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As mentioned previously, a qualitative approach is used to conduct this research, because the qualitative approach would help better understand the use of SNS as a business tool by entrepreneurs, and through it, how the create and manage relationships that help to improve their business.
While many qualitative techniques exist, interviews were selected as the choice of data collection method. The reason is, interviews allow the researcher to follow up on the subject's answers. This helps gather new insights and information that would give different perspectives and open up new paradigms into the topic being researched. Furthermore, interviews also enable clarification and probing, thus allowing the subject to explain their own experiences which provides the researcher with a broader scope of the process involved in SNS usage for effective network creation.
5.1.1 Interviews - Semi Structured
There are multiple types of interviews that can be conducted for the purpose of this research. The types include Open, Structured, Semi-Structured and Group based. Based on the requirement and expectation, we should select the most appropriate type for this task.
Our goal is to understand how entrepreneurs create and manage effective networks through the use of SNS, thus, the "How's" and "Why's" of the entrepreneur's social action within their networks is a key aspect of our study. This means, the type of interview selected should have a structure to it so that it can capture this aspect. In the meanwhile, the interview also should have enough flexibility and room for the subject to express their perspective and also allow us to clarify on matters or follow up on interesting new information put forward by them. Based on this reasoning, a Semi-structured interview is selected for the purpose of this research.
Semi-structured interviews provide an open and flexible structure, which will allow a conversation flow between interviewer and interviewee. It also allows the interview to have an established structure, without limiting the scope of investigation. This means, new questions that are not present in the Interview guide can be brought up in order to enable better understanding of what the subject is expressing.
Upon finalizing the interviews would be based on a Semi-structured fashion, the Interview guide design would be guided by the derived conceptual framework presenter earlier (Figure 4.2)
5.1.2 The Interview Guide
The Interview guide contains an outline of the topics that needs to be addressed during the interview. The interview guide that is used for this research was designed based on the conceptual framework presented earlier (Figure 4.2), covering areas starting from Face-to-face networks up-to Social electronic networks.
The questions for each of these topics were kept open ended and also in day-to-day language. The purpose of this was to make the subject comfortable and create a flexible atmosphere so it would enable to generate rich descriptions and examples on the topic being discussed.
Moreover, follow up questions like "why do you consider this important?" or "how did you approach this issue?" were also pre-designed in order to help us to keep in mind important issues that needed to be addressed. Probing questions, such as "can you please elaborate on that?" or "can you please give me an example of â€¦?" and specifying questions such as "How could you have improved that result?" or "earlier you mentionedâ€¦, how does that apply for this case?" were introduced for further clarification, or for new unexplored topics that might be introduced by the entrepreneur and further understanding would be of relevance to the analysis of the collected data.
It is important to mention that the interview guide serves only as a guideline tool for topics and areas that needs to be addressed for the research and will not be used on a strict manner, meaning, the overall outline of the topics would be followed, however no two interviews would be the same. The clarifying/probing and follow up questions would differ according to the answer given by the subject to a specific topic/area. This allows enriching knowledge and collect better data, allowing to expand on the knowledge already collected via existing literature and already conducted interviews. This also aligns with the essence of the semi structured interviews.
Once the Interview guide was completed it was tested on mock interviews before conducting the actual interviews. The purpose of this was to test if there was a natural flow to the process and also to measure time estimation on the duration of the interviews. Time duration was one of the concerns raised by most of the interview candidates before agreeing for an appointment. To ensure the process and the answers are more spontaneous and responded in a natural manner, the interview guide shall not be given to any of the subjects before the interview - so that we don't give room for them to prepare static answer for all different questions.
5.2 Defining the Research Sample
Based on the research method selected, the population selected for the study (entrepreneurs) and the specific characteristic needed from this population (the use of SNSs for effective business networking purposes), the individuals chosen for the sample selection were intentionally selected to reflect particular features of the selected group. This type of sampling is defined as purposeful sampling and characterized by having a small research sample which may vary according to the researcher's needs.
The actual number of subjects would be determined as the gathering of information is done, meaning, interviews would be conducted until a point of saturation is reached, thus any new information obtained by additional interviews yield very little or no new knowledge.
Additionally the size of the research sample can also be evaluated by determining the heterogeneity or the homogeneity of the population to be studied. In the case of this research, the focus is on entrepreneurs who use SNS as an effective business networking tool, therefore, this attribute serves to establish the homogeneous nature within the population.
Although a homogeneous nature of the population is established, it could be argued that whole population of entrepreneurs cannot be considered as homogenous, the reason being while some attributes / categories remain homogeneous, there might be other attributes / categories that are heterogeneous. To overcome this argument, subcategories could be created within the population, thus each subcategory would become homogeneous under certain attributes and heterogeneous along others; therefore allowing researchers to identify and analyze variations and commonalities within the specific subgroups, meaning, multiple subgroups within the population of entrepreneurs could be created in order to create homogeneity in the sample.
