Nowadays almost everyone who has access to internet would have signed up for an account in an SNS either to connect to the ones they already know or get to know new contacts for various purposes. Postcards, letters and paper based mailings have reduced largely among many users of internet due to convenience and efficiencies that is brought out through CMC tools and applications. Benefits of connecting through online mediums are many and most importantly it helps to broaden connections with many users more swiftly and conveniently breaking barriers nationally and internationally through SNS and other CMC tools and applications.
Almost all the SNS includes marketing communications from various business organizations including not for profit organizations. These companies mainly use these SNS to introduce and/or sell their products and services among various customer segments. With the advent of global products SNS became a major tool for global business organizations to make their products and services aware to customers across many nations and hence eliminate national boundaries.
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In semester six of our MBA program we had the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship in a more practical as well as theoretical manner. This section of the course provided a comprehensive knowledge on the theoretical area of entrepreneurship. Much value to the entrepreneurship course was added when real entrepreneurs from diverse business sectors physically came to the institute and made presentations on how they grew as entrepreneurs, the challenges they faced and how they overcame all obstacles to be successful as entrepreneurs.
We were intrigued, being entrepreneurs our selves, on how entrepreneurs could use SNSs as a networking business tool to acquire strategically important resources and develop business. We found a quiet an amount of information on web marketing, viral marketing and e advertising through the use of e-mails, however not much with regards to how entrepreneurs were using and could use SNSs to create relationships with other types of company stakeholders and customers to create and develop their businesses.
Social Media is the latest fashion in the business world due to its free usage and swift growth in connecting people from various nations. SNS acts as a database for companies who have always searched for unlimited contacts from across the world at low cost. We see this 'cost free' aspect of SNSs is the most important part when relating to entrepreneurs. At the beginning, many entrepreneurs have limited economical resources to start up their businesses and SNSs acts as a major tool that provide access to different markets without requiring high investments. What we believe is that SNS alone or on its own won't benefit the entrepreneur as expected rather the potential that SNSs can provide as a resource tool will depend how SNSs are used by entrepreneurs. Many can be an active member in various SNSs, however what matters is not just being an active member in the network but creating strategies to meet those people who seem interesting for the company's needs and who can benefit the entrepreneur's endeavors in his business world.
The buzz about SNSs and Social Media keeps increasing as different news companies and other local news papers around the world, have reported on the different impacts social media has in different settings, and especially for businesses. Still, many people may think, that because SNSs have been portrayed to have so many risks adhered to them, they are not and will not become an interesting medium for companies to handle their business networking. Hence, we also believe that there may be some drawbacks within SNS. It is due to all of this that we chose to carry out our research on how entrepreneurs create and manage the networks to develop their businesses.
2.2 Research Approach
Figure 2.1: Approaches for Literature Review and Study
NETWORKS: Theories with regards creation and management of networks will be searched
Literature Review: Theories and Previous Studies
SOCIAL CAPITAL: Theories with regards social capital and how it is created will be searched
SNS: Identifying how companies use SNS, and the difference between traditional face to face networks with virtual networks
Identifying how entrepreneurs use SNS and why they use SNS
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Analyzing the findings based on social capital and network theory in order to find the answers to the research question
Empirical Study : Interviews
As presented above in Figure 2.1, this research will be carried out in two parts in order to achieve the aim of this research. In the first part, literature review will be carried out on the secondary sources (theories and previous studies) with regards to Networks, Social capital and Social networking sites. In the second part primary information (empirical evidence) that is gathered through interviews will be used to answer the research questions. Figure 2.1 presents a summary of the different research stages and what was aimed with each one of them.
The aim of this research is to identify and analyze how entrepreneurs create and manage relationships, within social electronic networks, that can enhance their businesses. Literature on how individuals create relationships and networks, and how these are managed over time has been found and this suggests that a deductive approach could be adopted for our research purposes. However, in the literature found on SNS research these theories have not been applied to the specific context being studied in our research or in a similar one, hence suggesting that an inductive approach could be applicable.
The objective of this research is not to validate or prove a particular theory, rather it is to find out how entrepreneurs use or could use social networking sites to develop their businesses. In this endeavor however, both theories and empirical information will be combined as one part belongs to the theoretical areas and the other to more empirical information. However, because the already existing theories will be used to analyze the empirical findings and to further develop the research mechanisms, a data process similar to processual analysis (Pettigrew, 1997) would provide the expected results to reach the research aim.
Processual approach could be identified as relevant for this research because it consists of a series of cycles between deduction and induction, where deduction plays an important role in structuring the research, especially because it produces foresight about the primary purposes, themes and questions which could be inductively approached (Pettigrew, 1997); therefore, this is the approach which better describes how the theory and empirical findings mix in this research. Also, processual approach goes hand in hand with the method chosen for data analysis. As processual analysis entails, the recognition of patterns during the empirical study will go hand in hand with the theory, or deduction process (Pettigrew, 1997).
For the definition of which research design was appropriate to fulfill the aim of this research the following aspects were considered:
The objective of the research: This will be to identify and understand how and why entrepreneurs use SNS
Research features: Using a small sample size a flexible research process will be adopted which would allow interpretation of different data
Empirical findings and how it would be used: The empirical data will be compared to the literature findings to improve the data gathering techniques to answer the research questions.
