«Researchers have endeavored to increase understanding of the relationships between investments in information systems (IS), competitive advantage, ...»
Schuler, 1994; Vannoy & Palvia, Forthcoming). However, only recently has the term ―social computing‖ entered the mainstream. It has been suggested that social computing brings new research challenges, requiring new theories and research methodologies that can reach beyond mere usage of technology and information into the social realm.
Furthermore, it is incumbent upon information systems researchers, whose domain is,
participants in understanding social computing and what it can offer their institutions (Parameswaran & Whinston, 2007a).
Most current conceptualizations of social computing are in the realm of online social networking websites, such as MySpace.com, Facebook.com and the like.
However, social computing has recently been defined in the academic literature on a
much broader scale. Vannoy & Palvia (Forthcoming) have defined social computing as:
Intra-group social and business actions practiced through group consensus, group cooperation, and group authority, where such actions are made possible through the mediation of information technologies, and where group interaction causes members to conform and influences others to join the group.
The Social Computing Group at IBM suggests that social computing is defined as ―digital systems that provide a social context for our activities.‖ In Study II of this dissertation, social computing in conjunction with social network theory and literature from organizational communication are used to investigate the social networks that form around information and communication technologies inherent in the organizational setting. Specifically, the manner in which information technology provides the platform for organizational discourse (Corman, Kuhn, McPhee & Dooley, 2002) is examined in the context of conceiving, enacting and executing competitive actions and responses toward firm performance.
6.1.5. Social Network Theory. Hatala (2006) defines a social network as ―a set of people or groups of people…with some pattern of interaction or ―ties‖ between them.‖ Interest in social networks has a long and distinguished history. Early thinkers such as
individuals, but ―the sum of the relations in which these individuals stand to one another,‖ while Leopold von Weise (1931: 1941) suggested that if we could actually visualize society it would appear as ―an impenetrable network of lines between men‖ (p.
30). In the 1930s, psychologists, anthropologists and mathematicians became interested in furthering the study of these associations by mapping the relationships between individuals in networks. They used such tools as sociometry, the geometric representation of individuals and the lines that connected them (Moreno, 1934) and graph theory (Cartwright & Harary, 1956) to determine the mathematical measurement of relationships between individuals. A great deal of the early work in network analysis tended toward the highly mathematical or biophysical, largely ignoring the social (Granovetter, 1973). The social and communication sciences have brought the study of networks into the realm of social units, such as societies and organizations (Kadushin, 2004a). The term ―social network‖ was developed by Barnes (1954) to denote the patterns of relationships among social structures (Breiger, 2004) and at the individual, group and societal levels of analysis (Kudushin, 2004b). Barnes‘ (1954) study of a Norwegian fishing village became the foundation of social network theory, wherein he claimed that social life could be described as ―a set of points some of which are joined by lines‖ (p. 43).
Social network theory provides the foundation for the study of social relationships in terms of a nodes-and-ties architecture. Nodes represent actors within the network, while ties represent the relationships between the nodes in the network. Mapping the
to note that interest lies not in the individuals in the network, but in the relationships inherent in the network. The social study of networks has been defined under three network types: ego-centric, socio-centric and open (Kadushin, 2004b). An ego network has a central or focus node. One‘s self (ego node) in relation to friends is an example. A business in relation to its suppliers is another. Socio-centric networks are networks among people in specialized groups, such as students in a classroom, the executive group in an organization, and so on. Open systems have unclear boundaries. These are networks among people with some shared interest such as early adopters of new technologies.
Hatala (2006) suggests that the theory of social capital has arisen as an important tool for the study of social networks. Lin (2001) defines social capital as ―resources embedded in social relations and social structure, which can be mobilized when an actor wishes to increase likelihood of success in a purposive action‖ (p. 24). Lin (2001) also states that ―social capital is an investment in social relationships through which resources of other actors can be accessed and borrowed,‖ and ―…social capital, as a theorygenerating concept, should be conceived in the social network context: as resources accessible through social ties that occupy strategic network locations and/or significant organizational positions‖ (p. 24).
Lin (2001) points out two important considerations in the context of social capital/social networks. First, he purports that resources exist in the context of the social relationships in the network rather than resources that exist within each individual.
Second, the actor must be aware that relationships exist between him and other actors in the network. Thus, social capital does not exist until the actor becomes aware of the relationship(s). Under these considerations, it may be conjectured that the ability to identify, locate and connect to relevant actors in a network define the value of network membership to the individual.
Several theoretical perspectives have been introduced to conceptualize the theory of social capital in addressing social network theory in research. One of the most notable and widely used perspectives is the theory of weak ties proposed by Granovetter (1973), who suggested that the structure of ties in the network influences their relational strength, and thus the behavior of actors in the network. ―…the strength of a tie is a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie‖ (p.
1361). Another is Burt‘s (1992) structural hole theory, where a structural hole is ―the separation between nonredundant contacts‖ (p. 18) or no direct connectivity between given individuals within the social structure. Burt (2000) posits that these holes in social structure (structural holes) create competitive advantage for those contacts whose relationships can span the structural hole. A third theoretical perspective is social resources theory (Lin, 1982) which suggests that an individual‘s access to social resources is largely determined by positions in hierarchical structure, or the strength of position and by the use of weak ties, or the strength of the tie proposition.
foundational theory in investigating the formation and utilization of managerial networks through social computing mechanisms in the context of competitive dynamics and firm performance.
