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Social Media Ushers in a New Type of Organizational Culture

January 22, 2017 by Dan Yachin

Social Media Ushers in a New Type of Organizational Culture

"The medium is the message", the phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan, has never been more relevant than in the current digital age. McLuhan proposed that the medium itself is more important than the content it carries, as it structures the way the message is perceived, interpreted, and acted upon. According to the theory, changes in dominant communications media are the main cause for major changes in society and culture.

The evolution of mass media from print through radio and television to the Internet has clearly had a direct and profound impact on how we understand the world around us. The emergence of social media can be seen as the latest example of a disruptive change along the lines of McLuhan's theory. Like other media, social media is far more than just a channel. Similarly, its unique characteristics dictate the type of content delivered through it, as well as the way it is created, distributed, and consumed. The huge revenues generated by the leading social networks from advertising, and the continuous shift in advertising budgets from traditional to social channels, further indicate that social media is becoming the central medium of the digital age.  

But there's also a big difference between social media and other media. To a large extent, social media is the first type of media to break down the traditional "one-to-many" model of mass communication, where a content provider uses the channel to deliver its message to a public that is largely anonymous. Instead, social networks introduced an "anyone-to-anyone" model where everybody is — potentially — both a sender and a receiver.

In less than a decade, the propagation of social networks has led to the democratization of content that is distributed in peer-to-peer-like manner. The dramatic consequences of this change were demonstrated all over the world as people gather on social networks and utilize the power of the masses to promote political, economic, social, environmental and other causes.

A similar development is also underway in the workplace. Enabled by the widespread availability of mobile apps and devices, and the ubiquity of cloud-based applications featuring social capabilities, social collaboration is increasingly integrated into core business processes, redefining the way people work and engage with colleagues, suppliers, customers and partners. This trend continues to evolve as vendors are implementing social features into business applications and workflows. As a result, social media is introducing significant changes to everyday business life.

For example, IDC’s research has found that social networks are considered the most effective communication channel to optimize customer experience, enabling organizations to connect directly with customers and to receive, analyze, and act on feedback. In accordance, in a recent IDC survey conducted among CIOs in South Eastern Europe, 15% of respondents named social collaboration as strategically imperative for the development of their businesses. An additional 57% viewed social collaboration as necessary for maintaining their organizations' market positions. In terms of strategic importance, the survey results rank social collaboration as one of the main IT investment areas, alongside big data analytics, cybersecurity, mobility, private cloud, and IoT.

But the impact of enterprise social networks goes far beyond their role as a communications channel. As social media is being increasingly used for internal and external interactions, we increasingly see how this change is leading to the creation of a new type of organizational culture.

The traditional organizational culture is a reflection of the typical corporate structure that is based on separate business units, hierarchies, bureaucracy, and inequality in access to information and resources. The introduction of social media into the workplace is gradually changing all that. As a powerful means of real-time communication, it enables employees to easily find and share information, reach out to decision makers, and become more involved in business activities. It also facilitates collaboration across previously-siloed departments, teams, and areas of expertise. As a result, we are witnessing the emergence of an organizational structure that is more "flat" and transparent, where information is flowing faster and more freely between employees, departments, and external parties.

Today, organizations are in the process of adjusting themselves to the digital age, where social media plays a fundamental role as a mass communication medium. IDC's research has shown that this transformation is apparent in the formation of new business structures that are more natively geared toward leveraging digital and social media competencies. Currently, we are still in a transition stage, however, in which the traditional and the modern organizational structures coexist. In the longer term, companies that fail to develop an organizational structure and culture that use social networking to foster innovation, knowledge sharing, and participation are likely to be left behind.

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