Networking and notworking in social intranets: User archetypes and participatory divides
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Networking and notworking in social intranets: User archetypes and participatory divides by Marika Luders



Abstract
Expectations on how social intranets will improve knowledge sharing and collaboration in enterprises are high. Yet research into user patterns of traditional SNSs demonstrates participatory divides, and differences in use can be expected with social intranets. In this paper we report on the findings from a study of the adoption–process of a social intranet into an international ICT company. Two archetypical users are described: the contributor and the reluctant user. This study suggests that different user–patterns will remain significant over time.

Contents

Introduction
Literature review
Research questions
Method
Findings
User–archetypes and consequences for knowledge sharing
Concluding discussion

 


 

Introduction

Expectations to how social software will improve knowledge sharing and increase the productivity of knowledge workers in enterprises are high (Chui, et al., 2012). However, studies of the use of traditional social network sites (SNSs) demonstrate participatory divides caused by different user–patterns (Brandtzæg, 2012; Hargittai, 2008). Less is known about differences in use of corporate social software. We will therefore present findings from a qualitative study of how employees in an international ICT–consultancy company use a social intranet based on JIVE Software. JIVE is marketed as a state of the art tool, and is assessed by Gartner as a leading provider of social software in the workplace [1]. Conversely, our results show that the tool is not useful and relevant to all employees.

The ICT company has about 5,000 employees, and introduced JIVE in the summer of 2010 to enable employees to “build professional networks, develop competence by following others more skilled, finding out what others are doing and not reinventing the wheel, having things you’re working on easy to find and share, easily work with colleagues in other business units (...)” [2]. JIVE has been organized as a social intranet, with national intranets as well as public and restricted groups for discussions and sharing of content, experiences and knowledge. The newsfeed that the employees see when they log in depends on the office they belong to, the peers they follow, and the groups they have joined.

We will first present a theoretical framework for discussing the use of social intranets in enterprises. Research questions are deduced from the literature review, before presenting the methods that are applied to address the research questions. Finally findings are presented and discussed.

 

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Literature review

Enterprise 2.0 and social intranets

Enterprise 2.0 refers to how social software has become relevant as work tools for organizations and enterprises (McAfee, 2006), and points to features such as interactivity, social networking, group collaboration, co–creation, blogs, tags, personal profiles and file sharing (Pettersen, 2012). Social media such as SNSs, blogs and wikis facilitate communication that differs from what has previously been possible, by enabling distributed and dynamic knowledge networks (McAfee, 2006; Steinhüser, et al., 2011). This way, social software might bridge heterogeneous knowledge networks (Burt, 2004; Granovetter, 1973).

Traditional SNSs have significant social implications, such as bringing peers closer, strengthening strong ties, and enabling new weak ties to form (Brandtzæg, 2012; Ellison, et al., 2011; Livingstone, 2008; Steinfield, et al., 2008). Similarly, social intranets, the business equivalent to SNSs, are expected to affect the networks that employees are part of, bringing peers closer and improving knowledge sharing (Herrell, et al., 2010). Positive network effects are caused by the affordances of social software: visibility, persistence, editability, and association (Treem and Leonardi, 2012).

Social software makes knowledge visible (Farrell, et al., 2008). Social software enables persistent communication by archiving communication beyond the initial point of publication [3]. Social software provides editability in communication by granting users the opportunity to control what and how they communicate (Treem and Leonardi, 2012). Finally, use of social software in organizations strengthens existing ties and enables new strong and weak ties to form (Steinfield, et al., 2009). Associations are made more explicit, and employees meet new people as well as connect to those they already know (DiMicco, et al., 2008).

Despite great expectations, corporate social software success is not guaranteed. Steinhüser, et al. (2011) found corporate and communication culture, available resources, willingness to share knowledge, how extrovert the user is, literacy and responsibility to be factors for a successful implementation of corporate social software. It has been demonstrated that the adoption of social intranets has been impeded by corporate power structures and lack of perceived benefits (Baltatzis, et al., 2008; Fuchs–Kittowski, et al., 2009). To study the use of technology in organizations, we therefore need to examine the technology from people’s situated use, and to perceive the social and the material as inseparably related and constitutively entangled (Orlikowski, 2007).

Social capital, user typologies and participatory divides

The networks we belong to and the relationships we establish and maintain represent important value with regard to our sense of belonging and well–being, and in terms of the resources we have available. These resources can be in the form of support, knowledge and access to non–redundant information through bridging ties. Social capital denotes resources that are accrued through the relationships we are part of (Brandtzæg, 2012; Coleman, 1988; Ellison, et al., 2007; Putnam, 2000; Valenzuela, et al., 2009).

