Understanding the Strategic Employment of Individual Proxies on Social Media for Organizational Information Management

In recent years, social media have become indispensable tools for organizations. Compared to more formal ‘command and control’ information and communication technologies (ICT) such as e-mail or intranets, social media platforms provide cost-effective and
scalable solutions to interact with external stakeholders (Castillo et al., 2021; Nian & Sundararajan, 2022) and to support internal communication, information-sharing, and problem-solving (Riemer et al., 2015). Information systems (IS) research on this matter
typically differentiates between public social media and enterprise social media, each being designated to serve specific purposes, i.e., public social media related to external (Heavey et al., 2020), and enterprise social media related to internal functions (Chen &
Wei, 2019; van Osch & Bulgurcu, 2020). This demarcation line, however, is not as distinct as most extant work suggests. In fact, public social media are increasingly utilized to serve various internal purposes (Bharati et al., 2021). For example, internal members
organize themselves in Facebook groups despite having an enterprise solution or organizational leaders engage with audiences on Twitter for information procurement. This creates challenges for organizations and researchers interested in the implementation and
study of information management measures. One of those challenges is the differentiation between formal and informal social media information sources, and the role of individuals–who are members of an organization and private users at the same time–for the utilization of informal information sources.
Users of public social media generate vast amounts of information that can be collected, analyzed, and repurposed to improve strategic decisions of organizations (He et al., 2018; Kordzadeh & Young, 2022). The term information management is often used as a broad concept that refers to the general research field that deals with management issues revolving around information and ICT (Galliers et al., 2020). In this dissertation, therefore, I use the term information management to refer to the issues and challenges that emerge from the strategic collection, analysis, and repurposing of public social media-sourced information.
This thesis aims to understand social media information challenges for organizations that arise from the tensions between formal organizational structures and informal individual practice. Extant theory explaining information management mechanisms relies on empirical research investigating formal ‘command and control’ ICT. The latter, however, largely differ from informal ‘self-organizing’ ICT such as public social media (Mirbabaie et al., 2020). Moreover, the configuration of public social media is tailored to represent individuals, i.e., through a profile picture, friends, or a personal biography. As opposed to wikis or crowdsourcing platforms, those personalization-based technologies are hardly compatible with organizational information management structures (Bharati et al., 2015). One example for the supremacy of individual profiles over organizational ones on social media is the platform LinkedIn, which algorithmically punishes organizational profiles and rewards postings by (professional) individuals (Edwards et al., 2015). Whereas the first decade of social media commodification in the 2010s has seen many organizations carefully nurturing their organizational social media representations, there
has been a shift towards the promotion of individual professional profiles (Bapna & Funk, 2021). A consequence of this development is that many organizations collaborate with social media influencers to reach external stakeholders. Social media influencers are
third-party actors with a substantial number of relevant relationships that qualify them to influence organizational stakeholders via social media (Enke & Borchers, 2019). Assigning a similar role to internal members of organizations, I argue, is widely overlooked by
extant literature. Chief executive officers (CEOs), managers, and other employees increasingly utilize social media to act on behalf of their organization. In contrast to social media influencers, these employees underly a functional authority inside the organization.
Extant research has referred to this phenomenon as “brand ambassadors” or “corporate influencers” (Hesse et al., 2021). Those concepts, however, are mostly confined to marketing or public relations and not information management objectives. For lack of a more comprehensive conceptualization as well as terminology that incorporates internal as well as external actors, I hereafter refer to individuals that act on behalf of an organization as
individual proxies. In non-technical terms, a proxy can be understood as “a person who is given the power or authority to do something […] for someone else” (MerriamWebster, 2022). Individual proxies in the context of information management on social media, therefore, describe individuals who act under the authority of organizations on social media to generate information that can be collected, analyzed, and repurposed to improve strategic decisions.

This thesis investigates the phenomenon of individual proxies on social media and them being subject to emerging tensions between formal organizational information management structures and informal individual social media use. To better understand this research subject, this thesis takes a Social Media Analytics (SMA) approach. Using this methodology in conjunction with the domain of information management adds value to the literature because of the following reasoning. Increasing organizational engagement
on social media make information management decisions more transparent (Baptista et al., 2020). This means that quantitative metrics and qualitative contents generated by organizations and individual proxies on public social media constitute a novel empirical entry point for the investigation of information management phenomena. Therefore, a broadened variety of methodological access to knowledge is available to researchers interested in those phenomena. SMA combines a set of data-driven analysis techniques including the collection, analysis, and visualisation of social media data (Stieglitz et al., 2014, 2018). It is often used by researchers to allow for a higher-level perspective on
collective online behaviour (Choi et al., 2020).

In this thesis, I problematize a notion that propagates the use of organizational public social media profiles (e.g., @VW; @Tesla) and neglects the role of personal social media representations, i.e., individual proxies (e.g., @Herbert_Diess; @elonmusk). Therefore,
I report and reflect upon the results of empirical case studies that investigate the phenomenon of individual proxies on social media. While doing so, this work places a focus on the information management context. One real-world example from this context is the collection and dissemination of local information by media organizations or emergency management agencies (EMA) during a crisis (Mirbabaie et al., 2020). The largely overlooked perspective on individual proxies extends existing literature on the role of individual proxies beyond marketing, public relations, or employer branding.

Consequently, the contributions of this thesis are threefold. First, I develop a notion of individual proxies for information management on social media. This helps researchers to better understand and coin the phenomenon of strategically employed individuals. Second, this thesis uncovers theoretical mechanisms that offer an explanation about how individual proxies impact the information management areas of identification of information needs, the acquisition of information, the organization and storage of information, the development of information products and services, the distribution of information, and the use of information (Choo, 2002). This advances the literature on information management by clarifying the often-overlooked role of strategically employed individual proxies and their social media profiles.



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