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Microblogs are used primarily to communicate. Public microblogs, such as Twitter, can be a powerful channel for things like breaking news (Greenhow, 2009). However, these tools can have many other uses that stem from that communication. One example that emerged early on is the notion that public microblogs can be a powerful marketing and branding tool (Dunn, 2010). Therefore, they can also be used to advertise employment, and, conversely, look for a job (Kibbe, 2009). Zappos.com and many other companies use a public microblog to communicate with their customers and offer customer service. At conferences, during presentations, many participants use a public microblog to share their thoughts about the presentation and in some cases, their updates are projected to participants at the conference while it is taking place (Ebner, 2009). Yes, people have found a plethora of ways to use microblogs.

It is only fairly recently that people started wondering about microblogs’ educational value. For example, microblogs have been examined in an academic environment and results have shown that usage fostered informal learning (Ebner, Lienhardt, Rohs, & Meyer, 2010). Dunlap and Lowenthal (2009) describe their use of Twitter, a public microblog, to encourage free-flowing, just-in-time interactions and how those interactions enhance social presence in online courses. They clearly see the instructional value of a microblog but how do students feel about social media and social networking? Batchelder (2010) answered this question and found that, among other things, students developed confidence in their abilities to find the information they needed, experienced self-actualization and personal growth, they became committed to lifelong learning and saw value through finding solutions via collaboration and keeping in touch with a support group. The hypothesis is that microblogs can be used this way during the work day, in an informal manner day in and day out (instead of just in conjunction with coursework) and will achieve similar results.

Corporate testimonials have also emerged that tout internal microblogs, like Yammer, as a tool that can be used for learning (Lupfer, 2010). Indeed, microblogs can also be a peer support tool, such as, when used for asking questions of the people that follow you (Greenhow, 2009). A study that primarily focused on user acceptance of internal corporate microblogs, uncovered that among a variety of communication needs, active users also use it to ask questions and solve problems (Zhang, Qu, & Hansen, 2010, p. 3). The following categories as can be seen across the bottom of the chart emerged in Zhang, Qu, & Hansen’s study and they are overall consistent with many of the categories that emerged in this research.

Figure 1: Different Groups’ Benefit Perception of Yammer

Earlier research conducted on regular blogging, not microblogging, showed a lot of overlap in the categories that emerged between Jackson, Yates, & Orlikowski’s study (2007, p. 5), and this research, that explained why people blog.

Table 1: Types of Reported Benefits of Blogging

The first study that asked: “whether this new social medium can be harnessed to make our work more productive?” examined the use and value of microblogging in a fortune 500 firm revealed that Yammer helps people: (Zhang, Qu, Cody, & Wu, 2010, p. 7)

  1. Find out what others are working on
  2. Reach out to ask questions
  3. Find people who share similar interests
  4. Learn more about internal company news such as events or product releases
  5. Learning information about industry trends and news
  6. Make people’s work more visible to others

The list above is ordered from the most common use to the least common and we can see that finding out what others are working on is number one value and yet making my work visible to others is the least common. In the content coding analysis, researchers found that the largest portion of the messages are about internal or external news and less than 16% are about individuals talking about their current work. Interesting that most participants also said they often found information relevant to them. Again, overall, there is a lot of synergy in the categories that emerged from this study on why people use Yammer with this research, see Figure 2 (Zhang, Qu, Cody, et al., 2010, p. 7). The researchers cited here conducted a very thorough analysis of Yammer use, both with interviews and by analyzing actual messages exchanged on Yammer.

Figure 2: Yammer Helps Me… Survey

The intent of this research was to focus broadly across many different organizations in various industries and with sizes ranging from 5 employees to over 200,000 employees. While this limits the depth of this analysis within each organization, it does attempt to highlight what findings are consistent across these organizations and uncover best practices. The hypothesis in this research focuses on Yammer’s ability to connect people and through those people, provide assistance on-the-job.

Researchers, Zhao, Rosson, Matthews, & Moran (2011), reported that microblogging benefited work collaboration in project teams because team members could provide short updates on what they were accomplishing as they worked, this additional real-time collaboration, caused the teams to be much more in synch. For Zhao, Rosson, Matthews, & Moran (2011), audience size was restricted by putting project team members into a Yammer group and it showed that raised awareness between team members had a positive effect on collaboration and enabled timely feedback and expertise sharing with a restricted audience—the project team members.

This research does not restrict the audience size and in fact, this researcher postulates that the more people are using the system, the more opportunities there will be for people to reach out and help each other.