Considering the contemporary importance of SNSs for the maintenance of social networks, several studies have examined how SNS usage relates to social capital. The majority of studies suggest a positive impact between SNS usage and social capital (Brandtzæg, 2012). The same pattern has been found with regard to organizational use of a social intranet in IBM (Steinfield, et al., 2009).

When studying the use of SNSs, care should be directed towards how these technologies can be used for different needs and reasons. Facebook can for example be used for personal identity construction, for fulfilling informational needs, for social needs and for entertainment and recreation (Valenzuela, et al., 2009). Similarly Brandtzæg (2012) identified fives types of SNS users: Advanced users, debaters, socializers, lurkers and sporadics. These user groups score differently on different measures for social capital. Debaters have more off–line acquaintances than sporadics and lurkers; and socializers have more bridging capital than lurkers and sporadics (Brandtzæg, 2012).

Different user–patterns relate to different background variables such as gender and race (Brandtzæg, 2012; Stromer–Galley and Wichowski, 2011). Other researchers have shown how positive outcomes of Internet usage are not randomly distributed independently of socioeconomic background (Livingstone, et al., 2005). Different use requires different levels of know–how (Hargittai, 2008). Likewise “content creation in a digital age is not randomly distributed among a group of young adults”, but related to a person’s socioeconomic status [4]. The Internet might empower, but we still need to question whom it empowers (Wheeler, 2011).

It is reasonable to assume that social intranet user–patterns will differ, and hence that implications with regard to social capital will vary. Yet what is interesting in the present case study is that there might be differences in how employees use the social intranet, yet socio–economically they are rather homogenous. In our case differences in participation are probably a consequence of individual dispositions.

Scale–free networks and algorithmic power

The Web has characteristics of a scale–free network. This means that the number of links originating from a given node follows a power law distribution. When new nodes are added to the network, the probability of linking to a given node in the network is proportional to the number of existing links that node already has: “given the choice between two nodes, one with twice as many links as the other, is twice as likely that the new node will connect to the more connected node” [5]. In short: the rich get richer, the fat get fatter.

Other mechanisms come in to play and interfere with this model, yet the scale–free network model helps explain the power law structure evident in networks. For example in the blogosphere “popular blogs are propelled to celebrity status through proven credibility and reputation, which leads to even more traffic” [6].

What we attempt to understand is how Web services make some people more visible than others. This also concerns the sorting and filtering algorithms determining who becomes visible. As Bucher [7] explains, “Facebook deploys an automated and predetermined selection mechanism to establish relevancy (...) ultimately demarcating the field of visibility for that media space”. Algorithms can help users identify content they will be interested in, but raise questions with regard to peers, power and visibility.

Acknowledging that networks do not behave in fair and impartial ways is important when examining the use of a social intranet in a large enterprise. We can expect that some employees will become power users and are very visible.

 

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Research questions

The literature review suggests that the introduction of a social intranet into a knowledge enterprise will have implications for the power dynamics between employees. Users will develop different user–patterns, and as a consequence of these differences in how they use the social intranet and the position they have in the social intranet, the differences in the experienced benefits of using the intranet will be significant. This calls for an examination of the adoption process of the social intranet where potential differences are accounted for. We consequently raise the following research questions:

RQ1: What can explain different adoption– and user–patterns of a social intranet?

RQ2: What are the consequences of different user–patterns with regard to knowledge sharing and networking benefits?

 

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Method

The research questions are broadly framed: a number of reasons can be expected when trying to explain differences in user–patterns. We conducted an explanatory case study according to the description of Yin (1994). This choice of research method was made to allow in–depth investigation of individual differences in adopting the technology.

The company under investigation has offices in several countries, and they aim to increase collaboration across offices. We therefore considered it important to recruit informants from different entities and countries. Twenty–seven in–depth interviews with knowledge workers in Norway, Denmark, Morocco and U.K. were conducted between May and September 2011. Informants were contacted through a snowball method, starting at one entity with the first informant randomly selected by being in the middle of the employee list. People, who were listed by the informants as important co–workers, were then randomly chosen as new informants.

