There is substantial scholarly debate about the extent to which information technology affects organizational structure. Techno-optimists and internet-gurus have widely proclaimed that web 2.0 leads to empowerment. This discourse, emphasizing the "liberating" effects of social software, has been adopted by private and public actors alike (OECD, 2007; Evans, 2007). It is true that the interactive nature of digital communication is increasingly recognized (Servaes & Malikhao, 2005) and social software, including popular networking sites, have done their part to allow the public with ICT and internet access to voice their opinion in an increasingly globalized media-sphere. Therefore there is certainly truth to the observation of Groysberg & Slind (2009, p. 80) that "a shift toward greater interactivity reflects a shift in the use of communication channels."
Although the debate is certainly interesting, it is hardly new. When considering the impact of social software on organizations it is useful to look at older literature about the introduction of IT in work environments. Similar hopes and fears return when new media are introduced in businesses and society at large (Fenton, 2009, p. 6). Often the adoption of technology is pictured as a shock to which actors, or social entities like organizations, have to adopt (Mansell, 2012). Within the organization literature this line of thought has led to the development of New-form theory, sometimes labeled as "new-form" , of which the basic idea is that changes affecting organizations trigger structural modifications within these entities (Halal, 1994; Wigard, Picot & Reichwald, 1997; Palmer & Dunford, 1997; Schwarz, 2002).
However, we must be careful with technological determinism. Even in the management literature can be found that the mere availability of technology does not necessarily lead to its adoption. Additionally it would be wrong to simply assume that technologies with similar features are equally successful in different contexts. Organizations, although they are sometimes seen as "mini-versions" of society (Parent, 2008, p. 148), certainly have different characteristics that affect the way they operate and how to integrate technology into their system. We can therefore not rely solely on our knowledge about the adoption of Public Social Networks (PSN) in order to understand the adoption process of ESN.
It is true that technology can affect social structures but these structures can in turn affect the ways the technology can be used. Numerous authors studying the effect of IT and internet technology have made us conscious that new technologies can have what Schwarz (2012, p. 173) called "a power restricting bias" (Kraemer, 1991; Markus, 1983; Pinsonneault & Kraemer, 1997; Robey & Boudreau, 1999; Zuboff, 1988).
Powerful actors, such as high-ranking managers in organizations, can affect to a considerable extent how technology is used within the existing structure. It is therefore important to emphasize the political side of organizations and to consider the context in which these entities operate. Baltatzis (2008, p. 79), elaborating on the ideas of Foucault (1977), writes that "conditioning, surveillance and control can be just as as powerful as more traditional models of power."
Despite all the theory and speculation regarding the "democratizing" effect of social media, there is surprisingly little empirical evidence of the effects that these tools have on organizational structures and processes. Part of this problem can be related to the absence of longitudinal studies and the difficulties of researchers to get access to relevant data. A rare exception is the study of Stieglitz, Riemer & Meske (2014, p. 10) who have found that the presence of ESS can lead to a "rebalancing of influence" since they observed that communication activity is a better predictor of communication influence in the network than someone's formal position in the hierarchy. Nevertheless, most organizations are still managed along the lines of a pyramid-shaped "chain of command". As a result we cannot ignore the impact of the management class on how information technology is used.
Blogging away about my PhD. My goal is to keep you up to date about the progress made in my research. Stay tuned for more news and feel free to interact and comment.