
empowerment by providing a medium that enables them to express their ideas and opinions freely.

Another positive viewpoint comes from McKiernan (2005) cited in Long (2006) who describes
wikis as disruptive but a technological innovation. McKiernan (2005) states the wiki will be used in
the corporate world to form agendas, policies and reports because of the tools ability to share and
edit information. Long (2006) believes that the wiki can be a useful tool at collecting opinions and
knowledge in a simplistic but effective manner.

2.5.4 Podcasts

Podcasting is an asynchronous form of communication and according


to Shim et al (2007) has become one of the fastest growing technolo-
gies in recent years. Barnes (2007, p. 221) describes podcasts as
“video or audio files available on the internet which can be easily
downloaded”, a definition supported by Shim et al (2007).

- 12 -
Shim et al (2007, p. 589) admits that podcasting’s “impact and significance are in its infancy” mak-
ing the medium hard to evaluate fully. The flexibility of the medium to be downloaded onto an
MP3 player and then accessed anywhere is perhaps a key advantage of such a communication tool
being both engaging and easily accessible (Barnes, 2007).

2.6 Arguments against new social media

The new social media (blogs, wikis and podcasts) rely on a computer or electronic device and is
criticised within the literature for lacking social presence. Short et al (1976) believes each com-
munication media has a social presence determined by the amount of verbal and non-verbal cues
such as tone of voice, body language, facial expressions and eye contact. This theory was supported
by Daft and Lengel’s work (1984) who conclude that written text lacks richness and engagement.
The limitation highlighted by the theory is that computer mediated communication would not be as
effective or engaging as traditional communication methods as social presence and social cues are
non-existent (DeLuca and Valacich, 2006). However, DeLuca and Valacich (2006) heavily criticise
the theory in relation to emerging computer mediated communication media. They argue the theory
is highly outdated being constructed in an era where the computer was not used as a communica-
tion medium. The theory is criticised for being narrow in scope only considering the immediacy of
feedback and the availability of verbal and non-verbal cues.

A key problem against the successful implementation of new social media is the high levels of
scepticism expressed with the literature. Holtz (2006) reasons that emerging technologies take
longer to appear within business because they are often viewed as diversions and not valuable
within a business context. The reason for emerging technologies being treated with scepticism by
companies is because according to Lee et al (2006) there is a lack of research on the impact or ef-
fectiveness of the technology. As a result companies often pilot or resolve from implementing the
technology until proven effective (Simply Communicate.com 2007). In contrast to Lee et al (2006),
recent research has shown examples of success stories are emerging. Research from Culhane
(2008) highlights when Coca Cola implemented an internal blog, levels of employee engagement,
awareness and performance all increased. Nevertheless the Coca Cola example remains a lone pub-
lic representation regarding the impact of blogs.

2.7 Potential of new social media

Dolphin (2005) cites internal communication as one of Frederick Herzberg’s motivational factors
whereby poor internal communication could result in employee dissatisfaction. Social media could
improve internal communications therefore increasing employee satisfaction (Kirby and Marsden,

- 13 -
2006). At the heart of social media is the essence of making tools that create a more sociable work-
ing environment via the internet (O’Reilly, 2006). Holtz (2006) believes employee self esteem will
increase with the use of emerging social media as a result of being able to communicate with ex-
perts (via blogs), share ideas (via wikis) and interact with those who share your opinion. Berry
(2006) supports the argument that social media can create a strong sense of commitment and com-
munity.

An important advancement comes from Lee et al (2006) who highlights the importance of “genera-
tion X and Y” also referred to as “net-geners” who are a new breed of employee who has grown up
through the internet revolution often having high technical skills and a good education. According
to Armour (2005) “net-geners” are joining the workforce at a rapid rate making up 21% of the
workforce. Bogdanowicz and Bailey (2002) argue they are become an important corporate asset for
companies. The research of Lee et al (2006) and Leung (2003) conclude that “net-geners” demand
more independence while seeking meaning and community within their workplace. Lee et al
(2006) conclude that new social media will appeal and increase job satisfaction to this somewhat
new but ever increasing workplace demographic. The implication of the research is that new social
media could provide “net-geners” with a working environment that maximises their abilities and
social desire for recognition and purpose.

Cohen (1996) found that computer mediated communication increased participation among em-
ployees who would not otherwise interact. Sproull and Kiesler (1991) research shows this could be
because users were more frank and less inhibited when using electronic social media compared
with face to face. This is supported by research (Lee et al, 2006) that online communicators are less
inhibited and more willing to express ideas and be honest in their opinion. Kirby and Marsden
(2006) believe that new social media such as blogs offer a more personal and engaging medium
than e-mail. Cohen (1996) concludes that if employees are more engaged in communication then
the meaning and message of the communication is likely to be more successful.

Social media has the potential to increase idea generation and innovation within companies as a
result of improving collaboration and participation of employees (Kirby and Marsden, 2006). Em-
ployees through wikis and blogs will be able to provide new ideas to a wide range of people
throughout the company. Through emerging social media companies can utilise employee know-
ledge and experience through sharing thoughts on concepts (wikis), suggesting new directions for
management (blogs) while gaining access to more resources (RSS) will create a more informed
workforce (Holtz, 2006).

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2.8 Summary of literature review

To summarise the literature review has shown that internal communications can offer a company an
array of benefits. The work from Berlow (1970) highlighted that the medium chosen to distribute a
communication message is a vital part of the communication process. The theory reviewed shows
that each medium has a context within internal communication depending on the situation required.

The analysis of current communication media illustrate the key problems of e-mail are information
overload and its inability to convey social cues. The telephone was found to be a growing portable
medium, which was personal in one to one situations. The telephone was found to be less engaging
when used in group situations. Face to face was shown as a useful medium, which was constrained
by time and financial resources.