The interviews lasted approximately one hour, and the informants received a 100 dollar gift card as compensation. To begin with in the interview, the informants were asked to answer five questions to measure their self–perceived ICT competence. Twenty–two informants regard their ICT competence to be very high; two informants regard their ICT competence to be high; and, three informants regard their ICT competence to be low.

All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The informants were promised anonymity, and their names and the office they belong to are therefore not included in the analysis. The interviews were reviewed several times for identifying overall themes and findings. They were subsequently coded and analysed with NVivo 8.

 

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Findings

In this section, we first compare employees we interviewed according to contributions to the social intranet. We then analyse the interviews, aiming to identify different user–practices and consequences of these practices for collaboration.

At the time of the interviews nine informants had not contributed any type of visible content (blog posts, comments, documents); 10 informants had 10 or less contributions; and, eight informants had more than 10 contributions. A comparison between these groups of users shows that those who do not participate and contribute content have few followers in JIVE. They also have (with individual exceptions) fewer LinkedIn connections compared to informants who contribute more content (see Table 1).

Given the character of this study, it does not make sense to calculate whether these differences are statistically significant. Instead we use these observed differences as guidance to the subsequent analysis: do some people have a personal disposition for liking and using SNSs?

 

Table 1: Comparing informants according to JIVE contributions, average number of LinkedIn connections and average number of followers in JIVE.
 Average number of LinkedIn connectionsAverage number of followers in JIVE
JIVE users with no contributions
(N=9)
184 1.5
JIVE users with 1 to 10 contributions
(N=10)
215 8.25
JIVE users with more than 10 contributions
(N=8)
266 26

 

We know from the interviews that those who do not participate actively and contribute content nevertheless use the social intranet as an information channel: they still visit the intranet daily or weekly. Only one employee explains that he visits the intranet monthly and is hence almost a non–user. Employees who contribute content use the tool more than intended by the company (share knowledge and connect).

In the analysis we attempt to detangle why some users become sharers, whereas others take on the role as recipients of information rather than participants in a dialogue. The first group of users will be referred to as contributors, and the latter will be referred to as reluctant users. The contributor group was made up of users with more than 10 contributions. The reluctant group was made up of users with no contributions. The users with between one and 10 contributions were split and placed in either the contributor group or the reluctant group based on whether they in the interviews tended to be more positive or negative towards the company intranet.

Networking in the social intranet: The contributor

Employees who are typical contributors in the social intranet share some common traits, opinions and experiences. In this part of the analysis, we attempt to detangle the archetypical contributor based on these similarities. The resulting archetype represents a simplified persona: there are exceptions among contributors, and some traits are found also among reluctant users. The archetype nevertheless helps us identify a pattern and understand why some employees take on the role as participants and sharers.

Contributors are outgoing, and constantly seeking to extend their professional networks. A male informant in his 40s is explicit about his social and people–curious disposition being an important professional asset:

I think this is about how we are as people. And whether you want to acquire impulses and impressions from other people. I’m personally fearless when it comes to getting to know new people, and I keep my shoulders low when it comes to sharing my competence and what I know. But I do see that we are different, we belong to different types of cultures. Culture of sharing must be learnt. And this [the social intranet] is a good fundament for learning [about a culture of sharing]. You gain the double of what you share.

This employee emphasizes that he has extended his network considerably in the couple of years working at the company. “Which gives me opportunities in my current job and when it comes to selling our services, and for future work positions. Networks matter.” He says he enjoys being someone whom colleagues ask for help and advice, and he might help them not necessarily by solving their problem, but by knowing whom they should talk to. Similarly another male in his 40s emphasizes the importance of people posting questions, and of how questions and inquiries spark interest.

We have a desire to share what we know. (...) JIVE satisfies my desire to share. (...) I like to work with my colleagues when they are facing new challenges and where I can supervise them. It’s not my job, but more the kind of person I am.

The value of sharing hence includes the value of sharing lack of knowledge. The courage to reveal what one does not know triggers responses from peers. Knowledge is a perceived and experienced as a collective asset, and not something that belongs exclusively to individual employees:

People who argue that knowledge is power, that is so outdated, it makes me want to barf. I believe knowledge is collective and a much better way to organize your enterprise. It’s decisive how you present your knowledge, right? If you make it intelligible or not. It’s not what you know, you can be incredibly knowledgeable, but if you can’t present it in a straightforward way for your audience, it doesn’t matter (female in her 40s).

