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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Flattening Effect

At the end of Chapter 1, “The Fourth Revolution,” we discussed the general trend with each digital revolution toward corporate decentralization. It is interesting to think about this in terms of social capital, or privileged access to resources, in an organization. The Internet democratized privileged access to information. Online social networking takes this further, democratizing privileged access to people.

Because there are fewer barriers in place, people are empowered to build social capital in more informal, entrepreneurial, and ad hoc ways. On most social networking sites, registration is open to anyone, and every member more or less starts on level footing. Sites like Facebook were designed without hierarchy, so real-world social structures that are hierarchical don’t translate well. They tend to flatten out. Take corporate communication, for instance. Something the CEO says is more likely to spread across the company’s informal word-of-mouth networks compared with something said by an entry-level worker. But to Facebook, these statements look identical.

Say the CEO posts a link on her profile to a news article annotated with her comments, and the entry-level employee does the same with a different article. Before, likely the CEO’s comments would propagate across the company and the employee’s would not. But on Facebook, both messages might have equal opportunity to propagate the company network. In the truly flat Facebook Era, entry-level workers potentially have the same opportunity as the CEO to have their voice heard.

Using online social networking, employees might also be able to bypass traditional organizational hierarchy and boundaries to network directly with senior managers or colleagues in other departments, units, and geographies. Just like blogging democratized who had a voice on the Internet, someone who is really active on Facebook and posts interesting links and commentary might win visibility in the company in ways which would simply not have been possible before.

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