The second half of the literature review on social media explained there are high levels of scepti-
cism surrounding new communication technology due to a lack of business success stories. The
literature also demonstrates that some of the new social media could provide alternatives to e-mail
or accessing information and therefore reducing information overload. The literature also shows
that social media could have beneficial effects for the company’s employees such as increased par-
ticipation and creativity.

- 15 -
3 Methodology

This chapter identifies the techniques, strategies and approaches that were used to achieve the aims
and objectives outlined in chapter 1. This chapter will review the rationale behind why specific
methods were chosen and how data was collected for analysis. The limitations of the methodology
and recommendations for improvement can also be found at the end of the chapter.

3.1 Research design

The author adapted the “research process onion” format created by Saunders et al (2003, p.83) as a
template for the research design. Using the Saunders et al (2003) format the author constructed a
research approached for each “layer” of the onion model (figure 5). Each layer and dissertation ap-
proach will be discussed in the chapter.

Layer Dissertation Approach

Research Philosophy Interpretivism (Phenomenological)

Research Approach Exploratory, Inductive

Research Strategy Case study

Time Horizon Cross Sectional

Secondary Data Collection Books, Journals, Websites, Electronic


Methods Databases, Company Intranet

Primary Data Collection Participant Observation, Semi structured


Methods Interviews

Figure 5. The Research Process “Onion”


(Saunders et al, p. 83)

- 16 -
3.2 Research philosophy

The dissertation used an interpretivistic (phenomenological) philosophy because it allows the re-
searcher “greater flexibility to explore human motivations and feelings” (Easterby-Smith, 1991, p.
27). The author believed the philosophy would provide a better climate for deeper understanding of
employee opinions on internal communications.

Saunders et al (2003, p. 84) stated that business management research is “too complex to be theo-
rised by definite laws the same way as physical sciences”. Research from Jankowicz (2005) also
advocates the use of interpretivism for business and management research due its nature of allow-
ing the researcher to interpret events. After consideration the author believed there are numerous
influencing factors on people’s beliefs regarding internal communications and new social media,
which no scientific law could encapsulate therefore ruling out a positivist philosophy. The flexi-
bility to interpret data and employee opinion was felt best suited to this research as it provided the
author with a greater chance to fully understand employee opinion and achieve the initial research
objectives.

3.3 Research approach

The dissertation followed an inductive approach (figure 6) where the main aim is to create new
theory with emphasis being placed on understanding the meaning of events or phenomena (Saun-
ders et al, 2003; Jankowicz, 2005).

• Induction Emphasis


• Understanding of the meanings humans at-
tach to events

• Close understanding of research context


• The collection of qualitative data


• Flexible structure

• Realisation that the researcher is part of
the process

• Less generalisation
Figure 6. An inductive approach
(Saunders et al, 2003, p. 89)

- 17 -
The author was cautious that a deductive approach which encompassed a “rigid methodology and
did not permit alternative explanations for behaviour” (Saunders et al, 2003, p. 87) would not be
flexible enough to enable the author to gain a deeper understanding of internal communications
(Lancaster, 2005). The research subject is relatively new and unexplored. As a result the author felt
the inductive approach would provide a flexible structure, which could change as the project pro-
gressed. The inductive approach would best address the research objectives especially those
concerning the understanding of internal communications and employee feelings.

3.4 Time horizons

The author decided to use a cross sectional approach to the research aiming to take a “snapshot” of
the company at a particular moment in time (Saunders et al, 2003; Sekaran, 1992). This approach
was chosen in favour of a longitudinal study due to time constraints of the dissertation (Wilson,
2003). The author would have liked to implement a longitudinal study believing that it would have
provided more information and depth to current internal communication problems (Lancaster,
2005).

3.5 Internal secondary data

The author searched for existing internal secondary data by using the research company’s intranet
system. Search engines were used to navigate and explore the company’s internal pages to gain
current opinion, awareness and evidence of new social media. The author specifically searched for-
ums, bulletin boards and discussion groups using keywords such as web 2.0, blogs, podcasts and
wikis in order to review current social media activity for internal communications.

3.6 External secondary data

External secondary data was collected from textbooks, websites and predominantly electronic jour-
nals. Textbooks were used during the first stage of research to define ideas and key authors. The
author used electronic databases including Emerald, Business Source Complete, Mintel and Pro-
quest to locate relevant articles and reaffirm key authors and which journals could be used (e.g.
Journal of Business Communication). Websites were used to find out facts and statistics that were
not available in textbooks or journals, which was important as the research subject, had limited
secondary data. The author used the search engines including Google and Google Scholar to locate
relevant and respected websites.

- 18 -
The author used keywords to search for literature on communication and social media. The author
used a range of terms to locate articles, books and websites including: communication, internal
communications, organisation communication, employee communication, business communica-
tion, e-mail, telephone, telecommunications, face to face, blog, wiki, podcast, RSS, web 2.0, social
media, social media and virtual teams.

Bibliographies were searched to find other relevant authors and articles, which could be considered
useful for the research. A range of articles were found in the initial stages but were found to be not
relevant enough to the research and were therefore not included in the literature review. The author
did encounter problems while searching for the external secondary data. While it may seem to the
reader there is an over reliance on a small number of key authors this is because both field subjects
(internal communication and social media) are relatively new concepts. The author found there was
a lack of research on both topics especially social media. The author notes that given the contempo-
rary nature of the research, a study carried out in six months time may provide more secondary data
on social media.

3.7 Primary data

The author used participant observation and semi-structured interviews to collect primary data.

3.7.1 Participant observation

Participant observation was chosen because the author could integrate within the team helping
them experience success, problems and feelings (Lancaster, 2005). The author hoped this would
help generate unique findings that are otherwise hidden or not possible to discover through semi-
structured interviews (Graziano and Raulin, 2004). Participant observation was chosen because it
enabled the author to recall more detailed observations and feelings around the topic. The author
could also use their placement year experience to observe the climate and make an analysis of the
events around them.

