I’m pleased to find that a new study validates what I’ve been seeing in client projects and industry conversations: social media is taking on a larger role in business decision-making processes. Social media is enabling decision-makers to reach out to larger numbers of people (the size of their unique influencer ecosystems) and to tap into their influencers through online as well as offline channels. These are among the preliminary findings of a study conducted this summer under the umbrella of the Society of New Communications Research (SNCR). SNCR Research Fellows Don Bulmer, SAP, and Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks lead the research and analysis and have begun releasing preliminary findings. Their full report will be released in January.
On the business front, about 4 in 10 respondents incorporate social networks into 4 steps of their decision process:
- seeking peer referral
- reading blogs
- gathering opinions through an online network
- looking the company up on a social network
Other findings relative to social media and influence:
- Information obtained from offline networks still have highest levels of trust with slight advantage over online (offline: 92% – combined strongly/somewhat trust; online: 83% combined strongly/somewhat trust)
- Approximately three quarters of respondents rely on professional networks to support business decisions: 40% gather opinions via their online networks and 39% look up companies on their social networks.
- Reliance on web-based professional networks and online communities has increased significantly over the past 3 years for essentially all respondents
Don has shared one of the interview excerpts, and for me, this comment puts the study results into context:
“I find that I will network offline at events and meetings where I establish connection with many people and I use online tools to follow up and maintain connect. I may meet 20 or so people at an event and then immediately then put them into Plaxo or LinkedIn to keep and maintain connection. I try to maintain my status and activity regularly to keep engaged and keep people informed.”
The methodology for the “New Symbiosis of Professional Networks” study involved a mixed methods approach supported by quantitative data gathered via online survey of 356 professionals to understand their perceptions and experiences with social media in support of their decision-making. Select interviews of 12 professionals were also conducted using a semi-structured interview guide as part of the second phase of the study. All respondents were either the decision makers or influenced the decision process within their company or business unit, and company size ranged from less than 100 to over 50,000 full-time employees.