It seems almost comical to claim to be able to understand the communication that occurs within an organization. And to be honest, it probably is. The quantity and depth of communication that goes on within any organization and, even, in any single relationship is so vast that we have no hopes of understanding everything. However, we are able to use the tools of communication theories and metaphors to gain enough understanding to begin to impact the field. One such tool often used when studying organizational communication is metaphors which “operate at multiple levels of analysis to provide insights into how we understand organizational life” (Putnam, Phillips, & Chapman, 1996, p. 377).
One metaphor adopted by organizational communication scholars is the linkage metaphor. The linkage metaphor “treats organizations as networks or systems of interconnected individuals in which communication acts to connect by forming relational bonds; patterns of contacts and interconnectedness; global integration; and ties among work, home, and community” (Putnam et al., 1996, p. 379). As students looking to enter into the workplace, we’re most familiar with this idea in connection with the importance of networking. But this metaphor is also gaining a new spot of prominence in understanding social media, which embodies many of the characteristics of a linkage system as mentioned before.
Social media is an interesting phenomenon for communication scholars of today. One could argue that social media is drastically changing communication in a way that only few other things in history have ever done. For these other events in history that drastically changed communication, such as the invention of the printing press or mass media, communication studies was not an established academic discipline. Now, however, communication studies have gained a solid foothold on which to stand before social media began to shake that up. As social media evolves, communication scholars now have the unique ability to use theory, methods, a literature base, and metaphors to seek to understand this new addition to communication as it emerges and finds its place in our lives, both public and private.
The linkage metaphor, although created prior to the emergence of social media, is very helpful in understanding new communication media. The linkage metaphor can be used as a tool to gain understanding in how people gain participation and inclusion in a network. Putnam, Phillips, and Chapman (1996) state that “the degree of participation or inclusion in networks stems from the presence or absence of a link, the amount of communication exchanged, the directionality of messages, and the kinds of content that flow through a link” (p. 382). I was recently introduced to a social media tool that, in essence, measures one’s degree of participation or inclusion using these various factors. This tool is called “Klout” and it uses social media to assign each person a dynamic “Klout Score”. Klout argues that this is important because social actions are a reflection of influence.
The Klout Score is a measure of influence based on one’s ability to drive action in social networks. The Klout Score is computed on a scale of one to 100, with the average score being around 20. Klout explains that influence is built over time, as it would be in person to person interactions. They also explain that being active is different than being influential, another concept that mirrors what would be true in person. In terms of the linkage network, one’s Klout score essentially shows their network role, or “the structural positions of individuals within a network” (Putnam et al., 1996, p. 382) and the density of the network, or the “ratio of actual contacts to the total number of possible linkages in the system” (Putnam et al., 1996, p. 383). The linkage network explains that density plays a key role in the likelihood of adopting new ideas or innovations.
The purpose of many businesses is to engage their customers in new ideas with them or to convince customers of the importance of new innovations. By understanding social media within the context of the linkage metaphor, we can begin to understand the importance of Klout. Although it may not be fair, with a Klout score of 46, what I have to say matters more than what most people have to say, considering the average Klout score. Therefore, an idea or innovation supported online by me has a higher likelihood to be adopted by others online than most people. That doesn’t mean I necessarily have better ideas or better innovations, I simply know how to use social media, which is an undeniably strong force in today’s market. Essentially, by gaining an understanding of social media, the possible size of my network grows immensely.
Although social media is a new and unfamiliar communication phenomenon, the linkage metaphor can aid us in gaining understanding about important elements of social media. One such element is that of influence, or Klout. Through social media, a prestigious network role can be established within a dense network, which allows for greater likelihood of interesting others in adopting new ideas or innovations. The shift in communication that social media has caused is no means to reinvent the wheel. Using the tools we have as communication scholars as applied to social media, we can begin to understand how to adapt to social media effectively.
Putnam, L. l., Phillips, N., & Chapman, P. (1996). Metaphors of communicationand organization. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of organization studies (pp. 375-408). London: Sage.