Caution should be taken when interpreting such expressions: these employees are no strangers to the literature and rhetoric of enterprise 2.0. Yet they have not simply internalized a particular discourse: they experience the benefits of networking and sharing knowledge. They know that being visible by posting questions, sharing content and helping others is advantageous in terms of connecting and subsequently being included in new peer networks. The female employee above moreover points towards an important skill, which is required for a successful communication: given that one aim is to connect across existing networks and domains, being able to communicate without excessive use of jargon and domain–specific terminology becomes a core challenge.

Employees who participate in the social intranet become visible nodes and show up in the news feeds of their peers. As indicated in Table 1 they have more connections compared to less active users. Visibility in networks is perceived as an asset, and contributing users are confident with this role. Yet most employees are careful when explaining why they share their knowledge, emphasizing that they just like to do it: it feels nice to be nice. However one female who frequently contributes, regards being active in the social intranet as a way to boost her own career, explaining how she believes the management keeps an eye on who actively participates:

I think you can use JIVE to brand your name within the organization. I’m not saying I’m schmoozing with the management (...). But with JIVE (...) Like when I comment on a post from [manager], the distance between us decreases and my name might be noticed. (...) There were no similar opportunities before JIVE. Like I couldn’t keep track of what my manager was thinking and feeling, and then e–mail him and say, “Hey, I really like what we’re doing now” (female in her 30s).

Other employees are not referring to personal brand management as a motivation for why they participate. Yet they are confident with being visible and regard it as positive to be able to show their expertise and knowledge. They trust their peers at the company, and relatedly, the archetypical contributor is satisfied with her/his colleagues and her/his job. It is not so that all contributors are pleased with all aspects of their work life, and there are employees who for example stress that they experience the balance between work life and family life stressful. They also do not feel comfortable using the social intranet during work hours. Yet they tend to express satisfaction with the social life, the company culture at their local office, the freedom and variety of tasks that comes with being a consultant, and again, the networking opportunities. A female employee for example describes how she enjoys being a social force at her local unit:

We had this trip to [place] and I brought 10 women from my department and we had a blast [describes social activities] (female in her 40s).

Interviewer: You’re quite an enthusiast and a driving force?

Yes, I have been, yes (...) Yeah, but we need to have fun, or like else, you can just as well work with audit or similar. But I’m serious when it comes to business and our customers.

Off–line and online interactions are closely interlinked, and employees who experience the company culture at their department to be friendly and good, might also be more motivated to connect and interact online: initially with their immediate colleagues, and subsequently with peers at other offices. Finally, contributors like their job as consultants in the company.

I’ve liked it here since the day I started. One aspect is the colleagues and the culture, and the work suits me. I have a lot of freedom in my work, I’m my own boss and I decide where I’m working, here or at the customer site, when I begin my days and when I end. And you get around a lot; I’ve had assignments at public and private organizations and enterprises (male in his 30s).

I figured, like you’re a consultant, it is more way of life. I like it much better than a nine–to–five job, where every day is the same. I think that’s boring. To experience the same things every day. Knowing what to do tomorrow. (...) And here I get to know a lot of new people through different customer groups and stuff. [Also in our company] creativity and individualism is emphasized as important. You’re allowed to be you even if you’re part of a bigger unit. You have a voice, people listen to you, and you’re even allowed to wail and be loud (female in her 40s).

To summarize archetypical contributors are people persons, happy with their professional life at the company, and they feel “at home” when using the social intranet. They are comfortable with the visibility that comes with using the intranet, they trust their colleagues, and they have embraced the idea that knowledge is a collective asset, which increases in value when shared. They also take on a brokerage role, and are able to present their knowledge in ways that communicate across domains.

Notworking in the social intranet: The reluctant user

The archetypical social intranet contributor might be a social and outgoing person, but this does not mean that the archetypical reluctant user is downright anti–social. The most apparent common trait is a resistance towards the social intranet as a consequence of not seeing the benefits of the tool. These employees rely on the intranet for information, but there is no curiosity in starting to use the social intranet beyond a source of information, and eventually figuring out the networking benefits. Reluctant employees already have their ways of working and collaborating, and they see no need for yet another tool.

I have to admit that when I log on to JIVE, then it’s kind of an unfamiliar world, like what is this? (...) Well, yes, they need to think about the types of activities that people do. How JIVE will benefit it. Yeah, I’d sort of teach you not from “JIVE is a series of mechanisms”, but “you have these processes and this is how JIVE can help you”. So you have your daily running a project, so you could use it ... I don’t know! You could use it for sharing documents, chat on it and whatever else it enables you to do. But yeah, I think you’ve got to sort of put it in the context of people’s daily work, rather than just saying “Here’s the tool” (male in his 50s).

