Social Networks Research Paper

Introduction: How Groups Communicate

While the fundamentals of group communication remain largely intact, the means by which a group is able to form, interact and coalesce around tasks and common interests has been indelibly altered by technology. David W. Johnson’s definition of group communication, provided in the text of Joining Together, still applies: “a message sent by a group member to one or more receivers with the conscious intent of affecting the receivers’ behavior (2006).” How this exchange takes place is the focus of this paper, with a particular emphasis on how the Internet is continually challenging the definition of a group while creating new ways to form and maintain groups through self-governance.

Joining Together provides a number of factors that impact the effectiveness of group communication, including: group climate, norms, physical setting, seating arrangements, and humor (Johnson & Johnson, 2009). It is within these influences that the blurring of affect becomes apparent when comparing traditional groups to those that exist in a virtual form. While group climate and norms are ever-present with all groups, and are likely the defining characteristics of what makes a group a group, the use of technology requires a re-evaluation of the other influences. Typically, the physical setting is simply removed from the equation altogether, or it is recreated in a virtual reality setting that mimics an in-person interactive environment. Humor may not be as important when the virtual group is focused on a specific task or common interest and the group’s membership spans multiple geographies where the nuance of humor may not transcend the various cultures.

As social creatures, or social animals (de Spinoza) we will always have a need for groups. Acknowledged long before the invention of the Internet, it is clear that humans “are scarcely able to lead a solitary life, so that the definition of man as a social animal has met with general assent; in fact, men do derive from social life much more convenience than injury (de Spinoza, 2006 based on original work in 1677).”

This need for connectedness and the innate sense of human beings working together toward common goals or in the exploration of common interests is as relevant in the virtual world as it is in the physical world. Technological innovation has simply provided new tools, new methods and new contexts within which to facilitate these interactions and to forge these groups. What remains to be seen is whether the “rules” by which group members communicate and interact are still applicable, or if these need to evolve as well.

How Technology is Changing Groups and Communication

To fully appreciate the impact of the most recent technological revolution and its impact on how humans interact, relate to the world, and form groups, it is instructive to look back to the fifteenth century, when Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press forever changed how people were able to communicate across geographies and cultures.

A thought leader on modern communication technology and media, Howard Rheingold, made this comparison in a 2005 Technology Education Design (TED) Conference presentation entitled Way-New Collaboration. He explained that the ways in which human beings organize socially has been co-evolving for millennia, tracing back to the days when hunters of the great beasts of the time would exchange their surplus food for things of value, thus forming communities of trade and interdependence. Forming groups for survival is an innate behavior, but forming groups around an intellectual commons traces its roots to the period immediately following the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press, which enabled “new forms of collective action … in the spheres of knowledge, religion and politics (Rheingold, 2005).”

Just as the printing press had a transformational impact on society in its day, the Internet is making a similar impact today. Rheingold describes a number of characteristics of the new technology that make it conducive to group formation and communication, including: ease of use, openness, self-instructing, enabling connections and intentionally group forming (2005). With the introduction of email, it was possible to bypass hierarchical and traditional structures to communicate directly with people who were previously unreachable, and this has only been intensified by web logs (blogs) and “wikis” that allow anyone in the world with access to a computer and an Internet connection to publish to a worldwide audience.

And that world seems to be getting smaller with each technological advance. If the printing press made it possible for one person’s thoughts to be accessible to many others around the world, the Internet has only accelerated this effect and decreased the barriers to entry that once existed. Stanley Milgram’s “small world” experiment (1967) ultimately became the basis for the subsequent “six degrees of separation” theory, and the later book Six Degrees, in which the author demonstrates that even on a planet populated by billions of people living in hundreds of nations and within thousands of cultures and subcultures, we are all frequently closer than we realize to others. (Watts, 2003)

“This is not really the small-world phenomenon – it’s more like a small-group phenomenon,” posits Watts in Six Degrees (2003, pg. 41). What this research pointed out for Watts, and others, was the way people would be able to use this relative proximity to get messages to others whom they could not previously connect with, and to create groups based on common interests or common goals where such a group could not have existed in the past because of the lack of a means to connect and hold such a group together.

