Social Conceptualizations of Technology Structuring: A Comparative Analysis of Wikis at Two Global Organizations

Social Conceptualizations of Technology Structuring: A Comparative Analysis of Wikis at Two Global Organizations

Osama Mansour (Department of Informatics, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden), Dave Randall (Information Systems, University of Siegen, Siegen, Germany) and Linda Askenäs (Department of Informatics, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/ijvcsn.2013070103


The widespread adoption and use of social media in almost every aspect of our daily lives may outpace existing empirical understandings. In organizations, social media are increasingly used by professional individuals and communities to support dynamic collaboration and knowledge sharing. While there is a growing amount of research on this subject, still little is known on how people use different kinds of social media in practice. That is, there is a need for an empirical understanding that addresses actual use practices of social media within the formal boundaries of organizations. To this end, we report on results from a qualitative comparative study of the use of wikis at two global organizations. Our aim is to develop an empirical understanding of the enactment of structures and the ways by which people structure and organize their wiki use practices by drawing on Orlikowski's (2000) practice lens. The findings from the authors analysis suggest a number of enacted structures that reflect diverse wiki use practices. The main contribution centers on developing three key mechanisms that provide means for understanding the structuring of the use of technology.
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The use of social media in organizations is becoming increasingly common. Many scholars have suggested that the social media might reduce managerial control and flatten organizational hierarchies (Bibbo et al., 2010; Macnamara & Zerfass, 2012; Stenmark, 2008), transform and democratize knowledge exchange (Hasan & Pfaff, 2007; Aral et al., 2013; Bibbo et al., 2010), accelerate innovation and product development (Zwass, 2010), and so on. Most interestingly for us, a dominant theme across these studies has been the suggestion that formal organizational structures might be altered by new social media, and notably that the hierarchical structures that determine authority relations, information flows, and mechanisms of control and coordination in organizations (Zammuto et al., 2007) might be transformed. But how social media may enable such transformation is not yet examined (Majchrzak et al., in press) and current literature offers limited insights into organizational use of social media (Jarrahi & Sawyer, 2013).

Other scholars have cautioned that the new social media and existing organizational structures are at least potentially incompatible. Hence, Grudin and Poole (2010) pointed to the tension that might exist in the interplay between wikis and organizations. They discussed the typical hierarchic character of large enterprises and suggested that it is naturally incompatible with the malleable character of a technology promoting open, flexible collaboration. Similar findings are offered by Yeo and Arazy (2012) and Macnamara & Zerfass (2012).

This caution is also evidenced by Huang et al. (2013) who suggested that organizations often tend to make adjustments to the use of social media so that it satisfies their governing principles. In the specific case of wikis, it has been suggested that they are often not used as initially intended (Martine et al., 2013). Holtzblatt et al. (2010) found that people are largely reluctant to use wikis for sharing information or editing content made by others because of dominant work practices and cultural sensitivities at the workplace. Other related perspectives refer to contradictory influences of social media (e.g., Hildebrand et al. 2013; Majchrzak et al., in press) implying that their use in organizations is ambivalent.

Nevertheless, it is still unclear how wikis are used in practice and how they may affect or transform organizations (Jarrahi & Sawyer, 2013; Majchrzak et al., in press; Martine et al., 2013; Saldanha & Krishnan, 2012; Stocker et al., 2009). Most social media studies have only focused on a few key themes related to categories of use (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010) which for the most part are conceptual speculations (Jarrahi & Sawyer, 2013; Treem & Leonardi, 2012), potential of social media for innovation, creativity and democratization (Hasan & Pfaff, 2007; Shirky, 2008), and the potential to create and sustain social network ties (Ellison et al., 2011). We believe that what is largely missing is an understanding of wiki use practices inside formal, established organizations. That is to say, there is a need for an in-depth understanding that primarily focuses on wiki use practices in order to examine how people structure and organize these practices in relation while using a wiki at the workplace.

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