Below is the literature review submitted today for my Understanding Media Studies course. The goal is not so much to deliver a thorough synthesis of the field since this is the first course in the first semester of the Masters program. The idea is to become comfortable with the purpose of a Review and leverage prior work done on the annotated bibliography completed earlier. Hopefully, the Review is somewhat related to an eventual Thesis so I've tried to pull together some thoughts on how to improve work practices in times of change (explained below). Some of the thoughts below were contained with the presentation delivered at E2.0 Santa Clara on Architecting the Building Blocks of Enterprise Social Networking. Next up: a mock thesis due early December.
Organizations today are faced with an extreme period of uncertainty due to economic, geo-political, societal, environmental, and technological shifts that have occurred over the past few years and continue today, with no foreseeable return of “normalcy” in sight. Management is often unable to communicate to its workforce the firm’s long-term business direction, or the type of transformation necessary to navigate through this period of uncertainty. Improving the way people can better share information, coordinate activities and collaborate during periods of change is a topic I’ve studied from a technology perspective many years. This Literature Review presents an opportunity to “connect the dots” in a new way, identify gaps, and outline areas where future research is needed. By doing so, the Review also helps define a course for my own contributions to the field in the future.
Improving Work Practices in Times of Change
Several resources used for this project were articles referenced when I was an Industry Analyst at a variety of firms (e.g., Gartner, Burton Group) researching topics related to collaboration, social networking, and “Enterprise 2.0”. Other sources are ones I have found and reviewed as part of this course. The Literature Review presents a synthesis of selected academic and non-academic works that provides a rational for subsequent research that will examine how organizations can leverage media and communication practices in ways that help employees adapt work practices in times of change (e.g., firm reorganization, job transition, merger and acquisition, reduction in force, or an unanticipated crisis).
The Review looks across three research domains (refer to Topic Map in Figure 1). A scan of reference sources (e.g., Google Scholar, JSTOR) located a significant body of work in each of the three areas:
- Publics, Media & Participatory Culture
- Social Network Sites
- Organizational Identity
Figure 1: Topic Map
Where two circles overlap with each other (e.g., Organizational Identity and Social Network Sites), a much lesser amount of focused research was found. In the area where all three domains intersect, no research to-date has yet been identified.
A brief summary of each domain is provided as context to the Review:
- Publics, Media & Participatory Culture: This research area looks at the rise of public opinion as a unique part of social life and how communications media has helped facilitate new forms of participation and collective sharing at a mass scale.
- Social Network Sites (SNS): This research area examines how people leverage a SNS for publically interacting with friends, cohorts, and site members to which a person has no association. How the concept of an SNS is being applied within the organization (i.e., “Enterprise 2.0”) is also examined.
- Organizational Identity (OI): This research area looks at how workers deal with issues of identifying with the organization, the influence of managerial relationships and peer networks, and how OI affects workers and the firm.
Social Network Sites: From Consumer Roots To Business Technology
For the past five years, organizations have been looking to replicate the type of social dynamics that occur on consumer sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), where people come together to build relationships with other site members, form communities, share information, and collaborate. “Enterprise 2.0”, is the term used to describe deployment of similar social tools for business purposes (McAfee, 2006). McAfee adopts a technology-centric view in his 2006 article of how social tools benefit organizations. He argued that converging social tools into a centralized technology platform helped make people’s participation and contributions more visible. Use of social tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, tags and bookmarks) by employees promoted greater levels of participation than previous generations of productivity tools.
However, while McAfee identified the value of social tools to business and technology strategists, he failed to dive deeply into the cultural aspects of participation. While acknowledging the influences of managers and culture, these factors are not deeply pursued. To a large degree, the value of Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) occurs by how social tools foster what McAfee refers to as “emergent collaboration”.
There has been some analysis relevant to social tools within business environments. The concept of “social roles” has been by studied by examining people’s interactions within discussion forums and other types of social media (Gleave, Welser, Lento, & Smith, 2009). Social roles are represented by the actions people perform in certain situations (e.g., the “answer person” in a discussion forum). They are important for understanding how concepts related to identity and relations within social structures (e.g., communities), emerge and evolve over time. Those involved in building community or other social spaces benefit by understanding how such roles can be supported through better media design. A related line of thought looks at the concept of “social objects” within social networking environments (Engeström, 2007). “Object centered sociality” is an alternative way to examine networking dynamics since objects (e.g., photos), tend to bring people together enabling ties to form (Engeström, 2005).
However, the presence of social roles or social objects does not guarantee social networking success. Burt notes that advantage within social networks is not a given to those who are highly connected. Instead, individual agency and the social psychology of networks should be examined with a focus on the processes that help build social capital. Organizations that promote the concept of social networking to employees will find that people become disillusioned if benefits fail to materialize (Burt, 2010).
