Social Networks and the Changing Patterns of Communication
Posted by Dan Lea
My final paper for English 745 – Communication Strategies for Emerging Media builds on ideas I have been studying in multiple classes and in carrying out my work as a public affairs specialist for a large health care organization. My paper explores the ways in which networked communication afforded by social media platforms is changing the patterns of internal and external communication in the workplace. The study explores previously-published research to draw connections between practices that have been learned from consumer behavior on external social media and practices that have been applied to internal organizational communication. It also includes my own observations. In the paper, I analyze the ways in which top-down, or one-to-many communication is being replaced by a many-to-many, networked flow of information. A review of the literature finds that this restructuring of communication has led to a deemphasizing of hierarchical organizational models and a growing prevalence of peer-to-peer collaboration. With the growth of networked communication, this study finds that individuals who place themselves at the intersections of social networks have the most influence.
To highlight three of the sources that interested me most:
David Meerman Scott, in the book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, describes how social media, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have afforded businesses new tools with which to reach potential customers and maintain relationships with existing customers, and how those businesses that use social media most effectively have had to adapt to a new communication power structure. In the not-so-distant past, marketing and public relations (PR) communications followed a one-to-many flow of information. Marketing and PR professionals created messages, which were then distributed to a mass audience via paid advertising and press releases (Scott, 2015). Scott describes how companies must adapt to the ways in which their customers now seek information: “…the evidence describing how people actually research products overwhelmingly suggests that companies must tell their stories and spread their ideas online, at the precise moment that potential buyers are searching for answers” (p.41). Social media, such as blogs that allow comments, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, have disrupted the previous one-way flow of information: “We also have the ability to interact and participate in conversations that other people begin on social media sites like Twitter, blogs, chat rooms and forums” (Scott, 2015, p. 41).
Mehra, Dixon, Brass, and Robertson, in the article, “The Social Network Ties of Group Leaders: Implications for Group Performance and Leader Reputation,” found that the social network ties of group leaders in a large insurance company were an indicator of leadership reputation and group success (2006). The study sought to measure the centrality of group leaders in internal and external social networks and to draw a connection to the group leaders’ reputations and the success of their groups, represented by sales and customer loyalty. Mehra et al. found that a group leader who was centrally placed in a network of his or her group members and/or a network of other group leaders did have an enhanced reputation for leadership among their group members and peers (2006). Perhaps more significantly, the study found that the groups led by those leaders were also more successful, both in overall sales performance and customer loyalty (Mehra et al., 2006).
Robert Berkman, in his article, “GE’s Colab Brings Good Things to the Company,” studied how GE is using an internal enterprise social network (ESN) called “GE Colab.” Interviewing GE’s chief information officer, Ron Utterbeck, Berkman found the organization was drawing on the same benefits offered by a external social networks such as Facebook to leverage existing connections and build new ones across the organization (2013). Utterbeck described the goals of using the platform: “…some of our challenges, as we’re global, is how do you connect people? How do you make it so that you can search and get the right skill sets very easily? How do you make GE a lot smaller of a place? How do you have a virtual water cooler?” (Berkman, 2013, p.2).
Utterbeck said the company is seeing real benefits to facilitating these network connections:
“We’re solving problems faster. When you belong to these groups and you can see how people are saying, ‘Hey, I got this problem,’ literally, within minutes, three or four people comment on it and say, ‘Have you tried this? What about this?’ People are connecting, finding the people they need.”
I also touch on the topics of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. My favorite example of this is the novel The Martian., which author Andy Weir originally posted, chapter-by-chapter, for free on his blog. Scientists who read the chapter suggested technical corrections. Readers eventually urged Weir to make an ebook available for sale, which he did, on Amazon, for $0.99. The popularity of the download led to a hugely successful book and movie deal. You can read all about it here: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-andy-weirs-the-martian-became-so-successful-2015-6
This research has been useful to me at work, where we use an enterprise social network called Yammer and other tools to collaborate across departmental and geographical boundaries. It has been interesting to study the ways in which personal connections, help get the job done, as I have definitely observed in my work. This is something I will continue to study throughout my master’s degree program.