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Using social media for professional purposes – does it pay off?

08.12.2015

Can social media successfully be used for professional purposes? Business networks such as LinkedIn promise their users career success by providing “access to people, jobs, news, updates, and insights that help you be great at what you do”. But is this really the case? And can other social media also lead to informational benefits? Prof. Dr. Sonja Utz (Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, IWM Tübingen) found that especially users of professional networks such as LinkedIn report higher informational benefits than non-users. It also matters how people use the respective social media platforms.

Prof. Dr. Sonja Utz studied whether social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) users can retrieve professional informational benefits from social media use. Professional informational benefits are defined as receiving relevant work-related information timely and being referred to career opportunities by one’s network – important predictors of career success.

A survey among a representative sample of Dutch online users was conducted. Among the 1959 working people, 76% used Facebook or another social network site for private purposes, 32% used LinkedIn or another professional network, and 18% used Twitter or another microblogging service.

The results of the study, which recently appeared in the journal New Media & Society, found clear platform effects: LinkedIn users reported significantly higher professional informational benefits than non-users. The same pattern, albeit to a weaker extent, was found for Twitter users whereas Facebook users reported lower informational benefits than non-users did.

Just having a profile is not enough. For all three types of social media platforms, frequency of posting work-related content and strategic networking, i.e. adding potentially important people as contacts, predicted professional informational benefits. Thus, both the content and the composition of the online networks matter. Frequently reading what others posted mattered only on LinkedIn.

“Professional networks such as LinkedIn or Xing are explicitly designed for professional purposes. Most of the communication there is work-related; the chance is thus higher that people encounter relevant information than on Facebook” says Prof. Dr. Sonja Utz.

It is also important with whom users talk. Business networks make it easy to stay in touch with close friends and colleagues (so-called strong ties), but also with former acquaintances or people one has only met once (so-called weak ties). The study showed that the number of strong ties and the number of weak ties on LinkedIn predicted informational benefits.

Thus, the study found support for both: sociological theories stressing the importance of weak ties, and work in organizational settings showing that people prefer to turn to their strong ties because they trust them more.

The study thus shows that social media use can result in professional informational benefits. However, users should follow this advice: Use professional networks rather than Facebook, talk about your work, and strategically select your contacts!

The study is part of the ERC-Starting Grant project ReDefTie (Redefining tie strength – how social media (can) help us to get non-redundant useful information and emotional support). The researchers examine the effects of social media use. Based on the results, recommendations on how to use social media for specific purposes can be derived.

Link to the study (open access):
http://nms.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/10/15/1461444815604143

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Sonja Utz, Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, Schleichstraße 6, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany. Tel.: 0049 7071/ 979-308, E-Mail: s.utz@iwm-tuebingen.de

The Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien

The Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien (IWM) in Tuebingen analyses teaching and learning with digital technologies. In a multidisciplinary environment, around 80 scientists from cognition, behavioural and social sciences work on solving research questions concerning individual and collective knowledge acquisition in media environments. Since 2009, the IWM and the University of Tuebingen jointly run Germany’s first Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus “Informational Environments”.
Internet address: www.iwm-tuebingen.de

Contact & further informationen about the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien
Dr. Evamarie Blattner, press and public relations
Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, Schleichstraße 6, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany. Tel.: 0049 7071/ 979-222, E-Mail: presse@iwm-tuebingen.de

The Leibniz Association

The Leibniz Association connects 89 independent research institutions that range in focus from the natural, engineering and environmental sciences via economics, spatial and social sciences to the humanities. Leibniz institutes address issues of social, economic and ecological relevance. They conduct knowledge-driven and applied basic research, maintain scientific infrastructure and provide research-based services. The Leibniz Association identifies focus areas for knowledge transfer to policy-makers, academia, business and the public. Leibniz institutions collaborate intensively with universities – in the form of “Leibniz ScienceCampi” (thematic partnerships between university and non-university research institutes), for example – as well as with industry and other partners at home and abroad. They are subject to an independent evaluation procedure that is unparalleled in its transparency. Due to the importance of the institutions for the country as a whole, they are funded jointly by the federation and the federal states, employing some 18,100 individuals, including 9,200 researchers. The entire budget of all the institutes is approximately 1.64 billion EUR.

http://www.leibniz-gemeinschaft.de/en/home/

Dr. Evamarie Blattner | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

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