The advantage of using such a collection method is that it can explain what is going on within a
social situation (Saunders et al, 2003). The author also felt that through recollecting their experi-
ences of internal communications a deeper understanding could be developed as they have
encountered the climate (Bryman and Bell, 2003). The author was also aware that the method could
lead to bias within the research as the author worked for company X and so this data collection
method was used to reflect and confirm on the issues raised by the interview participants.

- 19 -
The data was collected through a written account of observations regarding internal communica-
tion. The author notes there was a time delay from observing a situation to recording its occurrence.
As a result the author felt that experiences could be misinterpreted prompting the findings of par-
ticipant observation being used as a check and balance on the findings from the semi-structured
interviews. The knowledge gained from participant observation would allow the author to deter-
mine if the interview results are valid by contrasting the findings with the experiences of the author.

3.7.2 Semi structured interviews

The author used semi-structured questionnaires to collect qualitative data, which would allow the
continuation of an interpretivistic philosophy providing the opportunity to interpret the meaning
behind social phenomena (Easterby-Smith, 1991; Quinton and Smallbone, 2006). The author fo-
cused on capturing qualitative research because as Wilson (2003, p. 105) states it is “a flexible
approach with a limited number of individuals to produce non-quantifiable insights into behaviour,
motivations and attitudes.” The author wanted to address staff attitudes to new social media while
assessing current opinions.

Face to face semi-structured interviews were used as this method provided the flexibility to probe
the interviewee to gather more in-depth answers (Saunders et al, 2003). The author had a list of
topics to discuss and felt this method would allow for more freedom to investigate certain concepts
deeper based on the knowledge of the participant. Face to face interviews allows the researcher to
express unfamiliar terms that the interviewee may experience (Wilson, 2006; Lancaster, 2005)
which the author felt was very important when discussing the new concept of internal communica-
tion and social media. The author could also clarify answers ensuring the correct response is
recorded (Sekaran, 1992).

A non-probability sampling method was chosen as the research aims to review individual opinions
and experiences (Jankowicz, 2005). The results will not be generalised so a probability sample was
not required. The non-probability sampling method chosen was a mixture of judgement (purposive)
and convenience sampling (Wilson, 2003). The sample used the author’s placement year organisa-
tion, known as company X for reasons of anonymity. The sample did not have to conform to any
specific demographic; as the only prerequisite to qualify for the interview was that the participant
had to be a full time employee of company X. The sample was in part through convenience of ac-
cess in that the employees chosen were available for interview. However, the author did use
judgement sampling and selected employees who worked at different levels of the organisation to
gain a wider perspective of internal communication throughout the company. Judgement sampling
allowed the author to access subjects who were in the best position to provide the information re-

- 20 -
quired (Sekaran, 1992). As the research followed an interpretivistic approach the objective was not
to produce generalisations but in depth analysis on a phenomenon and as a result a sample size of
five was chosen (Collis and Hussey, 2003; Wilson, 2003).

The sample is shown in figure 7. The participants were selected for their expertise and diversity
within the company. In total there were five interviews, three face to face and two via telephone.
Three of the interviews were conducted onsite at the company’s offices. The remaining two inter-
views were carried out via telephone due to circumstance. The author would have ideally had all
interviews carried out by face to face but for practicality two of the interviews had to be carried out
via telephone.

Company X Position Participant

User Support Team Manager A

Portfolio Marketing Manager B

IT Specialist C

Communications Manager D

Market Analyst Intern E

Figure 7. Interview Participants

Participants were sent a structure of the topics being discussed prior to the interview date to ensure
there was enough time for them to consider answers and query any questions beforehand. The
interviews lasted approximately fifty minutes with the face-to-face interviews being recorded by
dictaphone to avoid interviewer error while the telephone interviews recorded through strict note-
taking.

3.7.3 Analysing the qualitative data

The dictaphone recordings were converted into written transcripts. The author then reduced the
amount of information from the findings by highlighting the key themes and which quotations were
best suited for the research (Collis and Hussey, 2003). The findings were put into a clear formatted
table where the author then interpreted the text and meanings of the qualitative data. The primary

- 21 -
data will be analysed by reviewing each objective (chapter 4) comparing the findings with the
secondary data.

3.7.4 Access

The author managed to utilise previous contacts at company X, which they previously worked for
ensuring gaining access for interviews was a simple process. The author sent emails to each indi-
vidual candidate ensuring there was enough time for delayed responses, rejections or confirmation
of participation.

3.8 Ethics

The author wanted to ensure that the research did not affect the rights of those who participated
(Saunders et al, 2003; Quinton and Smallbone, 2006). In particular the author wanted to adhere to
the following ethical issues and:

• Ensure that participants were not harmed as a consequence of participating in the research
• Ensure that disturbance to participants working environment was minimised
• Ensure respondents were aware and informed about the consequences of participating in the
research

The author ensured that permission was granted to use information obtained in the interview for the
research and that any interview transcripts or confidential data was stored in a safe and secure
place. The author followed advice from Jankowicz (2005) regarding the main ethical issues. Due to
the nature of the company the author ensured that any highly confidential information concerning
company affairs or clients was omitted from the research. In order to protect the privacy of the
interview participants and the research company all names have been kept anonymous. As a result
for the purpose of this research the organisation has been called company X. These precautions en-
sured the research complied with the Oxford Brookes University ethics code.

3.9 Threats to reliability and reliability

The author notes that reliability in phenomenological research is not considered as important in
comparison to a positivist approach (Collis and Hussey, 2003) because it is highly likely each
author would have different interpretations of the results. However, the author tried to ensure the
results were reliable by using participant observation as a check and balance on the answers given

- 22 -
in the semi constructed interviews. The author had three sources of information to draw on to con-
clude if the findings were reliable and valid.

