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Effects of social tie content on knowledge transfer

Shihao Zhou (Master's Student in the Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Felix Siu (Teaching Consultant in the Division of Information and Technology Studies, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Minhong Wang (Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 1 June 2010



The aim of this study is to explore the role of social tie content in the interpersonal knowledge transfer process and to test the effects of different social ties, i.e. distinguishing instrumental tie and expressive tie, on knowledge transfer, using cognition‐ and affect‐based trust as the mediators.


A theoretical model was tested through a survey carried out on 152 MBA students of a university in east China, and structural equation modelling (SEM) was employed for data analysis.


This research proved that both instrumental and expressive ties will facilitate trust and knowledge transfer. Cognition‐based trust is not essential when low‐tacit, general knowledge is transferred, and the effect of the expressive tie becomes negative when trust is controlled. When transferring general knowledge the instrumental tie is more efficient. However, contrary to the hypothesis, it is found that the effect of the expressive tie is not significantly larger than that of the instrumental tie during the tacit knowledge transfer process.

Research limitations/implications

Besides tacitness, future research may consider involving more dimensions of knowledge into the theoretical model. Longitudinal and cross‐national studies are also needed.

Practical implications

The paper suggests that managers can enhance knowledge transfer among co‐workers by enhancing their instrumental and expressive ties. However, overuse of the expressive tie is risky. The importance of trust construction in organizations is also underscored.


The study reminds scholars to pay attention to the role of tie content in knowledge transfer. The findings also help managers to know how to increase knowledge transfer through promoting intra‐organizational networking.



Zhou, S., Siu, F. and Wang, M. (2010), "Effects of social tie content on knowledge transfer", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 449-463.



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