Communications of the Association for Information Systems


In this paper, we investigate how members’ participation in off-topic social forums in electronic networks of practice (eNoPs) influences their propensity to participate in their domain-specific forums. Currently, the literature offers two theoretical arguments that would predict opposing outcomes concerning the impact that off-topic forum participation has on domain-specific forum participation. We argue that investigating the network structure of the off-topic forum has the theoretical flexibility to reconcile these opposing theoretical arguments. Specifically, we hypothesize that an off-topic forum’s overall network structure (network cohesion as determined by the global clustering coefficient) moderates the impact of off-topic forum participation on domain-specific forum participation. We theorize that, given equal conditions, off-topic forum participation creates social bonds that positively affect domain-specific forum participation when the off-topic forums have a highly cohesive network structure. Contrarily, however, we posit that off-topic forum participation becomes a noisy distraction when the off-topic forum has a less-cohesive network structure. We provide empirical support for these hypotheses via a 10-year longitudinal study of software developers’ participation in an electronic network of practice (eNoP). Our paper highlights new theoretical insights on the network effects in an eNoP whereby network structures in one section (off-topic forums) have ramifications for behaviors in a different section (domain-specific forums).