These employees know that the intranet has been introduced to increase collaboration and knowledge sharing, but they do not see how the intranet is the right tool for that purpose. Instead they rely on collaborative tools and methods that are already established:

I think the attitude here and certainly in my team is that JIVE is another tool and it’s a bit of a luxury and you probably don’t need it to do a proper job, but if I can be bothered I might have a look at it. But no one seeing great benefits from it at the moment. Like people saying “oh I got a problem I’ll search JIVE or post on JIVE and hopefully I’ll get an answer”. That’s not what we’re used to, it’s something new and until people start getting a benefit from it, they’re not gonna buy into it. If it’s just another thing ... We got lots of other places to store documents we got other places and ways to talk to each other (male in his 30s).

E–mail and the mobile phone are preferred means of communication, and the particular benefits of using the intranet for initiating contact are not perceived as evident.

If we’re about to start a new project, and none of those involved have the right experience, I e–mail my colleagues, I haven’t used JIVE, I probably should have used JIVE, but I think people in my office haven’t been very good at using JIVE, thus you would probably not get any response. It’s better to send an e–mail (male in his 40s).

Interviewer: If you’re stuck, you have a problem, how do you solve it, whom do you talk to, do you call people, or send them an e–mail, or what do you do?

If it’s not directly related to a project where I have project colleagues around me, then e–mail is probably my first option. It should be JIVE, but e–mail is first on the list. And then I would call if I didn’t receive a reply (female in her 30s).

Similarly a male in his 50s explains how he uses Skype as a regular collaboration tool when working in projects: “Put the question on there, and normally get an answer within two minutes.” This reliance on e–mail, Skype and phone calls means the threshold for using a new tool is experienced as significant. These employees are not convinced that there might be additional benefits with using the social intranet instead of e–mail or the phone. Hence, whereas the archetypical contributor argues that posting a question on the social intranet will help more people learn from the discussion (“knowledge is collective”), and moreover result in input and suggestions from unexpected colleagues, reluctant users rely on their existing network of in–company peers.

The opposite view to a collective notion of knowledge can also be found in the interviews, but referred to as valid for other colleagues. A male informant his 20s for example explains how he experienced a female colleague to have a strong need for controlling who could access her documents:

She was “I have this file, I made it, I know how it works, if I share it with you guys, you might mess up the file”.

Interviewer: So she was afraid to let it go?

Yes, exactly. And we still have these theory or ideas unconsciously that ... sharing is giving up.

Interviewer: You don’t see sharing as caring?

Exactly. And actually improving, creating value for everyone. (...) When you go to JIVE, you have tons of presentation on various topics, and some are very interesting. So you see that people are really ready to share but then most of the people, like 80%, they are still a bit reluctant. Even if they don’t want to admit it. (...) Then there is the question of the culture. In [country] when you have ... Knowledge is somehow power. So sometimes people do retain information so that you are forced to go through them to get the information you want.

Our empirical material cannot be used to conclude that the notion “knowledge is power” is typical for certain countries, but it can be used to verify the importance of trust and the experiences of a benign in–company community as premises for knowledge sharing in spaces where you do not know the composition of your audience. Lack of first–hand knowledge with who contributors are, also means reluctant users do not necessarily trust the information they find:

Information and knowledge should be structured in some way or another. You need a quality assurance process. Otherwise you need to make an effort to make sure you can trust the information. And when we publish information in JIVE, we don’t have the resources to make sure the information holds the necessary quality and can be trusted, thus I will always assess what I find there. If I’m not sure, I’ll probably get in touch with a colleague I trust within that field and get a second opinion (female in her 50s).

The particular characteristics of the communication and information on the intranet as disembedded from existing networks and a physical location where users are aware of who is speaking and who is listening, require users to trust unfamiliar peers [8]. The importance of trusting your peers appears significant for interaction patterns. Relatedly satisfaction with the work environment and the job as a consultant is crucial:

Interviewer: Can you tell me how you like it here, working here at the company?

Well, the last year, billable hours have been low. But then again, I’ve had the chance of further education and take some certifications, which is great. I still like it here, but I used to like it more (female in her 50s).

Interviewer: Why?

Yes, but that’s the culture [that has gotten worse]. And the interaction between colleagues.

