The New Symbiosis for Professional Networks research suggests that social media plays a starring role in the decision-making process as professionals increasingly rely on their networks to inform and validate their decisions. In the past, before the emergence of online communities and professional networks, decision-makers were limited to information gathering mainly through the people they knew and trusted. Decision-makers would typically research the organization by either contacting them directly or searching online, or through secondary sources such as analyst reports. The actual customers or clients a decision-maker came in contact with were limited to either the reference list supplied by the company itself, or through peer word of mouth. There were very few occasions where a decision-maker could actually query a variety customers or clients in a quick and transparent way – until the advent of social media.
Now, if a decision-maker wants to learn more about a company they can either go public via networking tools like Twitter and broadcast a request for information, or leverage private gated communities such as a group within LinkedIn or an industry practitioner private community in addition to using traditional methods. The social information gathering channel now accelerates and potentially clarifies the answers to support the decision because one can reach farther and faster than ever before.
Specifically, the research suggest that decision-makers find a variety of reasons to engage the social channel for decision making:
· Keeping track of peers and access to thought leadership are top reasons why professionals participate in online networks
· Professionals who use more than three networks are likely to be more collaborative and have higher reliance on networks to support decision making process
Be it crowd-sourced or the ability to access trusted peers quickly and globally, the decision-making process is fundamentally different due to social media. The reliance on online networks to support decisions is especially significant for people who utilize multiple networks – of three or more.
Additionally we found that:
• Final Decision Makers are more likely to indicate that they conduct research via a search engine (82% vs. 70% of Decision Supporters)
• Those professionals with more networks are more likely to gather opinions through their online network, read blogs and query the Twitter channel as early steps in the decision process
• Younger respondents are more likely to read a company blog and to query the Twitter channel vs. an older demographics
These trends represent a clear indication in the shift of company control of messaging (e.g. website and blogs) as decision makers broaden their reach to peers, networks and community to support their decision making process.
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. Key demographics of the research include:
- Close to a quarter (23%) of respondents identified themselves as CEO of their organization; 50% as “Director” (24%) “Manager” (24%)