Experts gather to define a framework for SMP research


Social media tools are increasingly used in today's global business environment.
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Flickr: CLUC

Eight-four percent of Fortune Global 100 companies worldwide now utilize at least one social media platform (SMP), indicates a recent study by the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.

Numerous statistical studies such as this exist, but how do we understand the numbers in terms of the actual impact of SMPs on business?

Despite the growing adoption of SMPs as a business tool, this is still a relatively new and under-studied area of technology—even in Silicon Valley where many SMP innovations originate, says Rafiq Dossani, a senior research scholar at Stanford University’s Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC). Dossani defines SMPs as “information and communications technology platforms designed for interaction among participants.” He and other academic and industry experts convened at Stanford on May 25 for a discussion of SMP business trends, especially in the areas of recruitment and business development in Silicon Valley.

Their goal? To begin developing a theoretical framework for the study of SMPs as a tool in today’s global business environment. Findings presented during the conference suggest that SMPs serve as another tool for doing business, but do not supplant existing systems and practices. In addition, a great deal of future research is needed on the subject.

Organized by Shorenstein APARC’s Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SPRIE), the conference was the sixth in an annual series dedicated to examining the globalization of business services. Previous conferences have addressed topics including outsourcing, system integrators, international recruitment, and clean technologies.

Opening the first session about social media trends among Silicon Valley employers, Philip Jordan and Stephen Jordan of Green LMI Consulting presented findings from a recent survey they conducted of over three hundred firms, especially of larger and technology-related companies. Their study found that over half of Silicon Valley firms surveyed are utilizing social media for external communication and/or for the recruitment and evaluation of new employees, pointing to the utility for job seekers to maintain a professional-looking online presence. Nonetheless, they emphasized that “real” skills and expertise still matter the most to employers.

Manuel Serapio, faculty director and associate professor of international business at the University of Colorado Denver (UC Denver) moderated the panel discussion that followed. Panelists Rahim Fazal, CEO and co-founder of Involver, and Tuomo Nikulainen, a researcher at ETLA, the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, provided commentary during the session.

Dossani led the second session about social media in the workplace with a presentation summarizing a study he conducted on the value of SMPs to business organizations. Surveying employees at twenty Silicon Valley companies, Dossani tested the hypothesis that a SMP has value “only if it improves the reliability of existing information or enables the generation of new information.” SMPs do not automatically generate such information, he stated. Some SMPs are better at generating reliable information (eg., a CEO’s blog) and others enable the generation of new information (eg., a discussion forum). Dossani categorized SMPs in the study by the extent of collaboration they permitted among participants in the creation of new information, as well as the control that was possible over the flow of information. Depending on how the usage of an SMP is organized—who participates and its governance structure—information of potential value to corporates is generated. Dossani noted the difference between individual SMPs, such as Twitter, and websites, such as YouTube, that integrate a number of different social media functions, including video and discussion forums.

In the study, Dossani proposed a theoretical framework for research on SMP business trends, informed by work about strong and weak “ties” conducted by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter. The survey results indicated that SMPs are found useful for project management (low control/high collaboration SMPs) and building employee and consumer awareness (high control/low collaboration SMPs). While this provided support for the hypothesis, said Dossani, other evidence did not support it, such as the limited use of SMPs for human resource functions and strategic planning. This might be due to the nascency of technologies, lack of diversity of platforms, or limited familiarity with the potential of SMPs—clearly, exciting subjects for future research, he concluded.

Henry S. Rowen, co-director of SPRIE, moderated the panel discussion that accompanied Dossani’s presentation. Panelists included Matt Ceniceros, director of global media relations at Applied Materials; Ankit Jain, a software engineer at Google; Don McCullough, vice president of marketing for IP and broadband at Ericsson; and Saurabh Mittal, head of customer experience practice at Wipro.

Emerging from the conference is the understanding that companies are increasingly embracing SMPs as a tool to enhance their current business practices, but not uniformly. To understand the role of SMPs in business—both in Silicon Valley and worldwide—a theoretical framework, such as Dossani suggested, and further studies are needed.

Papers and slides from the two main presentations are now available online, with full audio from the event to be added soon.

In addition to longtime Globalization of Business Services conference co-sponsors Wipro, UC Denver, and ETLA, Adobe and Ericsson also provided co-sponsorship for this year’s event.