Leaders and Followers in Social Networking Environments: A Conceptual Model

Leaders and Followers in Social Networking Environments: A Conceptual Model

Celia Romm Livermore (Department of Management and Information Systems, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA) and Pierluigi Rippa (Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Napoli Federico II, Napoli, Italy)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/ijep.2014070103
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Abstract

This conceptual paper focuses on understanding the characteristics and behaviors of leaders and followers in social networking communities. The study differentiates between four groups of actors: “Established Leaders”, “Emergent Leaders”, “Newbies”, and “Supporters”. Based on a review of the literature on leaders and followers in virtual groups, the Leader/Follower Behavior in Social Networking Environments model is presented. The model assumes that the characteristics of actors determine the type of leader or follower they are likely to become. Building on this assumption, the model considers leader/follower characteristics and behaviors as independent variables that lead to a range of outcomes for actors. The outcomes can range from the leader/follower increasing his/her power, maintaining the same level of power, decreasing his/her power, or leaving the community altogether. The discussion and conclusions section develops the theoretical implications from the model and offers suggestions on how the model can be tested and expanded.
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Literature Review

As the main distinction in our conceptualization is between leaders and followers, we define leadership as “influence exerted…over other people to guide, structure and facilitate relationships in a group…” (Yukl, 1998, p. 3). Furthermore, following Yoo and Alavi (2004, p. 29), and in addition to the static approach to leadership offered by Yukl (1998), we treat leadership as “spontaneously accorded by fellow team members and as an emergent phenomenon that develops over time through group processes”. As our understanding of leadership has a strong emphasis on changes over time, we perceive leaders as individuals who earn their status through “incremental influences and contributions to the team” (Hollander, 1960). By implication, the definition of followers is “members of groups who enable and/or support leaders without emerging to a leadership position on their own”. As followers are defined essentially as “non-leaders”, much of the discussion in the following sections focuses on leaders.

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