The homogeneity would depend on specific research parameters such as 'entrepreneurial stage', 'gender', 'age', 'industry type', 'cultural background', among others. In the case of this research, the main research parameter is the use of SNS by entrepreneurs as an effective business networking tool, and because this is the main criterion for sample selection, the homogeneity of the sample for this research can be said to rest upon this. Therefore the sample will be homogeneous when evaluated from the point of view of the networking tools and heterogeneous when evaluated from other parameters like 'entrepreneurial stage', 'gender', 'industry type' et al.
The homogeneity attributed to this research sample also suggests that a fairly small sample would be more appropriate for this research, since it will be likely that their similar characteristics would lead to similar answers and quickly lead to a saturation point.
5.2.1 Selection Criteria
Based on the population to be studied, a set of selection criteria was established in order to determine the most appropriate respondents for the research. Table 5.1 shows each criteria along with the reason why they are deemed important for the determination of the sample.
The previous criteria determined which type of respondents would be needed to satisfy the aim of the study and find an answer to the proposed research questions. However, because it had also been theorized that an entrepreneurs network differs depending on the entrepreneurial stage they are in (Section 3.1.3), entrepreneurs were also sought out to be in different stages of their company development. This would allow mapping their networks to gather evidence of the differences and similarities within their different entrepreneurial stages, as well as within their Face-to-Face and electronic networks. Further, seeking out entrepreneurs in different industry sectors will also allow mapping of differences
Table 5.1: Selection Criteria
Reason of Importance
Entrepreneurs must use any type of SNS for business networking purposes.
This is the most important criterion since the aim of the study is to analyze the use that entrepreneurs give SNS to find, create and manage relationships that will aid them in the development of their company
They must have a established and running company
In order to understand if SNSs aid entrepreneurs in their company development, understanding the differences and similarities between their face-to-face networks and their virtual networks plays an important role. Therefore, the entrepreneurs needed for this research need to also develop their business activities in the 'real' world
They must be comfortable communicating in either English / Sinhala or Tamil
This criterion relates directly to us. Since these are the three languages that we am more comfortable speaking in. Therefore, in order to achieve establish rapport with the subject, both must feel comfortable with the language being spoken. This will translate into accessing valuable data-rich information that would not be presented by the entrepreneur if he/she would feel uncomfortable.
Source: Derived by authors.
within industry use, both of SNS chosen as in relationship management. In other words, the different criteria were set in order to look for a balanced sample of businesses from which processes could be compared even though they belonged to different industry sectors, but which gave sufficient heterogeneity to the sample so that the data would be enriching to the overall study.
Further, once the characteristics of the sample were determined, different sampling method were studied to determine the most appropriate one to find the respondents. From these different methods, one was selected to determine the entrepreneurs for the research sample: purposive sapling.
5.2.2 Sampling Method
Purposive Sampling was used to determine the initial individuals that would be contacted for the research study. Purposive sampling, or judgment sampling, means that the subjects were chosen because they fit a particular characteristic needed in order to better explore and understand the topic being studied. This is why, as described in section 5.2.1., one of the selection criteria was that the entrepreneurs used SNSs for their business.
The use of purposive sampling also ensures that the relevant characteristics being studied are covered in the sample, and that within each of the key criteria, heterogeneity is present. Also, because the individuals selected are considered key respondents or specialists in an area, their context-specific knowledge regarding the issues being studied provide significantly valuable and rich information on the topic studied. This type of sample selection was chosen because it allows greater flexibility in the types of individuals being sought out. It also helps determine which of the potential interviewees are more relevant for the analysis of data. This type of sampling also facilitates the creation of analytic categories which, as will be seen in section 5.4, facilitates the data analysis.
It was decided to restrict the respondents to Sri Lanka and Singapore as we had access into those regions and could find respondents who could provide enriched information. Furthermore, due to time constraints of the research the sampling population selection region had to be practical. Initially it was decided to approach the respondents by contacting business incubators in those countries. As for Singapore, we had contacted iAxil as we had personal connections with them. As for Sri Lanka, we were looking at Concept-Nursery and a few other handpicked entrepreneurship ventures. The choice of these incubators was based on the following two criteria; first, they provide access to a broader number of entrepreneurs in different industries and stages of their entrepreneurial development. And second, by contacting the entrepreneurs through their incubators there might be a higher chance of obtaining the interview. However, when we started approaching these entrepreneurs we found that it were easier said than done. We found that many were not actively using SNS, while others were busy and wanted to have interviews in a month or two, for which we didn't have the time luxury. So to avoid a bottleneck, we also approached a few other companies through personal contacts and also backtracking and contacting companies who had a SNS presence. This gave us a decent population which we could use as our sample.