The company has experienced significant organizational change the last few years with acquisitions, reorganizations, and a significant labour turnover, with the consequence that some informants are rather frustrated. Da Cunha and Orlikowski’s study of an online discussion forum of a large company undergoing a change program suggested that interacting online helped employees deal with organizational change by allowing them to construct counter–narratives, sharing protest stories and expressing solidarity (da Cunha and Orlikowski, 2008). In our case, the social intranet has not been used as a similar space for venting frustrations. The employees we have interviewed explain that they have not felt comfortable sharing their frustrations, because they are not comfortable with posting critical questions and comments that might jeopardize their position in the company.

Some employees argue that they are rather indifferent with their work environment. They do their job, but they do not and are not really interested in getting involved socially, and certainly not with “arbitrary people”:

When I joined back in ’95 I was, you know, 16 years younger, and this was a fantastic place to work in [this area], a great social environment and I lived in and around [this city]. I’m more now sort of settled down, I have different requirements at work I suppose, I don’t feel the need socialize heavily with, say, arbitrary people in the company. I have a group of friends that I know from the company and we go for drinks every few months or so. But I’m more focused now around the project I’m working on rather than the organization. So there are social things ... There’s a sports event being organized in a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll come down for that because that’d be good. But we don’t work in the office as much now. Consultants tend to work either on site or at home, I mean the last four months I’ve been mostly at home (male in his 50s).

For this employee work has become routine. Sometimes work can be quite interesting, but other times “I’m just doing it to get rid of it, and that’s less enjoyable.”

Other reluctant users have made an effort and explored the tool, the content and the other users. However, they have concluded that they are unable to find their peers on the social intranet, and hence consider it to be an irrelevant and unimportant tool.

I use JIVE in periods. But I don’t use it as much in projects. (...) Like in my current assignment, I meet [legal challenges], and I don’t think a lot of people in the company are highly competent within this field (male in his 30s).

A male in his 40s for likewise explains how he has searched for references, documents, and concepts that could be relevant for his current project, but he has found nothing of relevance. He experiences the available content on the intranet as technical and not something he can use in his work. Relatedly a male in his 50s emphasizes that the intranet is populated with mainly technical employees, representing domains that are far from his own expertise. As these employees do not find their community of peers, they are not motivated to contribute. Reluctant users are peer–oriented and rely on people and domains they are already connected to.

I don’t mind sharing, but not to anyone about anything. Like we share a lot within my group [at the office, outside JIVE]. It’s both about a specific enquiry, and that I care about the person with the enquiry. (...) I don’t contribute to contribute, just to make [myself] visible (male in his 40s).

As indicated by this employee, the reluctant user is sceptical towards a culture of visibility, regarding visibility from its flip side. This can be a general dislike towards the contemporary yearn for visibility as narcissistic, as well as a panoptic apprehension for the consequences of being visible. To address the latter first:

This is like information that will stay there forever. What if a new manager comes in, looks through the archives, and like sees some criticism I have put forward, and like, “oh, he’s negative, I need to put him straight” (male in his 40s).

This uneasiness with visibility moreover relates to reluctant users being less satisfied with their work environment. Hence, they might want to vent work–related frustrations, but they do not consider the intranet to be a safe space for such discussions. As noted, reluctant users are also critical towards the contemporary culture of visibility: some of these employees regard sharing knowledge on the intranet as “showing off” and ingratiating oneself with the management:

There are people who talk about stuff [in JIVE] all the time, they annoy me. Who use JIVE as an self–centred tool for self–marketing. Like, “Hi, here I am and I’m so good, now I’ve done this this and that” (female in her 40s).

It should finally be noted that although the employees are knowledge workers and are hence used to making sense of written material and also rely on writing in their job, everyone is not a fan of writing. Literacy and lack of required competence is a more significant problem when the context is not a consultancy company with knowledge workers, yet there are employees also in our study who find the textual dominance on the intranet to be a barrier. Writing is not for everyone:

As a person I’m very verbal, I much prefer to talk to people, be present, use the whiteboard, than to write long entries in public Web sites, or read stuff. So that’s a barrier to me, when it comes to JIVE. Spending a long time writing something, and then to spend a lot of time replying, it’s not as quick as talking to someone. (...) It’s really quite important; we don’t all like to write. Some are really good at it, they find that writing makes them think more clearly and help them articulate their opinion. But to me talking to people is much better. To explain a problem to somebody often clarifies the issue for me (male in his 50s).

In our case, this dislike of writing is only valid for one of the employees, and we will hence not include this as a trait for reluctant users.