While it was not clear at the time, Milgram’s research and the subsequent exploration of the “six degrees of separation” helped to create the framework for today’s Internet-based social networks. If one person has, conservatively speaking, five friends and five close acquaintances, and each of these friends has a similar set of friends and acquaintances, this quickly becomes a social network which, at only the second degree, consists of 60 people. (See Figure 1)

The business social networking tool LinkedIn is based on this construct, in which any member is able to assemble their own first level of contacts, friends and associates and then visualize through this first degree a second and third level of contacts. To help make these contacts more meaningful, LinkedIn introduced professional and common-interest groups which members could join, leading to a clustering effect that helped to align the interests of the LinkedIn members and create new linking possibilities based on common backgrounds or interests.

Figure 1: A branching network to demonstrate degrees of separation.

Scholar and author Dr. Clay Shirky offers a perspective that helps to explain the evolution of how groups communicate, while acknowledging that the change from a structured group environment to one that is virtual in nature has inherent risks:

“How do groups get anything done? How do you organize a group of individuals so that the output of the group is something coherent and of lasting value, instead of just being chaos (Shirky, 2005)?”

It was with this question that Dr. Shirky opened his TEDGlobal presentation at Oxford University and described the principle change from the old model of groups to the new and emerging model. The old model required a structure typically spearheaded by an institution, and the old model was burdened by high coordination costs to create a system of governance, to create parameters for group membership, and to coordinate and curate the efforts of a select membership in the support of the institution’s stated goals. The new model, which allows groups to form spontaneously around a common set of goals or interests, is made possible by the Internet and has a built-in cooperative infrastructure (Shirky, 2005).

In The Real Life Social Network, Google researcher Paul Adams outlined the evolution of the Internet in very simple terms: it was originally created as a way to link documents together using hypertext language, and in that form the Internet was static. This is sometimes referred to as Web 1.0, or the first iteration of the Internet. Over time, the Internet “evolved” to facilitate interactive content and media, and in its present state the Internet is becoming more social, “a web built around people.” This social web is commonly called Web 2.0, differentiated from Web 1.0 because of the dynamic environment that not only enables connections but also actively builds an identity across multiple sites for participants. According to Adams, “people are spending much more time interacting with other people, and much less time consuming content from websites. This shift is not about any one particular social network; it’s about people connecting to each other online. (2010).”

In a study commissioned by Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), the concept of the “mobile community” is defined as “an extension of physical community merged with online community (Rhee & Lee, 2009).” The authors identified four quadrants in which mobile communities are emerging: work, relations, services, and entertainment. (See Figure 2) Each quadrant is further defined by a driving purpose, such as efficiency of work between coworkers in an organization driven by financial goals, or sharing of common interests fulfilled by entertainment. Some of these communities are highly structured, particularly those in the work environment, while others are dynamic and often characterized by a continual state of flux.

Figure 2: Virtual (mobile) communities by purpose and composition.

The main point of the Samsung study was to evaluate the potential of mobile phones and devices in the commercial market corresponding to the increased demand for connectivity and belonging. With ubiquitous access to the Internet, not only from a fixed location such as a computer but also from mobile devices, the notion of “community” has also evolved or morphed from a sense of place or locale to “groups organized around common values and common interests (Rhee & Lee, 2009).” Even the concept of a telephone has changed dramatically in the last decade, from a tool that supported dyadic, one-to-one communications to a device that supports many-to-many interactions with rich layers of media, location and information that round out the dimensions of virtual communication, taking the place of the physical settings of the more traditional communications of the last century.

Analyzing Group Communication in a Virtual Context

Joining Together outlines three ways that group communications can be analyzed: interaction among members, the communication network in the group, and the nature of one-way and two-way communications within authority hierarchies. (Johnson & Johnson, 2009)  It is still possible to analyze the effectiveness of group communication and the quality and patterns of interaction in a virtual context, but the methods must evolve to keep up with the technology and stay relevant to a revised schema of group interaction.

In a recent presentation at Rollins College, Dr. Clay Shirky explained how groups have changed from what was once a “center to edge” structure where they were held together by either institutional structure or culture. Groups today, particularly those that interact virtually, are dynamic and the members are able to interact with no rigid structure, protocol or convening authority (2010).

For starters, it is instructive to look at the ostensive and performative models of organizational process, initially described by Feldman & Pentland in 2003 and further elaborated upon in a Boeing research study entitled Models of Collaboration as the Foundation for Collaboration Technologies. The ostensive aspect of the model is a description of intent; how is the collaboration intended to work. The performative aspect provides the real-world application of the theory, accounting for the human element that will inevitably create variation in the intended process (Poltrock & Handel, 2010).

