Published: March 8, 2018

Professor receives NSF award to study enterprise social media systems

Contact(s): Nikki O'Meara College of Communication Arts and Sciences office: (517) 353-0706

Assistant Professor Wietske Van Osch of Michigan State University’s Department of Media and Information received a five-year, $526,000 Early CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to analyze and encourage creative collaborations within an organization’s social media system.

Van Osch’s upcoming NSF project will argue that teams become aware of the discrepancies between their intended creative behaviors and actual interactions when they know what characteristics drive particular dialogue. In turn, those teams can be empowered through technology design to steer behaviors in more productive directions. 

“Organizations and organizational scholars have been grappling for decades with the question of what makes teams creative,” Van Osch said. “But in recent years, two challenges have prevented researchers from generating actionable solutions to this question.”

First, researchers are challenged by conflicting theories of what underpins group creativity. One group argues that increased transparency leads to increased diversity—which in turn results in enhanced creativity. Another group of researchers argues that privacy leads to increased cohesion and equality in a team, which improves creative output.

Van Osch believes internal social media platforms provide a unique opportunity for businesses and organizations to overcome these two challenges and is developing a feedback system to help.

Enterprise social media systems are similar to Facebook-like platforms with one main difference: The platform is only accessible to employees inside a particular company or organization. Employees can use their ESM to send private messages, make important announcements or to form small teams or communities to engage in projects, knowledge sharing or creative collaborations.

Having access to actual conversations and interactions through ESMs allows researchers to overcome the pitfalls of self-reported data. The direct access also enables researchers to build algorithms that yield more automated analyses so that a larger number of teams can be studied simultaneously. 

“As a result, ESMs offer a unique context in which we can solve the puzzle over whether transparency is good or bad for creativity,” Van Osch said. “Our preliminary findings show that not all creative dialogs are identical. More transparent groups generated more diverse or external perspectives. Conversely, creative dialogues that challenged the status quo or reframed ideas emerged within closed groups, fostered by a cohesive environment that built trust and equality.”

Ultimately, Van Osch said the study will result in building a persuasive feedback system—or a “Cyberinfrastructure for Smart Innovation (CSI)”—that can be applied in other contexts or studies. In particular, she looks to translate lessons learned about teams in organizations to classroom settings to improve team-based class projects, as well as to explore factors that drive successful classroom collaborations.


Assistant Professor Wietske Van Osch of MSU's Department of Media and Information

Wear Masks