To summarize, archetypical reluctant users do not have the curiosity and patience to play around with the tool in order to discover and experience the benefits of a new mode of working. They are conservative in the sense that they rely on established ways of working and collaborating, meaning they use their already established networks of peers. They are somewhat sceptical towards the idea that knowledge is collective, and they do not uncritically trust information and peers. They are not very happy with their jobs, and they are sceptical towards the visibility that comes with using social software: both because visibility is interpreted narcissistically and because of the potential panoptic risk associated with visibility.

 

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User–archetypes and consequences for knowledge sharing

Employees who contribute to the social intranet tend to gather according to work–domain similarities, reflecting a belief that they will learn more from people who are similar to them, or who work within similar areas. It thus makes sense to have domain– and expertise–specific intranet groups.

However, theories of knowledge sharing (Burt, 2004; Granovetter, 1973) emphasize the importance of bridges between heterogeneous (knowledge) networks, and it is consequently important to examine knowledge sharing across company–internal knowledge networks. Such sharing is challenging because it is not always evident how knowledge can be translated between domains. The pattern seems to be that cooperation is regarded as more challenging when taking place between employees with different specialities.

Knowledge and competence differences are moreover only part of the picture: When attempting to encourage cooperation across countries, other differences become evident. The employees argue that cross–country collaboration is time–consuming, and that differences in language and culture are experienced as substantial barriers. Several employees also stress that the work culture is different at other offices, and that co–workers in other countries may prioritize tasks in unfamiliar ways.

The social intranet is not a tool that will magically make problems with cross–domain and cross–country collaboration irrelevant, but the service is designed to facilitate contact between previously unconnected peers, whether across domains or across countries and domains. Archetypical contributors acknowledge the potential value of contact with previously unconnected peers, and some argue that the intranet has created positive changes and a tighter bond between company’s offices.

I absolutely think that JIVE has opened our eyes, and made us realize we are a European enterprise. We used to be very [national], we knew there were some people in [head country office], but we never did anything together. (...) Earlier you had to reach a certain level of management before you had an overview over activities in other countries. JIVE has democratized the company, or brought the enterprise down to us. It is more transparent what goes on in the other countries. For us consultants, there are now opportunities to co–operate without involving the manager (female in her 30s).

A female in her 20s similarly argues that the social intranet has definitely increased contact between countries. Yet she says that this mainly concerns employees with technical competence and that these employees know how to use the intranet to receive advice and tips to solving technical challenges. Employees who experience that they find relevant content are also more satisfied with the intranet:

The people I follow pretty well captures what happens in the company, it’s kind of a proxy. Additionally I follow some people from [country] and [country] because of my specialized fields or disciplines. (...) They are in charge of these fields (male in his 40s).

This employee uses the intranet as a tool for initiating and maintaining relations with co–workers at other offices. He claims the intranet makes it easier to establish contact, and makes it easier to get the most out of his connections. The social intranet functions as an ice–breaker, facilitating and supporting early contact with previously unconnected ties. As a result, when he meets these colleagues, they have already established a relationship. The social intranet hence has the potential to change patterns of collaboration and help establish new relationships between employees. Yet that potential depends on particular user patterns: it is valid only for archetypical contributors. The employee above is one example: he most often works from the client’s site, and finds that the intranet increases his sense of belonging to the company. A male employee in his 30s belongs to many of the intranet groups. He regularly blogs and shares relevant documents reflecting his own competence, also occasionally participating in discussions. As a result, his established relations have been strengthened, and the intranet has given him “a new network with colleagues in other countries”. With the intranet, he says, “the network is now the whole company, which has a lot of competence and knowledge that I can harness”. Other contributors have similar experiences:

Interviewer: Do you experience that JIVE changes your relations to your colleagues (...)?

Yes, I think so. You get new ways of getting in touch than just e–mail. This improves your general view of what people do (female in her 30s).

This employee finds the company to be a more transparent enterprise with the social intranet, because she can more easily get an overview of what competences different employees have. The intranet gives her new ways of contacting her colleagues, and she gets a better impression of their domain expertise. She also regularly participates in discussions and shares documents to make sure her colleagues can learn from her.

For reluctant users, the social intranet has not changed or strengthened the ties they have with colleagues. The typical response is that the intranet might have potential for increasing and strengthening collaboration and sharing, but the platform and user base are not yet mature. A male in his 40s for example, when asked whether the intranet has changed his relation to colleagues, said, “No, not here. We haven’t, we’re not there”. Again, such sentiments are linked with user patterns: he uses the intranet primarily as an information channel, does not contribute content, and does not follow any colleagues.