The author notes that both the secondary and primary sources used were highly respectable. The
secondary resources were of high quality and relevance with many being academic journals ensur-
ing the data used was reliable. The primary data participants were all eligible for the research and
all had experience within company X. As a result the primary research sample were reliable and
respected data sources.

The author notes that the use of participant observation could have presented bias into the research
study because the author having worked for company X may already have preconceived ideas be-
fore the research. To overcome any bias the author only used participant observation as a check on
the primary research findings to improve triangulation of results.

The author believes there could have been interviewer error or bias with selected comments being
noted. To overcome any error of primary data collection the author used a dictaphone which should
have reduced error or bias to a particular viewpoint. The use of a dictaphone allowed for precise
recording of information but Easterby-Smith et al (2002) states that it might inhibit the inter-
viewee’s responses to the question as a result of being recorded. This could have affected the
validity of the results but the author tried to build up a rapport to ensure participants felt comfort-
able expressing their opinions.

3.10 Limitations and how it could have been improved

The main limitation of the research was time. The author would have liked to conduct a longitudi-
nal study, which may have provided more depth to the research findings. The sample size of five
was considered a limitation because the author would have liked to gain more opinion on social
media. The author would if they had more time used focus groups to gain employee opinion on
social media as this may have produce more discussion on the topic among participants.

Another limitation of the study was that the research only considered one UK company. The author
would have ideally liked to review another organisation in a different country to compare and con-
trast opinions on internal communication and social media. It would have also been interesting to
evaluate employees from different sectors.

- 23 -
4 Findings, analysis and discussion

This chapter will analyse the findings found from the primary data collection. The discussion will
compare the literature review findings with that of the primary data and this will form the conclu-
sions for the research, which can be found in chapter 5. The findings section will be split up into
four areas with each area presenting the findings, analysis and discussion for each of the 4 research
objectives.

4.1 Research objective 1

The first research objective was to understand the disadvantages and problems of current internal
communication media. The findings highlighted e-mail, face to face and telephone all have disad-
vantages creating problems for internal communication. Each medium will now be discussed.

4.1.1 E-mail

The findings illustrated that e-mail was the most commonly used internal communications me-
dium. The results found that information overload was the primary disadvantage and problem
caused through the over use of email as evidence d by the quotation from participant A. The pri-
mary research confirms the secondary literature of Argenti (2007), Overby (2007) and Brynko
(2008) that information overload is a key problem within the workplace.

“We get a lot of e-mail communication. Most people say they are drowning in it.” –
Participant A

The main reason cited for the use of e-mail was the tool’s ability to quickly distribute information
to a large audience confirming the ideas of Hewitt (2006) and Scholes (1997).

However, the findings did produce another reason for e-mail being over used, which the literature
review did not explore. The findings showed employees maybe using e-mail more because it offers
the user control and a “safety blanket” from which to hide behind. The quotation from participant
E interestingly illustrates some employees may use e-mail when alternative methods of communi-
cation may be more appropriate (Scholes, 1997). This author notes this could be down to the
participant (Market Analyst Intern) concerned has limited business experience but nevertheless
highlights a possible reason behind the abuse of e-mail. The quotation also illustrates that asyn-
chronous electronic media provides users with more control.

- 24 -
“I feel I am behind a safety blanket by using e-mail over phone and I find this a more use-
ful way of communication. There are people that I wouldn’t hesitate to e-mail but whom I
wouldn’t pick up the phone and call.” – Participant E

The findings confirm that information overload can stretch working relationships. Participant C
shows concern that if employees are too overloaded they will ignore incoming messages and e-
mails, which could have negative consequences on internal communication, confirming the work of
Panteli and Seeley (2004). The comment from participant B demonstrates the importance placed on
e-mail communication in business and the negative of impact information overload on employee
working hours. This demonstrates that if information overload is not reduced then employees may
become dissatisfied or demotivated when at work.

“Some people feel their overused and flooded with information and therefore don’t answer
their e-mails.” – Participant C

“People are reluctant to spend 2-3 days away from e-mail as they will get behind. If they
do then they usually have to do it at night. An eight hour day becomes ten to twelve hours.”
– Participant B

The findings showed the second disadvantage of e-mail was that while the majority of messages
could be clearly understood the tool lacked the ability to convey personality and social cues. The
research of Quirke (1995), Panteli and Seeley (2004) and Gummesson (2000) that e-mail is an im-
personal medium is somewhat supported by the primary research findings. E-mail was found to
stifle expression because tone of voice or other social cues were not visible as illustrated by com-
ments from participant C and E.

“It doesn’t express things, you can not emphasise things and it is hard to stress import-
ance.” – Participant C

“Tone, humour and the way you say something is sometimes not always communicated in
a way that you would in person. Humour is a difficult one.” – Participant E

Both Short’s (1976) social presence theory and Daft and Lengel’s media richness theory (1984)
were proven to be relatively accurate by the research findings. The lack of social cues did result in
sometimes messages being misunderstood or misinterpreted as evidenced by the quotation from
participant D. The use of e-mail across different cultures highlighted that communications via text-
based media could be open to more misinterpretation as evidence by participant B. The final re-

- 25 -
mark from participant B that personality can be conveyed if the recipient has been met further
demonstrates the importance of social cues for telephone and face to face communication.

“E-mail can be misunderstood and words open to interpretation, for example sarcasm.” –
Participant D

“My manager has a style of writing which is short and blunt. It could be a cultural thing. I
might accept them as short and rude in their shortness which is not what he intended. You
can pick up people’s personalities through e-mail but I think you need to meet them.” –
Participant B

4.1.2 Face to face

The findings demonstrated that face to face was considered the most popular form of internal
communication as evidence by the quotations from participants B and D. Reasons for its popularity
stemmed from the ability to find out more about colleague personalities and the ability to gain in-
stant feedback about new ideas and projects.

