Social Networking in the Workplace: Exploring the Structural Characteristics and Conversational Nature of Enterprise Social Networks
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Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) are recent and emergent sets of online platforms that allows for employees to collaborate and share information in the same manner as in more commonly known Social Networking Sites (SNSs) such as Facebook. The proven value-add of these platform to organizations have caused its popularity to soar during recent years, and as a result, causing academia’s interest to rise accordingly. However, given the short time-span since ESNs started gaining interest among organizations, the study of how these platforms are being used by employees is still largely unexplored by the scientific community. By combining methods from the fields of social network analysis (SNA) and content analysis, this research aims to answer the questions of how the conversational nature of an ESN network is related to its structural characteristics, and how the users’ conversational nature is related to their structural characteristics. The exploration of these relations has been called for by earlier studies in the field, and is important in the sense that it illuminates how these new and exciting ways of collaborating actually manifests within an organization, and how employees’ influence within these networks relates to their conversational topics. The results obtained during this research show that the degree of clustering in an ESN is related to how much employees engages in discussions and conversations related to generating new ideas and brainstorming. These results provide grounds for postulating that these topics tend to generate more collective interest in participating in these communities as opposed to other topics such as plain information sharing and social talk. Furthermore, results show that employees with a high eigenvector centrality are the most influential in these networks, as they tend to occupy several other central positions simultaneously. Three distinct characteristics can be identified for these actors; they often engage in the exchange of personal opinions, they often provide links to resources of professional value for other employees to make use of, and they often provide updates about the current status of ongoing projects and alike. As far as this research has been able to discover, this is the first attempt to draw a connection between conversational topics and structural characteristics within the context of ESNs. These results will hopefully assist in advancing the understanding of how ESNs are being adopted and used by employees, and how these informal networks can be analyzed in a meaningful manner.