 

++++++++++

Concluding discussion

These findings have implications: First of all, similarly to SNSs, people will not use a social intranet in one particular way. Some people are more prone to like social ways of working. By constructing two different archetypes of users, the contributor and the reluctant user, such differences in traits and experiences have been highlighted. Whereas the differences between the two archetypes have been exaggerated for analytical reasons, the archetypes help us identify why users adopt these types of tools differently, and the implications of different user–patterns with regard to networking and knowledge sharing.

Contributors embrace the contemporary culture of visibility and the idea of knowledge as a communal asset. They strengthen existing ties and get in touch with previously unfamiliar peers in the company. They become visible on the social intranet and in the organisation, and we can expect this initial visibility to reinforce their visibility and position within the company network even further. JIVE moreover provides:

a powerful ‘genius’ feature that analyses your business relationships, expertise, and areas of interest based on your behaviour in the community. It then uses that data to recommend relevant content, people, and places that you have not yet seen in the community. The more you and others interact in the community, the better the recommendations you’ll receive. [9]

JIVE administrators in the company can rank users based on scores and group memberships, and status points are calculated according to a specific algorithm, for example according the number of messages a user has posted. Participation and involvement will consequently make the archetypical contributor even more visible [10].

Reluctant users prefer established ways of collaborating, using e–mail, mobile phone and their existing network of colleagues. They use the intranet, but as an information channel rather than a space for dialogue and interaction. This analysis might suggest a normative judgment of reluctant users as conservative and stuck in old patterns. Such judgements should be avoided. The objective of the analysis is not to suggest that there are right and wrong ways of using the social intranet, but to point to why some users elect not to become contributors.

Most reluctant users will probably not eventually become contributors, even if some of the characteristics of the reluctant user are issues that can and should be dealt with: lack of job satisfaction and lack of trust in the work environment are variables that can be improved, and where improvements might spark off motivation to contribute, share and collaborate with an extended network of peers in the social intranet. Yet this is not just a matter of the work environment or time. The adoption process of the social intranet in the enterprise is not simply a process of diffusion with innovators, early adopters, early and late majority and laggards (Rogers, 1995). Perhaps Rogers’ model needs to be adjusted for social media technologies, where each phase of the diffusion entails different types of users — both contributors and what has here been termed reluctant users, who rely on social media for information rather than communication and symmetrical interaction.

The affordances of social software enable new ways of collaboration and connecting of heterogeneous networks, yet this is not universally true for all users. Being aware that some users are much more difficult to include in networked collaborative spaces is key, and organizations will need to demonstrate that they do not only listen to the crowd of flamboyant networkers. End of article

 

About the author

Marika Lüders is a research scientist at SINTEF ICT (http://sintef.no/) in Oslo. Her current work focuses on the use of social software in organizations and enterprises, as well as the individual and societal implications of new patterns of communication.
E–mail: marika [dot] luders [at] sintef [dot] no

 

Acknowledgments

This work has been funded by the Norwegian Research Council through the research project NETworked Power. Innovation through social media.

 

Notes

1. http://www.cmswire.com/cms/social-business/gartners-2012-social-software-magic-quadrant-ibm-jive-yammer-salesforce-and-more-017642.php, accessed 25 July 2013.

2. Obtained from the company’s strategy for implementing JIVE.

3. Binder, et al., 2009, p. 967.

4. Hargittai and Walejko, 2008, p. 252.

5. Barabási, 2003, p. 86.

6. Meraz, 2009, pp. 685–686.

7. Bucher, 2012, p. 1,165.

8. See also Livingstone, 2011, p. 353.

9. http://docs.jivesoftware.com/jive/6.0/community_user/index.jsp?topic=/com.jivesoftware.help.sbs.online_6.0/user/RecommendedForYou.html, accessed 23 July 2013.

10. http://docs.jivesoftware.com/forums/latest/documentation/forums-admin-guide.pdf, accessed 23 July 2013.

 

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Editorial history

Received 30 April 2013; accepted 19 July 2013.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial–NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Networking and notworking in social intranets: User archetypes and participatory divides
by Marika Lüders.
First Monday, Volume 18, Number 8 - 5 August 2013
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4693/3734
doi:10.5210/fm.v18i8.4693





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