Handbooks of Research Methods in Management series
Edited by Keith Townsend, Rebecca Loudoun and David Lewin
Chapter 7: Netnographical methods and the challenge of researching hidden and secretive employee social media practices
The use of social media appears ubiquitous in modern society. Generation Y is perhaps the greatest user of social media, yet it is apparent that older generations also make plenty of use of social media. It is apparent that organisations are increasingly using social media as marketing or recruitment tools. Even governments have attempted to inform and influence the public through the application of common social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, in human resource management (HRM) terms, the ubiquity of social media, that is, employers and employees applying the same communication technologies for often quite different purposes and to achieve quite different ends, means something quite distinct. For example, McDonald and Thompson (2016) believe social media has led to a major reshaping of the public/private boundaries in the employment relationship. What this means is social media has the potential to amplify and create a new place for tensions in the employment relationship. Social media is itself a contestable terrain as employers, unlike in the case of company emails and notice boards, do not have any direct right to control employee use of such communication technologies. Such tensions, moreover, regularly and continue to feature in the popular press, typically taking the form of employees “badmouthing” employers, managers, colleagues or customer/client groups on Facebook, and often leading to many a headache for HR departments across the land. The focus of this chapter is an unfunded research project conducted circa 2005 at a time when social media was relatively new, yet beginning to attract the attention of both employers and employees. The research project in question represents what was then the most emergent and newsworthy form of social media – blogs. Employee blogs and blogging, while attracting a certain degree of popular media attention at the time, however, remained an often hidden and secretive practice. This was mainly because the media picked up on selective examples of such practices and employees, fearing being disciplined by their employer, often took steps, such as blogging under a pseudonym, to avoid direct association with their blogging practices.
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