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Amsterdam Center for Social Media

Enterprise Social Media and the social fabric of collaboration

Weaving LoomBy Bart van den Hooff

Between December 13 and December 17, I attended the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) in Auckland, New Zealand. One interesting paper that was presented there is the one by Signe Dyrby, Tina Blegind Jensen and Michel Avital, all from the Copenhagen Business School. In their paper, they discuss how the implementation of an Enterprise Social Media (ESM) platform is related to the social fabric in an organization. The concept of a social fabric is derived from Latour, who used it to describe the underlying threads of interaction among individuals that together form their social life. Based on a case study about the implementation of Yammer in an IT consultancy company, the authors observe how the ESM tool became part of the social fabric, and how this in turn affected collaboration between the consultants.

The study is based on a rich dataset, combining 1,997 Yammer posts and comments, 163 hours on-site observation and 3 months of ongoing online observation on the Yammer platform, and 18 interviews with various employees. Based on an analysis of five controversies surrounding Yammer use, the authors identify four threads of social fabric in the use of the ESM:

1. Public-private context: based on a controversy over the proper context of Yammer use, a thread emerges that recognizes the importance of public space as well as the necessity to form special interest groups for some interactions, balancing “open” and “closed” spaces for specific purposes.

2. Social-professional content: here the central controversy is over the content of what is posted and shared on Yammer, a thread emerges of interactions that recognized the inevitable entanglement of social and professional contents and that accepted socially-oriented content as equally important to professionally-oriented content.

3. Praise–Reprimands giving ratio: a controversy over the extent of praises and reprimands expressed by colleagues on the Yammer platform created a thread of social fabric in which praise was appreciated and even encouraged by the system functionality, but reprimands were merely tolerated and remained controversial

4. News-Noise perception: a familiar controversy emerged over the extent to which Yammer should be the main internal communication channel of the company, since some employees mainly perceived it as a disturbance and preferred not to use it in spite of clear expectations that they should (management positioned it as mandatory). This led to a thread of the social fabric pertaining to the treatment of certain information on the platform as noise or as news.

Next, the authors examine how these threads of the social fabric are woven into two collaborative initiatives in the case company: a new blogging initiative on Yammer, and daily Scrum meetings on the platform. Their analysis shows that collaboration on ESM can be enabled when it supports the prevailing social fabric, whereas it can be inhibited when it is framed against the grain. Furthermore, the analysis shows that ESM technology presents a complex environment in which collaborative efforts must be tackled carefully, on a case-by-case basis, and in consideration of the interactive effect of the social fabric.

In conclusion, Dyrby et al. provide an interesting, in-depth analysis of the potential role of ESM in supporting collaboration. The perspective of how social fabric is woven into organizational collaboration is an interesting one, as it underlines the entanglement of social and technical components when ESM are used in collaborative practices in organizations. Identifying the threads of the social fabric provides insights into how ESM become an integrative part of the social environment in organizations by enabling and inhibiting collaboration.

For members of the Association for Information Systems, the paper is available here: http://aisel.aisnet.org/icis2014/proceedings/SocialMedia/22/

 

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