Answering the question why organizations adopt Enterprise Social Software (ESS) is not as straightforward as providing an answer to the question why individuals were interested in adopting social media in their private lives. There are considerable differences that deserve to be highlighted. Although we do not assert that individuals act in total isolation from their social context we do argue that the organizational context offers a particular environment that affects the adoption process itself.
For starters, based on the work of Rousseau (1995) we use the concept of "psychological contract" to underline that the relationship between employee and employer is a social and psychological contract - often formalized in written form - in which the former generally refers decisions that affect the organization to the latter. This structure, visualized in the form of the classic pyramid-shaped organizational chart, affects the shape of the communication flow.
In most organizations official communication systems have always been introduced by a small group of decision-makers, sometimes advised and assisted by a "communication expert". Bound by their social contract employees have been expected to integrate these systems into their daily work routines. For most of the time these employees were treated as a passive audience and - in line with management systems - information was pushed down with the help of broadcast media of which the in-house organ was the most obvious form (Johnson et al., 1994).
The idea of "closed" media-systems was tenable as long as there was no alternative to expensive and technical systems to broadcast messages to a wider audience. However, previous studies have openly called into question what they call "the myth" of the passive audience (Blumler, 1979). There is evidence that even in these "closed media systems" audiences actively engage with the meaning of received messages. In some cases the official information channels were challenged by unofficial information, sometimes called "rumors" or "gossip" that spread through the "grapevine" (Crampton et al., 1998).
With the introduction of the internet and advanced information systems the borders of closed media systems have repeatedly been called into question. The enormous popularity of Social Network Sites (SNS) have put these borders under even greater stress. The first reaction of many organizations was to ban and outlaw the use of these channels from the workfloor (Li, 2010; Qualman 2011). However, the increasing popularity of mobile devices and wireless internet has turned these efforts into a lost battle. Software developers have grabbed this opportunity to develop systems that imitate the features of social web technologies but allow traditional gatekeepers, like corporate communication and IT departments, to stay in control over the communication flow. The threat was turned into an opportunity with considerable hopes that social technologies would be used for increased collaboration, knowledge sharing and interaction among employees (Omilion-Hodges & Baker, 2014).
Most of the scientific literature found on enterprise social software can be labeled "administrative" or "functional" (El Ouirdi et al., 2015). This means that studies often focus on how technological innovations can improve existing work processes in order to increase output through higher productivity, lower costs or both. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that most research has focused on the individual adoption of ESS or the functional aspects of these platforms like knowledge sharing (Razmerita, Kirchner & Nabeth, 2014; Cao et al., 2012). It is in this same trend that we can find studies focused on calculating the "Return On Investment" (ROI) of social media initiatives (Kask et al., 2012; Steinhüser & Smolnik, 2011).
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) and the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT) are just two of the most widely cited models to explain users' propensity to adopt a technology. Building on the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) and adjusted for Information Systems (Davis, 1986) the TAM allowed scholars like Antonius and colleagues (2015) to determine the factors that affect employees' behavioral intention to adopt ESS. Although the authors recognize the influence of organizational factors and organizational culture, they admit the incapacity of the model to explain "why users choose to adopt the technology in question (p. 39)."
In some cases employees have already adopted an enterprise social network and traditional gatekeepers are forced to deal with what is essentially a "fait accomplis" (Miles & Mangold, 2014). There is, as far as we know, no existing research on what happens to these platforms once they are embraced by the organizational establishment and integrated into the corporate media mix. Are these platforms, if they were widely used before, still as popular after they have been adopted by traditional gatekeepers?
According to recent research ESS did nog bring about an open, participative and knowledge-sharing work environment in organizations around the globe (Denyer, Parry & Flowers, 2011). Several explanations can be found in the literature. Alarifi & Sedera (2013, p. 1) argue that Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) are often offered to the employees with a utilitarian focus in mind. This behavior can be partly explained by the techno-determinist assumption that the adoption of technology will automatically lead to users changing platforms when thinking about collaboration or information sharing. In some cases managers seem to have made the mistake of approaching the new tools to push content, using it as an extra "management propaganda" channel. This may lead employees to think that the company is the "ultimate beneficiary of Enterprise 2.0 (Denyer, Parry & Flowers, 2011).
Authors like Orlikowski (2008), Pickering and Guzik (2008) have asserted that a social constructivist perspective could offer a valid alternative to technocratic perspectives on the adoption of technology in organizations. Design aspects of the technology are important in gaining user acceptance (Bauer et al., 2006; Davern & Wilkin, 2008; Jung et al., 2010; Zhang, 2007) but so is the design of the social structure. Some claim the dawn of multivocality (Huang, Baptista & Galliero, 2013, p. 121) and advocate the development of "a supportive organizational context in which active participation and free exchange of viewpoints is valued and encouraged." Groysberg & Slind (2009, p. 84) take the idea even further by saying that "one-way broadcast messaging is a relic" and corporate communication will, in time, give way to organizational conversation in which the "power of interpersonal communication (p. 78)" is valued and "self-regulation by employees fills the void left by top-down control (p. 82)." These optimistic accounts of user empowerment through technology must be looked at in more detail.
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.