“Collaboration would be easy if everyone could work independently toward a shared goal without any need for interaction. In reality, collaboration requires managing the dependencies among people, processes, and objects. [There are] three basic types of dependencies – flow, sharing, and fit (Poltrock & Handel, 2010, pg. 104).”

To measure the effectiveness of group communications outside of a homogeneous entity, it would be necessary to isolate the interpersonal aspects of the group communication process and separate them from system issues that could confound the interaction, specifically related to flow, sharing and fit. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools make it possible to identify and record the various interactions of members, and the patterns of communication within the group would ultimately emerge with a detailed analysis and recording of each discrete communication over time. As for the hierarchical communication, this would vary dramatically from group to group, and would depend in part on the purpose of the group and its structure. Increasingly, virtual groups are self-governing and self-directed, so while there may be a group leader in place each member is usually expected to proactively communicate with other members directly.

In the previously cited Samsung study, the authors highlighted the activities of “mobile communities” in the social networking context as follows: sharing, contacting, and collaborating. With virtual groups and communities, the basis for measuring the effectiveness of the group’s communication is largely based on the cumulative work that is visible to the members, content-driven to a large extent.

Increasingly, the ostensive component of a group’s interaction process and the purpose for the group itself begins as a vague concept, such as the creation of Wikipedia or the development of the Linux operating system platform. A virtual group’s true value and sustainability are driven more by the performative aspects of their aggregate efforts and the self-governance by which they remain focused on their core goals to the exclusion of other distractions or tangents. And the communication between the group members frequently is the work product itself, a cumulative effort where one group member builds upon the work of another to shape the visible evidence of the group’s purpose, expertise and efficacy.



Google researcher Paul Adams pointed out that “social networks are not new (2010),” and he reinforced the point that humans have drawn on their social networks for centuries as a means of survival and as a basis for progress in what we commonly call civilization. “The emergence of the social web is simply our online world catching up with our offline world. As technology changes the tools we use to communicate, we still use the same behavior patterns that we evolved over those thousands of years (Adams, 2010).” Social networks are simply a reflection of how humans interact naturally, enhanced by technology but ultimately supporting a pattern of human group behaviors that dates back 10,000 years.

As people try to grasp both the purpose and the potential of social networking on the Internet, in many cases the aesthetic of one site such as Facebook may appear to have an advantage over a community building site such as Ning. Over time, the online social networks will emphasize function over form, increasingly creating the means for people to connect across physical, cultural and geographical boundaries with others who share common interests and common goals.

Individually, we are likely to identify with many groups in the context of social networking, and with a site like Facebook the entire base of friends is oversimplified as a single group. In reality, we see ourselves as members of six or more groups formed around life stages (Adams, 2010). These groups may include our families; our work colleagues; social friends and acquaintances; childhood and long-time friends; groups we belong to by virtue of proximity; and groups we belong to by choice because of our goals and interests. It is up to us to actively manage these myriad relationships, make sense of our roles and contributions within each of these groups and determine the methods by which we can best engage with each.

Going back to the factors that impact group communications and the effectiveness of a group’s interactions, in place of the physical settings and seating arrangements of a traditional face-to-face group meeting, the most important element of a virtual group’s effectiveness is the aggregate contribution of its members to a unifying set of interests and/or goals. The communications between members not only affect the behaviors of the other members but also constitute the visible proof of the group’s purpose, existence and net contributions toward the goals and interests.

In other words, groups that take advantage of technology to form and interact can thrive even without an elaborate, ostensive and process-oriented system, provided that the members of the group share a common purpose, a common understanding of what they seek to achieve by virtue of their group membership, and an active dialogue through available channels of communication in pursuit of the group’s objectives. In this case, the performative aspects of the group’s work will be the most tangible and relevant.


Adams, P. (2010). The real life social network [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

de Spinoza, B. (2006). The ethics. Middlesex, UK: The Echo Library. Retrieved from

Johnson, D. & Johnson, F. (2009). Joining together: Group theory and group skills (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Poltrock, S. & Handel, M. (2010). Models of collaboration as the foundation for collaboration technologies. Journal of Management Information Systems, 27(1), 97-122.

Rhee, Y. & Lee, J. (2009). A model of mobile community: Designing user interfaces to support group interaction. Samsung Electronics SAIT CS Lab. Retrieved from…/a-model-of-mobile-community.html

Rheingold, H. (2005). Way-new collaboration. [Technology Education Design (TED) Video]. Retrieved from collaboration.html

Shirky, C. (2005). Institutions vs. collaboration. [Technology Education Design (TED) Video], Retrieved from collaboration.html

Shirky, C. (2010, November). Creativity and generosity in a connected age. Presentation at Rollins College Founders’ Day, Winter Park, FL.

