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Part 2 of a 5-part series examining how social media has and will affect how organizations functions. The series is derived from a full-length article found in MIS Quarterly Executive.
Social psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester contend that “relatedness” is a basic psychological need. Technology platforms that enable new ways to relate, enhance existing social capabilities, or make social networks more transparent have the potential to help meet a basic psychological need.
The ability of technology-based social networks to achieve this potential, however, depends on several factors identified by researchers studying offline social networks — proximities, interactions, relationships, and flows. Understanding these four factors and their different roles in online and offline social networks is critical to understanding the potential value of social tools within the enterprise.
Flows represent the transfer of information from one person to another. While some pre-existing connection between individuals is necessary for flows in offline networks, social media enables flows without the necessity of any previous relationship between users. A good example is Twitter hashtags or trending topics, which allow people to find and organize information around a common interest, even if they do not know each other.
These types of flows allow individuals to remotely participate in live events, such as sporting events, unfolding news stories (the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the 2015 trial of the accused bomber, for instance), or awards shows. They also allow groups to organize quickly in response to an unforeseen crisis, such as when the American Red Cross used Twitter to coordinate aid in response to Hurricane Sandy. New video feed platforms, such as Periscope and Meerkat, may take these information flows to a new level.
Relationships are perhaps the most common types of connections in social networking platforms. Relationships are persistent connections that define the relationship over time — such as friend, follower, or connection. These new digital relationships typically allow individuals to more efficiently maintain a larger network of connections, because they are tapped only when needed or provide serendipitous access to information.
While we have considerable control over the definition of our nuanced relationships offline, platform designers define what a relationship consists of online.