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One, none and a hundred thousand online social networks. Which technology for a business social network site?

One, none and a hundred thousand online social networks. Which technology for a business social network site?

De Vita, Riccardo, Pais, Ivana and Tazzi, Stefano (2011) One, none and a hundred thousand online social networks. Which technology for a business social network site? In: Circuits of Profit: Business Network Research Conference, 6 June 2011, Central European University, Budapest. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

The relevance of employing a network perspective in understanding different economic actions has been widely acknowledged (Granovetter, 1985). Influential ideas such social capital (Nan Lin, 2001; Coleman, 1990), structural holes (Burt, 1992), strong and weak ties (Granovetter, 1973; Granovetter, 1983) have therefore been used to predict organizational and individual performance. At the organizational level, for example, structural properties of a network have been found to be strongly associated with innovation (e.g. Ahuja, 2000), start-up (Walker, Kogut and Shan, 1997) and profitability (Powell, Koput, Smith-Doerr, & Owen-Smith, 1999), while at the individual level they have been found to predict career advancement (Burt, 1992) and access to new job opportunities (Granovetter, 1973). A number of radical changes, mainly associated with technological development, is however questioning the traditional functioning of networks, creating new opportunities but also challenges to organizations and individuals. The development of the so called “Web 2.0″ led to the birth of online platforms that make personal networks visible and searchable online. Such platforms attracted a large interest from different organizations: some of them, indeed, are specifically used for professional purposes (e.g. Linkedin), while others, used mainly for pure social networking activities, are however attracting the interests of several businesses (e.g. Facebook). Such changes have dramatic implications for people and organizations. Firstly, career path, previously mainly based on internal growth, now take place in a dynamic open labor market, where firms compete to acquire talents. As a consequence traditional tools used to study social capital within organizations lost their relevance and new methodologies need to be employed. At the same time entrepreneurial individuals intentionally pursue strategies to change their own position in professional networks and increase their own social capital. All these changes led to the emergence of several ‘intentional organisations’ aimed at building, making visible and maintaining social networks: the business social network services. These associations are set up to facilitate the exchange and meetings between professionals by arranging settings aimed at building trust relationships based on reputation.
The proliferation of social network services, however, creates a challenging dilemma. Organisations aiming at leveraging online platforms to strengthen the social capital of their members have to choose between a multitude of different services. Such organisations often do not have the tools to make an informed decision about which platform to use to achieve their objectives. The idea at the base of this research is that users employ different online platforms in different ways, with consequent impact on the effectiveness of adopting one or another technology to foster social capital between organisational members. In other words this research aims at answering the following question: to what do extent members of an organization employ competing social networking sites in different ways?
Answering this question is of paramount managerial importance. Organisations could indeed face the decision of whether or not to use more than one technological platform at the same time (e.g. creating multiple groups on Facebook and Linkedin), or of which one to invest in to promote members’ interaction online. In this paper we try to address these research issues by presenting the findings of a study of a business social network service. The selected case study is Milan IN, an Italian non profit association set up in 2005 to facilitate the interaction of members of LinkedIn living or working in the Milan area. The main objective of Milan IN when joining this study was to understand the desire of professional growth of its members and their use of internet to achieve this objective. Milan IN registers more than 5,300 members, 4311 of them using a LinkedIn group and 1359 active on a Facebook group. Social Network Analysis (SNA) was used to describe the connections of those 505 members registered both in the Facebook and LikedIn group. Both structural and composition variables were used to measure and discuss global and local properties of the networks within the two groups. Comparing the two networks it clearly emerges that the involvement of actors in the two groups is different, leading to relational structures showing different properties at the local and global level. Such a comparative approach represents an original contribution with respect to similar studies. Results have been presented and discussed with the association. Stefano Tazzi, a member of the management team of Milan IN, at the end of the presentation reported that: “Those who manage an association using a social network site have more tools than those who manage organizations in the traditional way. SNA is an optimal way to complement the natural use of social network for interactive communication. SNA can be considered a support system for decision-making in association context”. And again, entering more in details, he reported that “SNA is useful in understanding the dynamics of the organization for those who have to keep the association alive “. Combining the research results with the critical reflections of the management team of Milan IN, also in the light of the increasing importance of online networking sites to many organizations, further implications for the managerial practice are developed

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: social network sites, social network analysis
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Business > Centre for Business Network Analysis
Faculty of Business > Department of International Business & Economics
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:19
URI: http://gala.gre.ac.uk/id/eprint/7731

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