Social Network Sites: Learning From Consumer Experiences
A related foundation for understanding the cultural aspects of a SNS does exist in the consumer market where boyd and Ellison defined the term “Social Network Sites” (boyd & Ellison, 2007). While they define the technology characteristics of a SNS (e.g., profile, list of friends, news feed), the bulk of their subsequent analysis differs markedly from McAfee. boyd focuses not on social tools but on the media affordances enabled by an SNS (e.g., identity, social connectivity, publics, and privacy), and how those affordances are leveraged by people as part of their social life (boyd, 2011). Ellison similarly looks not at the technology within a SNS but how its affordances enable people to build social capital, cultivate social resources, and mobilize social networks based on expectations of reciprocity (Ellison, 2011).
A common theme across boyd and Ellison are notions of publics and performance. A SNS creates a type of public where individuals allow others to observe how they participate and contribute within that platform. Visible participation aligns with McAfee’s argument regarding the characteristics of a social platform (E2.0) used for business purposes. While this level of individual observation by others, some of whom could be strangers, appears intrusive, it can actually be viewed as a form of control and empowerment (Albrechtslund, 2008). Coining the term “participatory surveillance”, Albrechtslund argues that since members of a SNS are knowingly participating in public, surveillance by peers evolves as a shared practice and set of norms that allow people to represent themselves in serious or playful manners.
The concept of play and experimentation in the ways people create their own persona is relevant when trying to understand how people perform “on the front stage” of a SNS versus the “back stage” where more personal interactions and private disclosures happen (Pearson, 2009). Pearson examines how affordances created by a SNS also enable people to extend the number of weak ties they have with others. The low transaction costs associated with connecting to people on a SNS provides a platform for members to more easily explore whether a richer relationship (strong tie) is worthwhile. Techniques to accomplish such goals connect to points raised by Ellison (e.g., cultivation of social resources), and boyd (e.g., public and private boundaries).
However, visible and transparent network structures can also create ambiguity (boyd, Golder, and Lotan, 2010). They cite Twitter’s “retweet” feature as an example where editing of a retweeted post by other SNS participants can collapse contexts as multiple versions of the message becomes part of different conversations. The open nature of Twitter, where messages can be edited over and over again, inadequately preserve authorship, attribution, and the communication fidelity of the post’s original meaning as text is manipulated to fit into Twitter’s constraint of 140 characters.
Publics, Media, and Participatory Culture: Looking Beyond the SNS
While a SNS tends to dominate how people view use of social media by consumers and workers within the enterprise, Baym argues that the Internet cannot be looked upon as something apart from everyday life (Baym, 2010). Media communication occurs in the context of broader cultural dynamics. When new affordances emerge, they can have a polarizing affect on society until the culture reaches what Baym calls “operational consensus” regarding those mediated interactions and associated norms. Jenkins extends the notion of participation to a cultural phenomenon, distinguishing it from interaction, which he argues is the role of technology (Jenkins, 2009).
For Jenkins, the participation issue is cultural and environmental, not technological. He notes that participatory culture has low barriers for people to express themselves, provides support for sharing creations, includes some level of mentorship and a belief system where participants feel a social connection to one another and that their contributions matter.
This viewpoint augments Baym’s research, focusing more on the media literacies people need to effectively participate culturally and avoid what Jenkins refers to as a “participation gap”. However, for people to act in new ways culturally, individuals need to attain a sense of self-awareness that allows them to imagine themselves acting outside existing social structures (Taylor, 2003). Involvement in a public sphere enables people to see such possibilities by forming new opinions collectively with others. Media helps participants to intercommunicate and make views more widely known, which brings us back to the research of Baym and Jenkins.
Organizational Identity: Relationships, Influence, and Choice
Some organizational leadership research has looked at the operationalization of social exchanges though the lens of “relational coordination” (Prati, McMillan-Capehart, & Karriker, 2009). Relational Coordination (RC) examines the role of managers, manager influence, and the management of task interdependencies. Effective RC strategies undertaken by managers can improve how employees identify themselves with the firm. A strong sense of organizational identity (OI) helps organizations culturally communicate enterprise values and directives more effectively. RC then becomes a means for managers to achieve a positive and open communications environment with their employees, which in turn promotes a higher level of positive OI across the workforce.
RC however is not the only way to encourage strong OI. Other research has looked at the role of organizational commitment (Cole & Bruch, 2006). Organizational Commitment (OC) influences the level of employee attentiveness and engagement. However, OC can be influenced by where people are situated in an organization’s hierarchy. Hierarchical influences can result in a poor commitment level if workers feel detached, or believe they are outside a particular social group, which lowers an employee’s sense of OI. Such a situation can bring into question the notion of employee “choice” when there is lack of social coherence and variable conditions exist for them to make a decision (Stirling & Felin, 2011). Employees are faced with numerous social choices that are influenced by values, position within hierarchies, which connects back to concepts of RC and managerial influence on belief systems.