“I enjoy this type of communication. I think the quality of discussion is improved. I think
people are reluctant to be distracted as 20 of their colleagues are watching them.” –
Participant B

“Face to face is enjoyable and very effective for planning” – Participant D

Face to face communication was praised in the primary research for being an effective and personal
medium. However, the findings illustrate face to face communication is becoming too expensive
and relies heavily on funding. Argenti’s (2007) assessment that more virtual teams has resulted in
less face to face communication is confirmed by the quotations from participants A, B and C.

“I have only seen all my team up north once in the last year due to cost. That’s a factor.” –
Participant A

“Gaining approval for travel and the cost is the prime difficultly of face to face communi-
cation. Another is selecting an appropriate time and venue where everyone can meet so
there are challenges that go with it.” - Participant B

“There are ludicrously expensive. Because of my international role the ability to organise
meetings face to face is difficult. There was time where people spent hours on a plane
where the biggest cost was the number of work hours spent on planes.” – Participant C

- 26 -
4.1.3 Telephone

The findings showed that the time difference between telephone participants had become a con-
straint in planning audio conferencing calls. Due to time differences, the findings highlighted that
telephone calls are sometimes scheduled at inconvenient times and often require further calls to
clarify that objectives have been understood as evidenced by comments from participant B. These
findings highlight that Daft, Lengel and Trevino’s (1987) assertion that the telephone is effective at
providing clear understanding is not always the case as the medium is open to misinterpretation.

“Across Europe its only 1-2 hours but across the world trying to find a convenient time
with America and Asia is difficult. You sometimes therefore have to repeat a meeting or
call to ensure objectives are achieved.” – Participant B

The findings demonstrate communication across time zones is now a regular occurrence within
company X. The time difference to regions such America and Asia proves difficult to manage and
could have a detrimental effect on employee communication if meetings have to be repeated or
conducted out of normal office hours.

The primary research highlighted telephone’s second disadvantage was that it was less engaging
when used in a group situation for audio conferences. This is a contrast from the research of Daft
and Lengel (1984) who claim the telephone was engaging because it could exhibit social cues. As
evidenced by participant C the majority of participants found it hard to always engage with the me-
dium as it could become passive in large group situations.

“I find it very difficult to concentrate unless I am absorbing ideas rapidly or speaking.” It is


not always engaging because of the lack of seeing people’s expressions.” – Participant C

The findings showed telephone communication was often supported by visual stimulation such as
Microsoft PowerPoint slides in order to keep the recipient engaged and focused on the communica-
tion message. This supports the classification of Daft, Lengel and Trevino’s hierarchy (1987) that
the telephone does lack social cues and that visual stimulation is essential for engagement. Even
with this visual aid participants still found the telephone in group situations was not engaging as
evidenced by quotations from interviewees A, B and D.

“With audio conferences you sometimes find yourself doing multitasking. If your just lis-
tening its hard to maintain focus.” – Participant A

- 27 -
“Its very tempting when your not face to face to be distracted to check your e-mail, phone,
etc. You often find people are on the call but not actively listening. I have done that but I
only do it where I need to do it or I know the topic.” – Participant B

“Its hard, very hard. Having a visual tool helps but its still not always engaging as a discus-
sion.” – Participant D

4.1.4 Analysis and discussion of findings

Objective 1 was achieved to the extent it identified the underlying disadvantages and problems
(summarised in figure 8) with current internal communication media.

The findings highlighted that information overload was the overwhelming problem in the work-
place and that e-mail communication was the primary cause. The finding highlighted the need for a
reduction in the amount of e-mail communication within the company. E-mail was found to be an
impersonal tool where communication was one way. As a result the research raised questions about
the possible impact of increased e-mail communication on working relationships.

The secondary and primary research showed the reduction in the amount of face to face communi-
cation internally could be attributed to higher costs of travelling due to more virtual teams in the
company. Funding was the main problem with face to face communication identified by the re-
search. Research also found that once a team had met face to face the quality of communication
improved suggesting that a lack of face to face communication would result in misinterpretations of
specific communications (e.g. where humour or tone is misread).

While effective in one to one conversations the telephone was found to be less engaging when used
in a group situation. This research suggests that audio conferencing on a large scale may not always
be effective in providing a clear message that is fully consumed by the participant. Time constraints
and time differences were not found to be as important as first thought with the primary research
showing employees adapted their working hours. Nevertheless the issue of time was still a con-
straining factor on communication and explained a partial reason behind the increased use of e-
mail.

- 28 -
Key Problems with Internal Com- Applies to which Medium
munication

Information Overload E-mail

Time constraints Telephone; Face to face

Funding Face to face

Engagement Telephone; E-mail

Impersonal E-mail

Figure 8. Internal Communication Problems

The objective findings demonstrated that each of the current media assessed (e-mail, face to face
and telephone) had a role and context where it is the most effective at distributing information
(DeLuca and Valacich, 2006). The main problems of current media are summarised in figure 8 and
highlights that some of the problems (e.g. engagement) apply to more than one media. The findings
show that if current problems such as information overload continues it could have a negative im-
pact the working environment and a business’s long-term efficiency. In respect to the research
question, the findings highlighted there was significant scope for internal communications to be
improved. Notably the findings suggested the following:

1. There is the opportunity for a text based medium which is more personal than e-mail
2. There is the opportunity for a medium which is more engaging than e-mail or telephone
3. There is the need for a medium which is always accessible and low cost

To establish a balanced discussion the author felt it was necessary to include some of the positive
comments of current communication media.

As the quotations from participants B, C and D illustrate that e-mail is considered to have many
benefits including the ability to communicate to a large audience is a clear and concise format
while providing a recorded copy of the message. As a result the primary research supported claims
from Hewitt (2006) and Scholes (1997) regarding the advantages of e-mail. The primary research
shows that any new social media would have to encapsulate the same benefits in order to be con-
sidered an alternative to e-mail communication.