The study that focused on microblogging within teams found these types of examples (Zhao, et al., 2011, p. 3), which are consistent with many of the examples participants mentioned in these findings as well, see Table 2. However, notice the chart depicting how much people posted in each category. Project work activity statuses seems to be far more prevalent but only when people posted messages within the project group. They posted far less outside of that group to all their colleagues, which is consistent with this research as well.

Table 2: Categories of Microblog Posts

One of the important benefits of Yammer mentioned by previous researchers is that barriers to participation have plummeted because microblogging is, among other things, a low-cost operation, both in terms of time and cognitive load (McFedries, 2007; Zhang, Qu, Cody, et al., 2010). This too was consistent with the findings in this study.

While a lot of the studies mentioned above are similar from various aspects to this one, none of them focused on examining the potential of employees using microblogs to answer questions and uncover what a person is working on real time and therefore be able to provide learning opportunities and performance support in the workplace—all this by engaging the communities that internal microblogs foster.

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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“EPSS are primarily applicable in the workplace to promote learning and offer immediate performance guidance” (Ahmad, 2009, p. 8). Researchers agree that performance support systems can help improve communication and, ultimately, performance (Ahmad, 2009; Bayram & Crossman, 1997; Chang, 2007; Gamson, 1994; Marion, 2002; Raybould, 1995). Nguyen and Klein (2008) showed that participants using an electronic performance support system performed significantly better than those receiving formal training. It makes sense that aided task performance yields better results than unaided (Frank Nguyen, Klein, & Sullivan, 2005; van Schaik, Barker, & Famakinwa, 2007). The most effective performance support is context specific and provides assistance with a given task in a given situation (Tessmer & Richey, 1997).

In this researcher’s experience, the hardest aspect of designing a truly effective electronic performance support system is ascertaining when each employee is working on which task—in other words, the information needed to serve up the right kind of support. With the use of microblogs and consistently answering the question: What are you working on? Peers can easily read what people are working on and when and offer their support. Questions posted on a microblog are more straightforward in terms of performance support but only if they are answered in a timely fashion.

In addition, the perceived most effective aspect of an EPSS is the advisory, job-oriented or problem solving components (Chang, 2004). In fact, packaging and bringing expert knowledge to users is a key goal in creating an EPSS (Hile, Campbell, & Ghobary, 1994). Perhaps this is why EPSS generally focus on bringing content to users as opposed to connecting people to more seasoned colleagues, or experts. However, a microblog can bring not just content to employees when they need it but it can actually connect them to the expert to talk to. Performance support systems have not fundamentally been viewed as systems that can bring people, not just content together. Ultimately, a performance support system can be used as a cognitive tool for employees in organizations (Wild, 2000).

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

Peter Henschel, former director of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), said (Cross, 2007, p. xiii): “People are learning all the time, in varied settings and often most effectively in the context of work itself. ‘Training’ ─ formal learning of all kinds ─ channels some important learning but doesn’t carry the heaviest load. The workhorse of the knowledge economy has been, and continues to be, informal learning (p. xiiip. xiii).” Cross (2007) defines informal learning as any learning that takes place outside of the classroom, which he considers formal learning. Cross (2007, p. 243) explains that study results vary, but findings still show that the majority, anywhere from 70 to 90 percent, of learning in organizations takes place informally. Yet, corporations spend 80% of their training budget on formal training and only 20% on informal (p. 17). Deepak (Dick) Sethi, the CEO of Organic Leadership, said (Cross, 2007): “Informal learning is effective because it is personal, just-in-time, customized, and the learner is motivated and open to receiving it. It also has greater credibility and relevance” (p. 17). Yammer is in fact used during and throughout the work day, in the context of work itself, so, if, as a person is working, and they can use a microblog to receive information they can learn from that is relevant to what they are working on, then this could be a really powerful informal learning tool. People are more likely to engage when content is relevant to them (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 83)

Sargeant, et al. (2006) conducted a study that focused on high-scoring physicians. Results showed that a fundamental component of success was informal learning opportunities, especially through working with patients, and working with and having discussions with colleagues. Similarly in a study that examined how nurses become competent practitioners, informal learning strategies proved to be key (Sharoff, 2006).

The use of a microblog itself is an informal experience. While some people post updates once a day, others update it every time they change tasks. The question is: can a glance at a status message about work activities help us learn and even perform better? Will questions posted in the moment of need, just in time, be answered fast enough to provide real value?

This is a section of a research study, to read more, go to the Table of Contents.

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