Arriving at a systems paradigm: Measuring and managing the complexity of organizations and consumers online

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Beth E. Barnes


Online businesses, Organizational communication, Advertising placement, Market intelligence, Consumers

Subject Categories

Communication | Mass Communication | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Online organizations face immense volatility in their operating environment. To cope with this flux, there is an impending need for better strategy formulation. The focus of this dissertation is in developing a systemic framework to improve organizational effectiveness online.

The four levels of analysis proposed include the ideological level, environmental level, organizational level and consumer level. At the ideological level, we examine the extent to which complexity affects the functioning of the online organization. Theorizing that stability can exist within such environments, we recommend chaos be integrated into the strategic planning models of organizations. Two case studies are constructed to reflect that regularity can be determined if parameters of the complex environment are well defined and time-scaled.

Organizations need to understand their markets and adapt to changing conditions dictated by both the environmental and the consumer levels of analyses. Therefore, we present the environmental level as being encapsulated within the organizational level. By becoming more consumer-centric, organizations can gather preference and usage information and convert them to actionable strategies. An experiment was conducted to explore how user surfing patterns can help in determining online advertising placement within the site and between sites. An analytical model was also constructed to assess advertising recall and content correlation.

How consumers search for information based on declared needs and their risk utility affects their use of the Internet. By conducting and comparing survey data gathered in Fall 1998 and Spring 2001, we construct a log-likelihood model that encapsulates active (current) and lapsed usage among individuals. The findings indicate that there has been significant changes in the rate of Internet adoption over the three-year period with implications on the extent of risk individuals are more willing to take and subsequently the amount or type of information they seek

This dissertation recommends incorporating such an adaptive framework such that organizations will be able to adopt a holistic perspective in deciphering their strategy when dealing with complexity online. By taking into account each level of analysis in aggregate, the systemic framework emphasizes information flow management, which will extend the ability of the organization to reconfigure its approach to decision-making by learning to incorporate dynamism within its structure.


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