The data collection will be done in an exploratory manner under this research so that it will provide us with new information, which was not initially considered for the research, to arise. We believe that this new information enhances the data collection process, and helps us to gather better data that will enrich the analysis and discussion of the subject matter.
2.3 Literature Selection
A theoretical framework and a literature review are presented in the following chapters. The main theories for the theoretical framework were selected from the literature review made on traditional network theory, social capital and SNS literature. However, no relevant theories were found from the SNS literature.
The foundation of the conceptual framework that is presented on section 4.4 is based on the previous studies that were carried out and the above theories. Also, as a secondary source for literature review internet and Google Scholar were used. The search for documents / articles / essays / journals within the internet consisted of keywords such as: networks, network management, social capital, social networks, social media, and electronic networks, among others. Other articles were indirectly found in the reference lists provided by the already found articles.
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The use of scientific articles, pertaining to well renowned academic journals such as: Academy of Management and Computer-Mediated Communication among others, was of main importance. This is because, these types of literature enhance the study presented in this research and have a greater credibility attached to them. They provided the basic understanding that is needed to carry out this research. Also, other sources such as books, websites and conference proceedings were also used sufficiently for the purpose of this research. With regards to SNSs, because there is little or no published articles/journal in this area with regards to our subject matter, the majority of the literature used for this research consists of conference proceedings which were found through Google Scholar. We are aware that as conference proceedings have not yet been scrutinized, there is less certainty to the value of the data; however, there were few, or none, published articles that directly focused on the use of SNSs by entrepreneurs or even organizations.
2.4 Method Selection
The main focus for this research is on entrepreneur's networks that are not contained within a single network structure (Greve & Salaff, 2003). An entrepreneur's network presents structural diversity between business, friendship, and relationship-ties. In other words, entrepreneurial networks can be seen as a complex interrelation of varied social and professional relationships, which are mainly bounded by trust (Anderson, Jack, & Dodd, 2005). Therefore, the study cannot be limited only to entrepreneurs who possess a specific network structure.
Additionally, since the objective of the research is to identify and understand how entrepreneurs use and benefit from the creation and management of networks through the use of SNSs, rather than how the network members are affected by the entrepreneur, the perspective of the research can be defined as being taken from the entrepreneur's point of view. In other words, the study will focus on the how and why of specific social actions/behaviors, are taken by an entrepreneur through the use of SNSs and what results come from these actions that would help the entrepreneur enhance/develop his business .
Further to answer the research questions that we have proposed and to achieve the objectives of the research, a qualitative method rather than a quantitative method has been chosen. As the literature states: "Qualitative research is a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible" (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003,) therefore, we identified a qualitative study was a better fit for gathering the information required for this research purposes. It would allow us to perceive the view of the entrepreneurs and study the 'how' and 'why's behind their SNS use. In other words, the flexibility that a qualitative research would provide would allows us to follow emerging leads helping us to better identify and understand the entrepreneur's actions.
With regards to this research, our primary interest is to study how entrepreneurs make use of SNSs to create and manage fruitful networks that would provide the entrepreneur with various resources that are needed to enhance and develop his business. There are many general perceptions as to how an entrepreneur can or may use an SNS to enhance or develop business. However we would not like to try and validate these perceptions or accept already published theories that can be used to explore this subject. The issue is there aren't any materials on this very subject matter of our research. We believe that, our research findings would help to fill the gap that exists in the literature for our research topic
According to Maxwell 2005, the social aspects involved in relationship creation and management and hence the network creation requires an unstructured approach. This would mean that quantitative research or study would not help us to identify and understand a broad area of aspects and instead it will narrow our scope in identifying how SNSs are used by entrepreneurs for business purposes. That is, a quantitative approach would tell us whether our assumptions and thinking of how entrepreneur's usage of SNSs to enhance their businesses is right or wrong. However it will not allow us to learn beyond our assumptions and we may not identify any other factors that would be involved how and why an entrepreneur is using an SNS.
2.3.3 Description of the Research Process
The process for this research involves series of steps as shown below in Figure 2.1 in order to achieve the objectives of this research and find answers for the research questions. This figure would help in understanding the link between date that is collected and the theory that's surrounding this research.
As shown above the starting point for this research process involves two factors. First being the existing literature on the research subject and secondly it is how we perceive the subject or the topic in concern. Both of these factors are the base to conceive and plan the above research process. Reviewing the existing literature helped us to understand the gaps that exists in the research and motivated us to contribute the findings of this research towards filling this gap. Also, reviewing the existing literature helped us to better understand the already established theories and their key issues and concepts. This in turn helped us to understand our research topic even better and how and what we should find out of our research. This understanding increased when we linked the key topics found on the theories through the use of a concept map.
These key concepts were evaluated under the light of the literature relevant to the topic, but which didn't have any developed theories.
Figure 2.1: Research Process
The connections between the literature and the key concepts relevant to the research topic generated a conceptual framework which could guide what content would be used in the data collection tool and how the structure would be constructed.
Based on the conceptual framework interviews would be conducted and data would be collected to find the answers to our research questions. The data would then be analyzed based on our research requirements and finally a new descriptive model based on the analysis of the data and the previous conceptual framework will be created in order to present a better understanding of the social phenomenon of entrepreneurs and their use of SNS for business development being studied.