Watts, D. (2003). Six degrees: The science of a connected age. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


Social Networks: How Technology is Transforming Groups and Communication

Stephen Urquhart

Webster University

HRDV 5560 Group Development & Change

Dr. Barbara Seifert

November 15, 2010


Since we’re talking about “Good to Great” …

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
by Jim Collins

How did the selected good-to-great companies like Abbott, Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Gillette, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Nucor, Philip Morris, Pitney Bowes, Walgreens, and Wells Fargo produced sustained great results and achieved enduring greatness, evolving into companies that were indeed ‘Built to Last’.

Some key learnings:

  • Most good-to-great company leaders or CEOs came from the inside. They were not outsiders hired in to ‘save’ the company. They were either people who worked many years at the company or were members of the family that owned the company.
  • Strategy per se did not separate the good to great companies from the comparison groups.
  • Good-to-great companies focus on what NOT to do and what they should stop doing.
  • Technology has nothing to do with the transformation from good to great. It may help accelerate it but is not the cause of it.
  • Mergers and acquisitions do not cause a transformation from good to great.
  • Good-to-great companies paid little attention to managing change or motivating people. Under the right conditions, these problems naturally go away.
  • Good-to-great transformations did not need any new name, tagline, or launch program. The leap was in the performance results, not a revolutionary process.
  • Greatness is not a function of circumstance; it is clearly a matter of conscious choice.
  • Every good-to-great company had “Level 5” leadership during pivotal transition years, where Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual, Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member, Level 3 is the Competent Manager, Level 4 is an Effective Leader, and Level 5 is the Executive who builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
  • Level 5 leaders display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated.
  • Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions.
  • One of the most damaging trends in recent history is the tendency (especially of boards of directors) to select dazzling, celebrity leaders and to de-select potential Level 5 leaders.
  • Potential Level 5 leaders exist all around us, we just have to know what to look for.
  • The research team was not looking for Level 5 leadership, but the data was overwhelming and convincing. The Level 5 discovery is an empirical, not ideological, finding.
  • Before answering the “what” questions of vision and strategy, ask first “who” are the right people for the team.
  • Comparison companies used layoffs much more than the good-to-great companies. Although rigorous, the good-to-great companies were never ruthless and did not rely on layoffs or restructuring to improve performance.
  • Good-to-great management teams consist of people who debate vigorously in search of the best answers, yet who unify behind decisions, regardless of parochial interests.
  • There is no link between executive compensation and the shift from good to great. The purpose of compensation is not to ‘motivate’ the right behaviors from the wrong people, but to get and keep the right people in the first place.
  • The old adage “People are your most important asset” is wrong. People are not your most important asset. The right people are.
  • Whether someone is the right person has more to do with character and innate capabilities than specific knowledge, skills or experience.

The Hedgehog Concept is a concept that flows from the deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:

  • What you can be best in the world at, realistically, and what you cannot be best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine
  • What you are deeply passionate about

Discover your core values and purpose beyond simply making money and combine this
with the dynamic of preserve the core values – stimulate progress, as shown for
example by Disney. They have evolved from making short animated films, to feature
length films, to theme parks, to cruises, but their core values of providing
happiness to young and old, and not succumbing to cynicism remains strong.
w. Enduring great companies don’t exist merely to deliver returns to shareholders.
In a truly great company, profits and cash flow are absolutely essential for life,
but they are not the very point of life.

Guidelines for communicating with remote and virtual teams

Image: Make Something Cool Every Day

Here is the full list of guidelines, as cited in my research paper and as originally published by Melcrum Publishing as part of their report, “Building a Strategy for Remote Communications.”