- 29 -
“You can read it a number of times and let the message sink in. Whereas if another form of
communication e.g. telephone you may only have one opportunity to listen to it.” –
Participant B

“Its good that everything is there is black and white, filed and recorded.” – Participant C

“E-mail is a good way of gaining information out of people, especially in a large organisa-
tion.” – Participant D

The medium of face to face received a positive reaction from participants except for the issue of
funding. Newbold’s (1997) criticism that face to face was inefficient because meetings were often
delayed and had no clear objectives was shown be unfounded by the research. Participants com-
mented that face to face was used primarily for planning new projects and in the process confirmed
the notion from Howard (1996) that face to face is the backbone of a company’s internal communi-
cations as evidenced by participant A.

“Depending on the nature of the discussion its better than doing it virtually, for example
brainstorming projects.” – Participant A

The findings did support the claim by Daft and Lengel (1984) that face to face was the richest form
of internal communication. Face to face communication was found to be effective at helping de-
velop team relationships partly because of increased social cues (body language, tone of voice, eye
contact). Perceptions could be formed about team member’s personalities and characteristics,
which improved working relationships and the quality of the work as both participant B and C ex-
plain.

“One of my observations of a virtual team is that the team were performing well but once
we had a face to face the acceleration of their performance was incredible. When we re-
sorted back to teleconferences the face people met the quality of the work improved.
People feel part of the team.” Participant B

“In my last team meeting we achieved so much and it would have been hard to do the same
over the telephone.” – Participant C

4.2 Research objective 2

The second research objective was to analyse employee perception of new social media such as
blogs, RSS, wikis and podcasts. The findings document the participant’s awareness and consump-
tion of new social media.

- 30 -
4.2.1 Awareness of new social media

The findings show that the participants interviewed were aware of the new social media as evi-
denced by the quotation from participant A.

“I have heard of all of these but I have never used a blog, wiki, podcast or RSS news
feeds.” – Participant A

“I use blogs, wikis, podcasts and RSS feeds at home for my own personal interests.” –
Participant E

However, while awareness levels of the new media are high only one (Participant E) of the five
interview respondents actually used all of the new social media available. From the other respond-
ents only RSS news feeds and podcasts were used. From the findings it can be noted that while
participants are aware of the new social media they are not using it within a business context. Find-
ings confirm with research from Lee et al (2006) that the lack of proven success stories has resulted
in employees not using the new social media.

4.2.2 Blogs

The respondents were most sceptical about the effectiveness of blogs within a business context as
shown by quotations from participants B and C.

“Blogs seem a waste of time. I have never been a blog writer. In my role I discount them as
a tool and perhaps time wasting.” – Participant B

“In a business context I wonder much scope for them. Blogs are basically online diaries
and can’t see much opportunity there.” – Participant C

Participant E raises the concern of privacy on a blog and posing the question what is considered
suitable content on a blog. This quotation illustrates that there is a lack of understanding of how
blogs can and should be used within a business context.

“I have privacy concerns. You have to be very careful what you can and cant talk about on
a blog where it is not policed as such. I have heard employees from other companies have
lost their jobs due to their actions on a blog.” – Participant E

The author notes that the high levels of scepticism encountered could be explained by the fact that
blogs are the newest form of social media (compared to podcasts, wikis and RSS) and therefore are

- 31 -
less likely to have been used by the participants personally. Also the notion that blogs could just be
another medium which increases communication content is a concern raised by participant A.

“It may be a good idea. However it depends on how much volume is in there. It could be
death by blogging. It could lead to additional communication and content.” – Participant A

4.2.3 RSS news feed

The primary research showed that RSS was present within company X but only two of the five par-
ticipants used the medium. RSS gained a positive reaction partly because participants accepted it
would not increase information overload but instead provide an alternative channel for existing
content to be pushed to them as illustrated by participant B. Participant B’s comment also confirms
the views of Gillmor (2004) that users will define the content they wish to view.

“I installed an RSS and originally it annoyed me. Now its there when I want it and I guess
the way I work adapts to it. If we had an RSS which updated me on things relevant to my
team that would be a good idea.” - Participant B

Results also indicated that users of RSS feeds found their working habits adapted to the media.
This is somewhat encouraging and highlights that at first any new technology could face scepticism
(Holtz, 2006) but if relevant to the individual can be successful.

4.2.4 Wikis

The primary research highlighted that wikis were being used within the innovation areas of the
business where idea generation and collaboration is commonplace as illustrated by the comment
from participant B. This confirms the views of Ramos and Piper (2006) and Long (2006) that wikis
can be used for collaboration and creativity.

“I’m less convinced by wikis. When I have used them they are used by the company’s in-
novation area. People don’t have time to look at the stuff.” – Participant B

However, the same comment highlights that at present wikis remain a tool for niche areas of the
business. There is scepticism around the wikis primarily because the company already has an exist-
ing area (share point) where documents can be shared and edited between users. The existing
technology does not save time as illustrated by participant C. The current problems with the share
point mean employees of company X may either welcome a replacement or be disenfranchised
with a similar medium.

- 32 -
“It does give you an alert telling you what has changed, but doesn’t tell you what file it is
in or what has changed, e.g. ideas have changed. Time is precious and the share point does
not always ease time.” – Participant C

4.2.5 Podcasts

Primary research shows podcasts were being used as a tool for internal communication through the
business. Some of the participants interviewed had experimented by creating their own podcasts
finding the outcome somewhat successful but time consuming as evidenced by the quotation from
participant A.

“My concern is whether people would listen to the podcast? If they are videos and they are
promoted they may be successful. We used a video podcast to help spread awareness of our
team internally and among team members. However it took a lot of time to create.” –
Participant A

The company was found to have a range of different podcasts both video and audio but when asked
most of the participants had listened to a podcast but it was not a regular occurrence. The number
of company X podcasts confirms the work of Shim et al (2007) that podcasts have become a fast
growing technology. As participant B comments the concern projected is that podcasts are not ef-
fective enough to warrant high levels of resources.

