Organizing, Organizations, and the Role of Social Media Conversations

Organizing, Organizations, and the Role of Social Media Conversations

Veronica R. Dawson (California State University – Stanislaus, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9020-1.ch080
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This chapter traces the concept of organizational identity in organization theory and places it in the social media context. It proposes that organizational communication theories intellectually based in the “linguistic turn” (e.g., the Montreal School Approach to how communication constitutes organizations, communicative theory of the firm) are well positioned to illuminate the constitutive capabilities of identity-bound interaction on social media. It suggest that social media is more than another organizational tool for communication with stakeholders in that it affords interactants the opportunity to negotiate foundational organizational practices: organizational identity, boundaries, and membership, in public. In this negotiative process, the organizing role of the stakeholder is emphasized and legitimized by organizational participation and engagement on social media platforms. The Montreal School Approach's conversation–text dialectic and the communicative theory of the firm's conceptualization of organizations as social, are two useful concepts when making sense of organization–stakeholder interaction in the social media context.
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More broadly, social media platforms are defined by interactivity and participation, giving rise to a more participatory audience and eventually, a participatory culture (see, Jenkins, 2006, 2012; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robison, 2009). Originally related to fandom, participation through and on social media platforms by various organizational stakeholders presents if not new, then differently contextualized challenges for organizing. Social media has a unique combination of affordances that function simultaneously (Scott & Orlikowski, 2012), and how well organizations and stakeholders understand their function determines the successful utilization of social media platforms for the various purposes of organizing.

Branding social media “blunders” have become de rigueur in popular media news– the now numerous occasions of organizations posting the wrong thing online, or alternatively, not commenting, when they perhaps should. Conversations carried out by J.P. Morgan Chase, Kmart, Home Depot, HMV, DiGiorno Pizza and the hashtags #askJPM, and #WhyIStayed present just a few examples of social media strategy gone wrong (Feloni, 2013; Griner, 2014). Then there are the organizations such as TacoBell and Oreo have become famous for their excellent conversational skills on various social networks (Abramovich, 2013; Watercutter, 2013). Organizational blunders and successes on social media platforms exist because of the various digital stakeholders, a multitude of voices, participating in interaction with said brands and communicatively creating failure and success.

Communication as constitutive force is prominent in the social media context, making the Montreal School of organizational communication’s conceptualization of the conversation–text dialectic (Taylor & Van Every, 2000; Putnam, 2013) a useful framework. Social media discourse, involves ongoing interactivity characterized by many-to-many communication between companies and stakeholders, as well as between stakeholders themselves (Goldfarb & Tucker, 2011). Interactivity refers to the degree to which two or more communicative parties can act on each other and the degree to which such influences are synchronized (Liu & Shrum, 2002). The ongoing interaction characteristic of social networking platforms is a process of negotiation in the form of conversations. The underlying negotiation is most apparent since organizations often engage with conflicting internal and external stakeholders.

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