Appreciation of Treem & Leonardi (and Jeff Merrell!)

In my experience in teaching the course MSLOC 430 Creating and Sharing Knowledge, I have come to more deeply appreciate the first third of the course, where we explore different points of view about organizational knowledge, learning and technology. Here is the basic storyline of the course, in thirds: Let’s take a look at how […]

via How do we think about creating and sharing knowledge in organizations? — Jeff Merrell

Of the articles on #ESN that Jeff mentions in his post, the one by Treem and Leonardi (Social Media Use in Organizations Exploring the Affordances of Visibility, Editability, Persistence, and Association) is the one that stood out for me at the time, and has been boundlessly useful since I took the class. As my organization gradually  implements Yammer, I keep coming back to Treem and Leonardi to help people understand the value of enterprise social networks. I have based discussions, presentations, and internal blog posts on the foundation of those affordances analyzed in that article. People still struggle-“Tell me again why this is a good thing?”-but with a firm foundation I can answer those questions and help move people toward acceptance and utilization.

A long ways yet to go persuading colleagues, but it would be much, much longer without the solid foundation I received in my encounter with Treem and Leonardi in Jeff Merrell’s invigorating class.

Yammer and Knowledge Management


First off, let’s begin by acknowledging the importance of knowledge management to organizations. That knowledge is a strategically important resource for competitive advantage is well understood. A resource-based theory of organizations holds that valuable, rare, and non-substitutable resources, such as knowledge, lead to sustainable competitive advantage.

Connecting and sharing knowledge that exists throughout organizations represents a key challenge that has been addressed through a variety of resources, such as data warehousing, decision support systems, project management systems, and dedicated internal websites. These highly formal systems are not, however, very successful at the interpersonal and informal process of knowledge sharing. Organizations are therefore increasingly open to experimenting with Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) like Yammer.

What’s the big challenge, then, that Yammer can address? Not knowing where expertise exists in an organization is one of the major challenges to knowledge management that organizations face. Lew Platt, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, has been quoted as saying, “If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times as profitable.” ESNs like Yammer have been demonstrated to contribute to the up-to-date understanding of the distribution of relevant expertise. How?

  • Yammer offers real-time informal and social elements: for example, posts and comments serve as indirect sources of inference on expertise. Experts identified through user-generated content that is shared in real-time can be more up-to-date that listings of experts found on a web page that is only updated occasionally (or ever, in the case of My PepsiCo. Sorry!)
  • Yammer combines social connection and stored expertise data not just to locate experts, but to visualize multiple paths to those experts. Knowledge seekers can reach out to experts directly, or reach out to other intermediate contacts, such as those who comment on posts.
  • Yammer provides visibility to “knowledge conversations”: by observing the interactions of others in posts, comments, and discussions, users can gain a sense of who knows what.
  • Yammer promotes two-way awareness that facilitates knowledge sharing: the interactivity and publicity of ESNs enables motivated knowledge providers to “push” expertise to needed parties with ease, a process that has been described as “information allocation”.

And of course, users need not be present when these posts and conversations originally take place—conversations continue to reside in the Yammer activity stream for anyone to access at any time.


Fulk, J., & Yuan, Y. C. (2013). Location, Motivation, and Social Capitalization via Enterprise Social Networking. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(1), 20–37.

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