Additionally, Foot and Groleau point out that contradictions are inherent within work practices in times of change. As people traverse those contradictions, they undergo a series of “expansive learning cycles” which affect how organizational processes emerge and evolve over time. Socio-organizational relations should not be examined in small fragments based on communications media but as a part of a longer-term social fabric (Foot & Groleau, 2011), a view that aligns well with Baym.
Overall, what struck me the most was how difficult it was to find inter-disciplinary articles that spanned the research domains outlined in this Literature Review. While individual authors do discuss topics associated with multiple domains (e.g., boyd and Ellison discuss publics, participation and culture as well as a SNS), there is a lack of citations to research in those fields (e.g., in the research selected, Jenkins is not mentioned by boyd or Ellison even though synergies exist).
There is also a divide between research that focuses on the consumer market and research that focuses on business organizations. While research into a SNS as a type of mediated public and platform for social participation is well established in the consumer market, there has been little scholarly research conducted on E2.0 (as an SNS). McAfee’s seminal 2006 article has resulted in a dramatic market shift for business software. Today, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and other vendors offer E2.0 platforms that incorporate capabilities defined by boyd and Ellison in 2007.
Absence of a “big picture” viewpoint that connects SNS research to the interplay of publics, media, and participatory cultures also makes it difficult to frame where a SNS fits within a broader cultural context. However, the potential exists. Baym’s work allows us to frame a SNS as just one of many types of media communication and participation models affecting both interpersonal and societal relationships. Jenkins work augments work done by McAfee regarding E2.0. Jenkin’s focus on media literacies could rationalize how participation gaps within business organizations might arise when employees fail to develop the necessary media literacies or work within a culture where their contributions are not valued.
Inter-disciplinary connections can also be postulated between research that is focused more on management and organizational development (e.g., Foot, Prati, Cole) and work done by Taylor and Jenkins. Taylor argues that people need to see themselves as having an existence outside current social structures. Prati, Cole and Stirling might recast Taylor’s reasoning at a micro-level in terms of employees’ seeing themselves as operating outside a management hierarchy. Jenkins notion of participatory culture also seems relevant when we think about a successful RC situation. Conversely, one can imagine OC being negatively impacted by Jenkin’s notion of a participation gap.
“Connecting the dots in new ways” to create a new research agenda (refer to Figure 2) was a key goal of this project. As I move forward in the program, I hope to more cohesively address how organizations can leverage media and communication practices in ways that help employees adapt work practices in times of change by synthesizing additional viewpoints and adding my own contributions.
Figure 2: Synergistic Research Connections
Albrechtslund, A. (2008). Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance. First Monday, 13(3). Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2142/1949
Baym, N. (2010). Personal Connections in the Digital Age (1st ed.). Polity.
boyd, d. (2011, October 15). Embracing a Culture of Connectivity | Berkman Center. (video). Retrieved from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/2011/05/danahboyd
boyd, d., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x Retrieved from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html
boyd, d., Golder, S., & Lotan, G. (2010). Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter. 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) (pp. 1-10). Presented at the 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), IEEE. doi:10.1109/HICSS.2010.412
Burt, R. S. (2010). Neighbor Networks: Competitive Advantage Local and Personal. Oxford University Press, USA.
Cole, M. S., & Bruch, H. (2006). Organizational identity strength, identification, and commitment and their relationships to turnover intention: does organizational hierarchy matter? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 585-605. doi:10.1002/job.378
Ellison, N., (2011, October 15). Benefits of Facebook “Friends” | Berkman Center. Retrieved from http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/luncheon/2011/06/ellison
Engeström, J. (2005). Why some social network services work and others don’t — Or: the case for object-centered sociality :: Zengestrom. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why-some-social-network-services-work-and-others-dont-or-the-case-for-object-centered-sociality.html
Engeström, J. (2007). What makes a good social object :: Zengestrom. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2011, from http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2007/08/what-makes-a-good-social-object.html
Foot, K., & Groleau, C. (2011). Contradictions, transitions, and materiality in organizing processes: An activity theory perspective. First Monday, 16(6-6). Retrieved from
Gleave, E., Welser, H. T., Lento, T. M., & Smith, M. A. (2009). A Conceptual and Operational Definition of “Social Role” in Online Community. 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2009. HICSS ’09 (pp. 1-11). Presented at the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2009. HICSS ’09, IEEE. doi:10.1109/HICSS.2009.6
McAfee, A. P. (2006). Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration. MIT Sloan Management Review, 47(3), 21-28. doi:10.1109/EMR.2006.261380
Pearson, E. (2009). All the World Wide Web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks. First Monday, 14(3), 1–7. Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2162/2127
Prati, L. M., McMillan-Capehart, A., & Karriker, J. H. (2009). Affecting Organizational Identity: A Managers Influence. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(4), 404.
Stirling, W., & Felin, T. (2011). Social Choice in Organizations. SSRN eLibrary. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1939336
Taylor, C. (2003). Modern Social Imaginaries. Duke University Press Books.