  • Create opportunities for people to get to know each other on a personal level. Create a closed website that introduces members and their families. Have photographs that are not just of head and shoulders, but of them with their normal work team, their family, or playing their favorite sport. Make the interactions human and personal.
  • Have a clear system for recognizing and managing misunderstandings. Make it a part of the rubric that anyone who feels upset or uncomfortable about e-communications from other virtual team members has a responsibility to share that concern openly, with a view to building greater understanding.
  • Have clear rules about when and how to contact colleagues out of (normal working) hours.
  • Keep the team relatively small — no more than eight to 10 people. The larger the virtual team, the more likely it is to fragment into uncoordinated smaller groups.
  • Have clear and frequent processes for reflection and review. Ask what they have learned as a group and what individuals have learned, achieved, and struggled with over the past weeks.
  • Be very clear about the team purpose. Review activity together frequently according to this purpose and the team values.
  • Be very clear about what roles each member of the team should play and why. Be prepared to exchange roles.
  • Have a clear policy about how the virtual team will capture its learning and share it, with new members, and with other teams. Maintain an electronic record of the team’s learning.
  • Value differences of opinion within the team as an opportunity to explore issues in more depth.
  • Hold virtual team meetings on a regular basis, just as you would with a face-to-face team.
  • Maintain a team diary.
  • Do not overly rely on e-mail. Expect people to talk in person, by telephone or video conference, at least once every few weeks.

Running on luck … the Young Manufacturing exercise

Tonight’s role-playing exercise from the EMOB, page 235 entitled “Upward Communication: Young Manufacturing Company,” illustrated a case where the CEO of the company was absolutely clueless and his management team was running amok. Apparently, if you order 1 million gaskets and find out they are defective, this can be the ultimate test of a just-in-time inventory system. And when your CEO doesn’t know that you’ve switched to a just-in-time inventory system, and you commit all of the companies resources to trying to rework the product of a defective supply chain, you get the Young Manufacturing Company.

I had the great misfortune of playing Roy Conti, manager of quality control and a direct report to Bob Young, the president of the company. And apparently my character has still not gotten over the fact that his son was not hired by the company, and that instead they hired Fran Kurowski. Now, Roy has been with the company from the very beginning ( nine years ago) and from the looks of things he’ll be there till the bitter end. It turns out that the genius in charge of production, Donna Kelly, specializes in obfuscation but not so much in production.

A note on how to run a meeting

On the trip home from Savannah, my wife volunteered to drive so I could get caught up on some lovely EMOB reading assignments, such as “A Note on How to Run a Meeting.” In this article, I learned that about two thirds of an executive’s time is spent in meetings. The author stresses the importance of preparation, and notes that no amount of execution can compensate for poor planning when it comes to meetings.

The key points in planning included:

  • Setting objectives
  • Selecting participants
  • Planning the agenda
  • Doing your homework

It is important to know what the participants expect to get out of the meeting, and to identify the hidden agendas that are inevitable when you bring multiple personalities together. More importantly, it is vital that the organizer has some clear objectives and they structure the meeting to achieve those objectives. Using the classic Stephen Covey model, begin with the end in mind.

One key consideration that needs to be addressed very early on is the purpose of the meeting; is this intended to solve a problem, or to share information? And if it’s to share information, could that be done another way?

The chair of the meeting should publish their agenda and circulated to participants at least a day in advance, and they are responsible for managing the flow:

  • Begin the meeting
  • Encourage problem-solving
  • Keep discussions on track
  • Get to a decision
  • And the meeting
  • Define next steps

And  by the way, we’re so lucky we got to read Mr. Ware’s notes on running a meeting here, because on the treatise is out of print and back-ordered until the cows come home.

Goal Setting with Warren Greshes

We watched a video tonight featuring motivational speaker Warren Greshes, who shares the mantra: “See Yourself Successful.”

Successful people really believe if you can “see yourself successful,” you can be successful. If you can see yourself doing something in your mind, you can do it. But if you can’t even see yourself doing something in your mind, how can you possibly expect to do it in real life.

He says that successful people, in business, in sales, in all walks of life, create visions – for themselves and for their clients.

Who Moved My Cheese?

Tonight’s feature presentation (without popcorn) was a 20-minute video of the Spencer Johnson “classic” book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”

For the record, I did not like this book when I had to read it 10 years ago as part of my undergrad work, and I wasn’t thrilled with this cartoon either. But, okay, I get it: change happens, and we need to be prepared for it when it comes.

The main point of the book, and of this movie, is that people in the workforce need to learn to deal with and embrace change, as today’s work environment is one where change is often the only constant.

Here are the main points from the movie, as shared by Haw in his scribbles:

Change Happens
They Keep Moving The Cheese
Anticipate Change
Get Ready For The Cheese To Move
Monitor Change
Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old
Adapt To Change Quickly
The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese
Move With The Cheese
Enjoy Change!
Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!
Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again & Again
They Keep Moving The Cheese.

We can never assume that things will just remain the same, so we need to avoid becoming complacent. By moving beyond our comfort zones we can remain flexible and adaptive to new conditions, new rules, new procedures, and new cheese. Cheesy!