“When you have the time to listen to them, its good, but I don’t think people take the time
to listen to them. We probably have a huge library of podcasts in the company that are not
being used. I’m worried that the resources we spend on it are not being fully used.” –
Participant B

Findings showed that the success of a podcast depended on the content and the deliverer of the in-
formation. Participants commented that they would listen or watch podcasts that contained high
level speakers or good presentations as evidenced by participant D.

“The success depends on the input and content deliverer.” – Participant D

The primary research highlighted that while podcasts were widespread through the company, it was
still very much in the experimental phase (Shim et al, 2007) but the main question raised regarding
podcasts was whether they would be enough time to listen to them. The findings illustrate that
while podcasts are being used perhaps they are not being utilised in the best way to present interest-
ing and engaging content. The implication from the primary research is that employees have too
much content to choose from.

- 33 -
4.2.6 Opinion on new social media

On answering the question of what would be your reaction to new social media being implemented
the responses of participants were both positive yet full of scepticism. Encouragingly and contrary
to the secondary research from Holtz (2006) managers did perceive a use for the new social media
within internal communications. Participants even contemplated how the new social media could
be used in their work environment evidenced by comments from participant C.

“Trying to generate team cohesion and impart a sense of urgency and thoughts are import-
ant objectives and the idea of writing on a blog before I leave work is an intriguing idea but
it might actually work.” – Participant C

“Its an interesting idea (referring to the wiki). It is a matter of filtering and knowing what
you want. There are project I am in where we could have used messages and threads to col-
lect ideas. Maybe.” – Participant C

Participants were open to change as evidenced by participant A but the author notes this openness
could be due to the nature of the company where changes in software and technology are common-
place.

“I am quite open to change and any new technologies I am willing to try.” – Participant A

4.2.7 Analysis and discussion of findings

The findings (figure 5) are summarised in order of significance showing that the research found
participants to be highly sceptical regarding the need of social media in business confirming the
literature of Holtz (2006). However, the author notes that the results of the objective could have
been strengthened if the number of employees assessed was higher because it could have provided
a more balanced opinion of company X. Nevertheless the findings confirmed new social media is
seen as exciting but not necessarily applicable in a business context. The viewpoint expressed both
in literature and primary research illustrates there is a high level of scepticism among employees
regarding social media.

Some of the new social media (primarily podcasts) have been used within the company to limited
success. While awareness of the social media was high, employees lacked knowledge regarding
how the media could be used in a business context.

- 34 -
Employee Perception of New Social Media

Highly sceptical

Lack of understanding of how the social media


could be used in a business context

High awareness of new social media

Open minded to using new technology

Small number of active users

Figure 9. Summary of employee perception

The research showed that while employees were sceptical they were willing to try new technolo-
gies demonstrating a motivation to improve their communication environment by testing new
media.

The research showed that employees perceived RSS news feeds to be the most useful possibly be-
cause this media relies not on creating new content but pushing existing content to users. Blogs and
wikis were viewed with the most suspicion and therefore the author concludes employees would
need educating on how the media could be useful in order to be adopted.

Company X was found to be using the new social media to a limited extent but there remains a lack
of take up by the employees assessed. This could be due to a lack of awareness of what is available
or a lack of understanding of how the social media could be integrated effectively within their role.
This supports the research from Lee et al (2006) in the literature that the lack of business case stud-
ies and awareness around the impact of social media ensures that take up remains low. The
objective was achieved showing that scepticism is high with participants lacking understanding and
knowledge on how the technology could be implemented.

- 35 -
4.3 Research objective 3

The third research objective was to evaluate the benefits of implementing new social media and to
evaluate the current barriers to implementation.

Participant observation confirmed the claims of Kirby and Marsden (2006) that new social media
could increase participation and idea generation. The author witnessed that some new projects,
while limited, were created by thoughts and ideas published on blogs and wikis.

The other benefits from the secondary literature (shown in figure 10) could not be fully justified as
the participants interviewed had only partially used the social media. Through participant observa-
tion the author noted that the social media discussed within the dissertation had only been used
experimentally and was therefore hard to fully comprehend how much of a beneficial impact it had
on employees. The author therefore feels further research is needed to quantify whether the benefits
expressed in the literature match real life experiences.

Benefits of Implementation Barriers to Implementation

• Increases employee satisfaction • Scepticism remains among managerial


levels
• Empowers employees
• The worry that more communication
• Increases employee participation and channels will increase information
engagement overload
• Encourages open communication • The time to assess the new media
• Increases idea generation

• Appeals to the next generation of


employees

Figure 10. Summary of benefits and barriers of social media implementation

The objective was successful at categorising the barriers to entry of new social media (figure 10).
The biggest barrier to success was scepticism (Holtz, 2006; Lee et al, 2006) among managers and
the concern that more information channels would increase the levels of communication. The
author identifies that companies will need to address the concerns of staff in order to encourage the
use of new social media. As not all the benefits of new social media were evaluated this objective
was achieved to some extent. While some benefits were confirmed the author feels that more re-
search into the practical benefits of social media is needed. The author also believes that there

- 36 -
could be more potential barriers to entry, which could be found by actually monitoring and record-
ing the process of implementing social media within the business.

4.4 Research objective 4

The final research objective was to develop recommendations on how new social media should be
applied for internal communication purposes.

Both primary and secondary research offered insights into the recommendations for the implemen-
tation and use of the social media. Suggestions for best practice are shown in figure 11 evidenced
by the findings from secondary data and participant observation. The primary justified that the
work of Trombly (2004) and Gillin (2006) that they can be used to distribute information to large
audiences. The primary research from objective two shows wikis are being used for their ability to
harness creativity.

