In this post I will introduce the SNEP model. This model explains the Social Network Emergence Process, e.g. the phases by which novel social media emerge in organisations. True to the spirit of my blog, this model is backed by an in-depth study and data analysis of an actual, typical case of social network emergence. The model results from a collaborative research effort between our group at the University of Sydney, colleagues at the Bundeswehr University Munich, Yammer Inc. and Capgemini.
Emergence has long been known as a defining characteristic of social media and social networking (see McAfee 2006a). Emergence refers to the self-organising nature of social media in organisations, where adoption and diffusion happens bottom-up, in a grassroots fashion, such that users take control and new Internet-based services are adopted, often without the organisation having to launch a dedicated project.
While take-for-granted, beyond anecdotal evidence emergence as a phenomenon remains largely a blackbox. It has been unclear what exactly happens when new social media and social networks emerge in organisations.
With our study we are able to unpack this blackbox and bring to light for the first time the anatomy of the emergence phenomenon. We show what happens when users make sense of and incorporate novel social media into their workplaces and work practices; when a small initiative explodes into a large-scale, organisation-wide, global phenomenon.
At Capgemini a small group of consultants started using Yammer back in August 2008. We have analysed and coded 1,722 self-referential messages in which users discuss and reflect on Yammer itself and its usage. The messages cover the first months of Yammer usage until three months after the critical mass point was reached. With this analysis we are able to understand how sense-making about the new technology happens and how the technology comes from being tested by a small group to being adopted by thousands of users. We are able to show how communication and topics change over-time as the focus shifts from scrutinising a novel technology to actively facilitating adoption across the organisation.
Our findings have led to the identification of the Social Networking Emergence Process model (SNEP). The SNEP model visualises the four phases by which the Yammer-based social network emerged at Capgemini. While based on only one case, we are confident that the model will be immediately transferrable to other cases. We know from initial talks with people in the community that the model is useful for decision makers and social media champions in understanding better the dynamic of emergence at work.
Andrew McAfee, who has introduced the term into the community’s collective vocabulary, defines emergence as the “appearance of global structure as the result of local interactions.” (McAfee 2006b) So far, as a community we have gained a good understanding of the global structures resulting from social network emergence in organisations. Some of our work has been published in a number of papers (see Riemer et al. (2011), our first working paper as an example). With this new study and the SNEP model we are now able to better understand the local interactions at work that lead to and make up the emergence phenomenon.
The SNEP model
Social Network Emergence in organisations evolves in four stages: In the Start-up phase, the new service is being scrutinised, in the Neglect phase adoption and diffusion is at risk of dying of, in the Excitement phase a point of engagement is reached where the service reaches wider visibility and diffusion takes on its own dynamic; finally, in the Productivity phase the service becomes part of the normal work environment with productive work practices dominating communication on the platform.
The four phases in more detail:
- Start-up: In the first phase, a group of early adopters starts experimenting with the new service. The platform is compared against existing experience and already known technologies. The new service is evaluated mostly in terms of its features, where the tone can be quite negative, because the potential benefits of the new service are not yet evident, but will emerge over time through experimenting, use and eventually the co-evolving work practices.
- Neglect: In the second phase, the new artefact is discussed quite negatively. The conversation around the new service is on the verge of vanishing. In this phase, platform adoption is at risk of dying off, as the total number of posts on the platform might actually decrease. In this phase it is the social media champions that keep the ball rolling.
- Excitement: In the crucial third phase interest in using the new service grows as a point of engagement is reached. Negative evaluations begin to give way as the focus shifts to discussing and sharing practical ways of working with the service and the tone of communication becomes more positive. Many questions are being asked, while others offer assistance regarding use and benefits of the new service. The community beings to actively promote diffusion and the social network grows strongly as the critical mass point is reached.
- Productivity: The tone in conversations becomes distinctly neutral; both positive and negative assessments make way to more informative conversations, as self-referential communication makes way for more productive communication. People assist new adopters, while shared norms emerge and are observed by the community. A baseline of support-related conversations remains to assist new adopters in making a head-start.
Our study contributes a process theory explaining social network emergence in organisations where the diffusion of the social media service originates from a grass-roots initiative. Please take a look at the full working paper, which contains the detailed findings and a breakdown of what exactly happens during the process over time.
We believe that the SNEP model will be a useful tool for managers and social media champions alike; we are confident that it will help to understand the dynamics at work, the points of risk, engagement and finally critical mass, all of which mark steps on the way to the success of a social media initiative.
See also: Insights for promoting #e20 adoption.
Please, leave a comment below – regardless of whether you have to add something, you think the model fits with your experience or whether your experience is entirely different.
The research team would like to thank a number of institutions for supporting this research: Capgemini for sharing with us their data, without which such research would not be possible, Yammer for their constant support of our research efforts, the Group of Eight and DAAD, which contribute with a travel grant to the collaboration of our two Universities.
McAfee, Andrew (2006a) ‘Enterprise 2.0: The dawn of emergent collaboration’, in: MIT Sloan Management Review, 47(3), 21–28, Read online.
McAfee, Andrew (2006b) ‘The Mechanisms of Online Emergence’, Read online.
Riemer K, Richter A, Diederich S and Scifleet P (2011) ‘Tweet Talking – Exploring The Nature Of Microblogging at Capgemini Yammer’, Business Information Systems Working Paper, Sydney, Australia, Access online.
Riemer K, Overfeld, P, Scifleet P and Richter A (2012) ‘Oh, SNEP! The Dynamics of Social Network Emergence – the case of Capgemini Yammer’, Business Information Systems Working Paper, Sydney, Australia, Access online.