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This post is part 4 in a 5-part series focusing on the potential impact of social media within the enterprise. Part 1 dealt with a framework for understanding how social media supports relationships and content in ways that both enable and constrain employees. Part 2 addressed the multiple types of relationships that social media supports, compared to earlier generations of collaboration tools. Part 3 focused on the implications of presenting and protecting content on organizational collaboration. In this fourth installment, I focus on how the features of enterprise social media can allow employees to network in new ways that can influence their performance. This series is based on an article published in Vol 14, No 1 (2015) of MIS Quarterly Executive.
People are inherently social creatures. Social, a recent book by UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman, suggests that human brains are actually hard-wired that way. Not only are we hard-wired to be social, but we have certain inherent tendencies to interact in certain ways.
Consumer-facing social media platforms largely reinforce these natural social tendencies. The reason is for doing so simple: The more these platforms cater to our natural social tendencies, the more likely (and frequently) we will use them. It’s no accident that Facebook has amassed a global user base of over 1.5 billion monthly active users. The platform taps into, facilitates, and reinforces something that is at the very core of who we are as human beings.
In organizational settings, however, our natural networking tendencies don’t necessarily lead to desirable outcomes. For instance, people typically want to interact with other people who are most like them (a characteristic known as homophily) and who share common social relationships (a characteristic known as balance). Connecting with like-minded people is enjoyable — but it often reinforces existing biases and degrades effective decision-making.
When someone connects with people who share similar perspectives and relationships to their own, those new connections typically don’t offer new insights or alternative viewpoints that person couldn’t have accessed before. The natural tendency to be drawn to people similar to yourself can create an “echo chamber,” which can lead to network structures that are detrimental to individual and organizational performance.