The Impact of Social Media on Digital Guanxi Formation in the Chinese Workplace

Project: Research

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Organizational employees spend much of their working lives communicating with both proximate and remote colleagues. They rely on a wide variety of information systems to accomplish this work, with social media applications playing an increasingly prominent role in professional communication. Employees routinely need to connect with a large number of people and in order to enhance their communications, they often attempt to develop relationships online. Stronger relationships are often essential to the completion of work tasks. In the Chinese context, these relationships are referred to as guanxi. Although guanxi itself is well researched, there are a dozen or more sub-components that require careful examination. These include mianzi (face), ganqing (affection), renqing (empathy, favour), huibao (reciprocity), and hexie (harmony). Traditionally, guanxi was established through face-to-face communications that took place in private and were thus invisible to people outside the relationship. A few Information Systems scholars have explored digital guanxi, but these studies tend to focus on instrumental purposes, notably between buyers and sellers on e-commerce sites, with public social media (PSM) applications. They neglect the nuances of the enterprise social media (ESM)-based guanxi development process between employees and their interlocutors within organizations. Further, researchers have yet to explore the sociotechnical imbrications between guanxi (and its sub-components), the affordances of social media technologies, and employees’ desire to function effectively in the digitally-centric workplace.In this project, we propose to investigate the development of digital guanxi in the workplace. Our overarching research question is: How do organizational employees leverage the affordances of social media as they develop guanxi in the workplace? Our specific contextual focus is China. Although many ESM applications exist in China, we will focus on Alibaba’s Dingtalk and Tencent’s Enterprise Wechat. We will also examine Wechat’s PSM application, as this is extensively used across China and often used incombination with the ESM applications. From a thorough review of the literature, as well as qualitative interviews with organizational employees, we will compile a comprehensive set of concepts pertaining to digital guanxi and affordances of ESM. Next, we willundertake case studies in selected Chinese organizations in order to explore the full depth of the social media-based guanxi development process and its links to professional communication. Finally, from these multiple sources, we will develop a theoretical model that captures the many factors associated with digital guanxi development in the Chinese organizational context.


Project number9043053
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/21 → …