How are businesses using social media and is it driving innovation?

How are businesses using social media and is it driving innovation?
AUT researches social media and its relationship with business

Every business, from a one-man tradesman to a multi-national corporation, will be aware of the need to have an internet presence for their business. 20 years ago the decision was whether this new-fangled email was likely to replace the trusted fax machine. At the same time the decision about whether to devote time and resources to developing a company website was high on many CEOs' agenda.

Fast forward to 2013, and there are now entire industries built around these technologies. Every business will have devoted considerable time and expense to developing their internet resources, and few will doubt it has revolutionised the way consumers and businesses find and interact with suppliers and customers.

But a few years ago a new revolution started, namely Social Media. As with the web two decades earlier, this has exploded and the younger generation now communicate extensively, sometimes almost exclusively, through Facebook, Twitter, Bebo and others. Even for ‘respectable’ business people, dedicated social media sites such as LinkedIn and Google Plus have developed to suit their particular needs.

In parallel with this, a whole genre of consultants and advocates have sprung up to explain how this new media can be used by business. Numerous books have been written about developing and managing a social media presence and those consultants will, often for considerable fees, advise businesses on their social media strategy.

However, the benefits of social media for many organisations is far less clear than it was for email or a website. Does your average plumber, electrician or motor mechanic really need a Facebook page? Does social media have any tangible benefit for industries where the primary interaction is business-to-business? Given that social media has some clear dangers, including being a time-waster and a distraction, the question is still largely unanswered as to how these types of businesses can use it to their advantage.

These are questions that will take years perhaps to find out, but one particular area is intriguing. One of the concepts that social media has undeniably facilitated is crowdsourcing, the idea that collective intelligence can come up with solutions that an individual is unlikely to think of. In the past innovation relied on flashes of brilliance from individuals or small teams, with bigger corporations funding think-tanks and focus groups to try and develop new ideas. Social media now enables some of these collaborative efforts to be done at low cost and by people who have never met each other. The question is whether organisations are tapping into this resource.

Auckland University of Technology is currently researching whether businesses use social media, how they use it (and why not, if they do not use any social media) and also whether they also use it to drive innovation. I am completing a master’s degree in business, and am interested in hearing from as wide a spectrum of business people as possible. This includes those who do not use social media. I have created an online survey, which should take between 7 and 10 minutes to complete. The survey is hosted by Qualtrics, and can be accessed here

All participants will get a copy of the interim results, and once the research is complete these will also be published. One lucky participant will also receive an iPad mini, which will be drawn at random from the participants. The survey closes on July 31.