6.1.6. Organizational Communication. The study of organizational communication has been described as diverse and fragmented, encompassing both formal and informal communications, both internal and external communications practices, and including organizational learning, knowledge management and communications technologies (Baker, 2002). The following sections will address two areas of organizational communication: information and knowledge acquisition and sharing and organizational memory and learning. In the context of Study II of this dissertation, the aforementioned areas of organizational communication will be employed in investigating the formation and utilization of managerial networks through social computing mechanisms in the context of competitive dynamics and firm performance.
Information and Knowledge Acquisition and Sharing. Extant research has emphasized the importance of social relationships for acquiring and sharing information (Rogers, 1986; Granovetter, 1973; Burt, 1992; 2000) and sharing knowledge (Floyd & Wooldridge, 1999; Larson et al., 2004). Granovetter (1973) found that information can be tracked as it moves through a network. Thus, it is possible to discover how people come to acquire and share information through social networks.
Granovetter (1973) found that strong ties (contacts with whom a person is closest) have many overlapping contacts and all contacts within a strong tie situation tend to share
performance are dependent upon new information being disseminated continually to key individuals within organizations, and Wagner (2006) advises that continuous dissemination of new information to key individuals will lead to effective decisionmaking by top management. Granovetter (1973) found that it is through weak ties (less frequent or far removed contacts) that new and different information becomes available.
The short and weak connections bring the most significant and useful information.
Drawing upon Granovetter‘s (1973) strength of weak ties theory, Burt (1992; 2000) suggests that information will diffuse within a group before it will spread to other groups.
Thus, not everyone in all groups will have equal access to all information. Therefore, those individuals with early access to information in other groups will have an advantage over those individuals who do not. Accordingly, structural holes provide opportunities for new information acquisition and sharing (Burt, 1992). Strong ties, however, have been identified as important in transferring complex, tacit knowledge in the organizational context (Borgatti & Cross, 2003).
Hatala and Lutta (2009) suggest that information sharing is crucial for firms in terms of competitiveness, and ―requires a free flow of information among members that is undistorted and up-to-date‖ (p. 5). Organizations that facilitate information sharing among members will gain long-term competitive advantage (Wagner, 2006).
Accordingly, Larson et al. (2004) suggest that information that is shared among key individuals will have a stronger effect on decision-making than information held by individuals. Hatala and Lutta (2009) posit that information sharing includes both
information, experience, and theory‖ and may be tacit in nature (p. 7).
Study II follows the logic provided by Hatala and Lutta (2009) who suggest that social networks provide the mechanism for information and knowledge acquisition and sharing, and emphasize the importance of network structure in facilitating and motivating information and knowledge exchange. Haythornthwaite (1996) and Borgatti and Cross (2003) put forth that social networks are used not only for information exchange but as a mechanism for identifying who knows what within the network context. The perceptions that are formed about a person‘s level of knowledge or possession of information will affect the probability of that person being targeted for information.
Organizational Memory and Learning. The term, organizational memory, implies that organizations have the capacity to acquire, retain, and retrieve information (Walsh & Ungson, 1991). However, it is the individual within the organizational context that requires information in terms of problem-solving and decision-making. Thus, various individuals within the organization will acquire information based upon different interpretations of problems and decisions and different interpretations of the types of information needed to address problems and decisions. When these disparate interpretations become shared, individual interpretations and knowledge transcend the individual level and live on for later retrieval and use by others within the organization (Croasdell, 2001; Walsh & Ungson, 1991). Organizational memory is composed of knowledge that is dispersed among disparate individuals, processes and artifacts specific to the organizational context (Stein & Zwass, 1995). It is when the interpretations,
organizational memory is formed (Walsh & Ungson, 1991).
Walsh and Ungson (1991) define organizational memory as, ―stored information from an organization‘s history that can be brought to bear on present decisions‖ (p. 61).
Stein and Zwass (1995) put forth organizational memory as ―knowledge from the past exerts influence on present organizational activities‖ (p. 86) and is ―an instance of collective memory‖ (p. 88). Croasdell (2001) suggests that retentiveness and connectedness define the value of organizational memory. Retentiveness describes the manner in which organizational memory is preserved, while connectedness relates to the way in which organizational memory is accessible by others.
Simon (1991) posits we should not objectify organizations as thinking and learning entities: people think and learn, not organizations. Levitt and March (1988) suggest that organizational learning is vital to organizational memory and occurs through ―encoding inferences from history into routines that guide behavior‖ (p. 320). These routines are assembled into a collective memory that guides individuals who perhaps took no part in the history that resulted in the establishment of routines. The quality of information flow between organizational participants determines the effectiveness of organizational learning (Fiol & Lyles, 1985).
Following the logic of Huber (1991), Study II suggests that social computing facilitates knowledge and information acquisition and assimilation, knowledge and information dissemination and sharing, and provides the platform for organizational memory, and Croasdell (2001) who suggests that organizational learning and memory
organization and becomes a part of organizational memory.