From Top to Bottom: Investigating the Changing Role of Hierarchy and Influence in Enterprise Social Networks

Riemer K, Stieglitz S, Meske C

Social media, such as social networking platforms, increasingly gain importance in enterprise contexts. Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) is often associated with improved communication, information-sharing and problem-solving. At the same time, ESN has been argued to diminish the role of formal influence in that users increasingly derive authority from their contributions to the network rather than from their position in the organisational hierarchy. Others argue that ESN will diminish influence outright by producing more democratic and inclusive communication structures. Yet, these assertions remain largely un-explored empirically so far. Against this background, we explore the influence of both a user’s position in the organisation’s hierarchy and a user’s contributions to the network on the ability to elicit responses from other ESN users. We draw on a unique data set of more than 110,000 messages collected from the ESN platform Yammer at Deloitte Australia. While we find evidence for both kinds of influence, our data also reveals that informal influence has a stronger effect and that, as the ESN community matures over time, communication structures become indeed more inclusive and balanced across hierarchical levels. We contribute a set of propositions that theorise the ways in which influence and communication pattern are shaped during the process of ESN emergence. Our results further underline the potentials of ESN in improving organic, user-driven communication and knowledge sharing within firms.

Social Media, Hierarchy, network emergence, Yammer,

Publication type
Article in Journal

Peer reviewed

Publication status


Business & Information Systems Engineering (BISE)