Sunday, 3 June 2012

“Social Media as a Driver for New Rhetorical Practices in Organisations”

Joao (John) Baptista and Robert D. Galliers (2012). “Social Media as a Driver for New Rhetorical Practices in Organisations”. In: 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Science (HICSS). Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE Computer Society, pp. 3540–3549

Abstract

Social media adoption within organisations enables wider employee participation in corporate communication and rhetoric. We study the impact of social media on rhetorical practices inside organisations, namely how social media reshapes senior management communication. We study the online communication environments of eight organisations and identify two contrasting approaches in dealing with social media adoption: the closed and open model. In the closed model, organisations maintain central control and their communication platforms remain mainly one- way. In the open model, organisations develop and foster two-way interaction. The study finds that in the “open model”, governance and culture of the organisation changes in order to address the shift in control and tension between top-down and bottom-up communication. Our key contribution is in rethinking rhetorical practices in the context of modern open and fluid online communication environments in organisations rhetorical diffusion - and characterising the changes in governance and culture that enable this transition internal ambidexterity.

Review

Baptista and Galliers, 2012: “Social Media as a Driver for New Rhetorical Practices in Organisations” is a very interesting paper. Not least because it sets off with a reference to the good old greek, Aristotle and Roberts, 1954: "The Rhetoric", stating that Aristotelian rhetoric was first of all a one-way communication. They focus on this topic, because “rhetoric plays a key role in organisational change”. In contrast to the speeches in Greek and Roman times, in organisations today multi-directional communication is on the rise, or even the norm. Rhetoric in organisations is an important tool, because “rhetoric shapes employee behaviour by creating language and frames of reference”. Following that, they put the manager in the position of the “rhetor”. This makes sense, because “managers spend most of their time communicating”.

Besides Aristotle, the authors also refer to more recent works about communication and rhetoric. Most notably perhaps the references to Searle, 1969: "Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language" and Austin, 1962: "How to do things with words". Both sources sound quite interesting and promising, probably good reads if you want to dive deeper into the mysteries of communication. For a quick overview, Wikipedia contributors, 2012: "Speech act — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia" and Wikipedia contributors, 2012: "J. L. Austin: How to Do Things With Words — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia" should be good resources.

Now, how does modern technology, Enterprise 2.0-like tools, influence internal communications? For the managers, they make it “easier to access and use multiple perspectives” and thus can be a valuable resource for new insights. As a result “blogs, wikis and other user driven services improve the ability of rhetors to emphasise context by developing a better sense of the feelings and views of the audience, so they can adapt arguments accordingly”. An important finding is that “digital rhetoric requires different strategies and techniques than traditional rhetorical methods”.

Baptista and Galliers divided the organisations they analysed into two main groups. There are organisations where publishing rights on the intranet are very much restricted with a focus on central control. These organisations are grouped under the term “closed model”. Organisations supporting and fostering open participation and less control follow an “open model” approach.

It is interesting that in those companies following the “open model”, supporting more unrestricted communication, “senior managers were more active in requesting direct feedback from employees”. The findings indicate that open communication fosters constructive dialogue and debate, while restricting internal communication is perceives by some as a lack of trust in employees.

After all, this study confirms that Enterprise 2.0 tools drive “multi-directional communication across levels and areas”, what the authors call “rhetorical diffusion”. In my opinion, this paper shows, even though it is actually limited to the internal communications function, that these modern tools change information flows and also interaction patterns within organisations.

References

Baptista and Galliers, 2012: “Social Media as a Driver for New Rhetorical Practices in Organisations”
Baptista, Joao (John) and Robert D. Galliers (2012). “Social Media as a Driver for New Rhetorical Practices in Organisations”. In: 45th Hawaii International Conference on System Science (HICSS). Los Alamitos, CA, USA: IEEE Computer Society, pp. 3540–3549.
Aristotle and Roberts, 1954: "The Rhetoric"
Aristotle and W. Rhys Roberts (1954). The Rhetoric. Modern Library New York.
Searle, 1969: "Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language"
Searle, John R. (1969). Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge University Press.
Austin, 1962: "How to do things with words"
Austin, John L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Wikipedia contributors, 2012: "Speech act — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia"
Wikipedia contributors (2012). Speech act — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. url: http: //en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Speech_act&oldid=490518368 (visited on 06/03/2012).
Wikipedia contributors, 2012: "J. L. Austin: How to Do Things With Words — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia"
Wikipedia contributors (2012). J. L. Austin: How to Do Things With Words — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. url: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=J._L. _Austin&oldid=495269437 (visited on 06/03/2012).

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