Social Medium Best Suited for

Blogs Publicising new initiatives, announcements to large audi-


ences

Wikis Idea generation and group collaboration

Podcasts Presentations, recording important meetings

RSS News Feeds Pushing new content to employees

Figure 11. Suggestions on how to best use each social medium

After analysis of the findings the author concludes that the number of recommendations that can be
made for the implementation of social media remain limited. This is because the majority of rec-
ommendations are based on employee opinion and secondary data. However the author does
conclude that the following recommendations (figure 12) would apply to all cases of social media
implementation.

- 37 -
Recommendation Reason

This will highlight the benefits of the social media and


Provide examples of business will dampen initial scepticism and address employee
success concerns that new social media will increase informa-
tion overload

Provide standard practices on Will improve employee understanding of the tool and
how best to use each medium how it is relevant to them

Ensure easy and widespread Will increase awareness and participation of the media
access to the tool

Provide set training and the This should provide employees with the time to review
time to access the new the new media
social media

Figure 12. Recommendations for social media

4.5 Summary of findings, analysis and discussion

The first objective highlighted that e-mail was the primary cause of information overload. The re-
sults showed that e-mail was overused for its simplicity and possibly for its ability to provide the
user with control over the communication.

The findings illustrated that the telephone was a useful one to one tool but fails to sustain audiences
when used in group situations. While time was considered a key constraint the findings showed this
was not an important issue to employees. Face to face communication was found to be a popular
medium but is being reduced within the workplace due to financial constraints. The research
showed that employee opinion of new social media was largely sceptical. While users were aware
of the technology they did not understand how the medium could be used in a business context.
The research also suggests that new social media can improve collaboration, innovation and par-
ticipation of employees. The research recommends that employees have to be educated and
informed as to how the tools can be used successfully for internal communications.

- 38 -
5 Conclusion

In answer to the original dissertation question of “can emerging social media enhance internal
business communication?” the answer is not conclusively yes or no because the research has shown
there is a lack of business case studies either successful or unsuccessful.

The author concludes that the dissertation has been successful at identifying the current weaknesses
within current internal communication media. The first research objective showed the rise of e-mail
communication had resulted with information overload for employees. Time constraints and fund-
ing were also raised as current problems with existing media. In conclusion objective one identifies
that there is the opportunity and scope for an alternative text based communication medium other
than e-mail, which is more personal and engaging.

The dissertation did successfully capture the current employee perceptions of new social media.
While employee perception was found to be overtly sceptical the feelings surrounding social media
was largely positive. The author concludes that employee scepticism may affect the amount of em-
ployees who actively use the media when introduced. However encouragingly the research shows
that employees are open to new technologies ensuring there is an opportunity for new social media
to succeed when implemented.

The author concludes that the dissertation not fully justify the benefits of social media within the
primary research findings. While two benefits were confirmed (increased participation and idea
generation) the benefits expressed in the literature were not proven. As a result the author sides
with caution about fully approving the positive influences of new social media on internal com-
munication. Theory from the literature review does present the case that new social media has
benefits, which can solve the problems of existing media, but this is a claim that has not been
proven by the dissertation. The author therefore feels more research is needed into the benefits of
social media for internal communications.

The dissertation did discover the barriers to implementation are high levels of scepticism and the
concern that more communication channels will increase the amount of communication. There is
not enough evidence from the study to either confirm or disregard this concern. The author con-
cludes that further study is needed to assess whether more communication would arise as a result.
The author offers the suggestion that communication levels would not increase with the introduc-
tion of new social media. Instead the author feels where an e-mail would have once been used a
blog post will be used as an alternative and again the author suggests this is an area for more re-
search. The final objective showed employee concerns needed to be addressed to ensure successful

- 39 -
implementation of social media. The dissertation did not fully achieve the fourth objective, as the
recommendations made would be improved by a case study of a pilot project to fully assess what is
needed for successful implementation.

To conclude the lack of research on successful implementation and the lack of business case studies
made it hard to fully assess whether new social media could enhance internal business communica-
tions. The author believes that social media could be used effectively within a business context as
primary research shows there is an opportunity and potential need for a more personal text based
communication medium as an alternative to e-mail. The findings also illustrate that there is an op-
portunity for new social media to improve participation, engagement and innovation within
companies especially those employing virtual or long distance teams.

The findings of the research have reaffirmed the importance of good internal communication. The
research implies that companies should consider investigating into how social media could be used
to benefit their internal communication. The findings are important because they highlight that
while employees may be aware of the terms there is still a lack of understanding around their ben-
efits and uses for internal communication. Ultimately it will be the users who decide if social media
proves successful at enhancing internal communication

5.1 Areas for future research

The author has identified areas for future research. Subsequent research should investigate whether
new social media would increase or decrease information overload. As a result of objective 3 not
fully confirming the benefits of social media the author suggests there should be a research study
into the benefits employees gain as a result of implementing social media. The author would also
recommend further research into how internal communication needs may differ depending on the
companies sector. As this research focuses on an IT company the author would like to research into
other sectors to compare whether the findings are the same. Finally the author suggests that there
should be a longitudinal research study recording the effects and change as a result of implement-
ing new social media.

- 40 -
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Appendix 1 – E-mail Invitation

Hi NAME,

I was hoping to ask if you would be interested in helping with my dissertation research. It would
involve an interview in January and would be nothing too daunting, lasting 30-40 minutes.

My dissertation looks at 2 areas:

1. Current challenges for internal communications in business (e.g. information overload such
as too many emails)

2. The new methods of computer mediated communications (CMC) such as blogs, wiki's, RSS
news feeds and whether these new communication methods can improve internal communica-
tions in business

I would like to capture your opinion on the internal communication problems you have and your
reaction to new CMC methods. I will happily provide you with a list of topics for discussion in the
interview. The interview itself would take place in early January ideally around the 15th or at a
time convenient for you. I would be more than happy to answer any questions. Obviously I realise
your time is quite limited so understand if you cant take part. Let me know if you can help

Best Regards,

Matthew Roche

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Appendix 2 – Example Interview Questions

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Appendix 3 – Example Interview Transcript

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