All in all, a total of thirteen interviews were scheduled. After analyzing the data gathered from the different interviews (refer to section 5.4), it was determined that the number of interviews was appropriate; especially since, due to the qualitative nature of this study, it is not intended to be representative of a specific population, rather to provide understanding of a social phenomenon.
5.3 Collecting the Data
As described in the previous section the data was collected through interviews. Three of the interviews were conducted through Skype; nine face to face, and one via Telephone. Each interview lasted from 45 minutes to one hour. During the interviews notes on how the interviewees answered the questions, such as pauses, laughs, and stress in intonation, among others, were taken.
5.3.1 About the Interviews
The interviews were collected within a six week period, and the total sample consisted of two women and eleven men, for a total of thirteen interviews. As stated before nine interviews were conducted face-to-face, one was conducted via telephone and the remaining three via Skype. Unfortunately not all of the interviews could be conducted face-to-face due to distance issues. All interviews were conducted by either one of the researchers, and analysis and coding were done collectively.
Face-to face interviews have greater advantages than those conducted via telephone or the Skype, because we can easily perceive non-verbal communication signs, such as face and hand expressions as well as body language, which can help in the later interpretation of the respondent's answers. However, these advantages were not lost by using Skype. Since this tool provides with the possibility to have video conversation, though the use of a web camera, the sense of a face-to-face interview is maintained, and therefore, these non-verbal queues could still be detected by us. The biggest difference between face-to-face and Skype conducted interviews is that depending on the speed of the internet connection, break-ups in communication can occur, which leads to breaking important lines of thought that were being addressed at that moment. These types of interruptions are unlikely to occur when conducting face-to face interviews.
Data collection through the semi-structured interviews was aimed at understanding the networking processes and relations involving both Face-to-Face networks and SNS ones; a particular focus was on how Face-to-Face networks differ from those created via SNS use, and the particular advantages that SNS relationships could provide entrepreneurs that Face-to-Face relationships couldn't.
Each interview was conducted with the entrepreneur (or one of the entrepreneurs) who founded the company. Before the interview started we briefly described that we was studying entrepreneur's networking behavior, making it clear that no specifics on their company creation or on their products or services would be used as part of the research data.
In total nine interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim; in the remaining four interviews detailed notes, which included sentences copied verbatim, were taken throughout the interview. This situation is not ideal, because by focusing on which notes to write we could be missing important queues which could lead us to make new probing questions that could help us enhance the data.
Also, when there was opportunity, some informal conversations were held with the entrepreneurs before and after the interviews were conducted. This helped develop rapport with them and would gain insights into further information that they left out, or forgot, during the formal interview. These conversations allowed us to further understand their perceptions and point of view (pre-conceptions) from where they provided the answers to the formal interview. However, the only data reported in the data analysis section belongs to quotations abstracted from the transcripts done of the formal interviews. All interviews were conducted in English and there was no requirement for any other language.
5.4 Data Management
Each interview was transcribed verbatim and further analyzed through a grounded theory method. This method was chosen because it is in line with the processual analysis approach that was described in Chapter 2. Grounded theory allows the researcher to shape and reshape the data collection, thus, as a result creating a more refined data set; this means that the researcher must pay attention, not only, to what the interviewees say, but also to how it is said. This may provide new information that was not initially looked for, but that can improve the final outcome of the research. In brief, grounded theory was chosen for data analysis because it allows the researcher to break down, analyze, interpret and organize the data in a categorical manner; this will allow the researcher to capture the fullness of the actions included in the process being studied, it permits easier comparisons of data in order to find similarities and differences, and can lead the researcher to sampling new, or missing, data that can enhance the overall results of the study.
As stated in the previous section each interview was transcribed and coded almost immediately after the data was gathered, this in order to be in line with the data analysis method. This initial coding of the data allowed us to understand similarities and differences between the entrepreneur's network and his or her processes to manage contacts in both types of networks. This first analysis of the data also allowed comparisons between the different data segments and with the data obtained in the following interviews. This provided a more comprehensive understanding of what was being done by entrepreneurs when creating and managing their networks, and how it was being done, in order to further enhance the interview guide and gain better insights from the following interviewees. Even though the process of transcribing the data can be seen as a laborious and time consuming activity, it was an efficient way of creating new insights into the collected data, especially since, because of out inexperience as an interviewer, some information might not have been fully grasped while conducting the interview. These changes reverted back to the conceptual framework and to the interview guide, in order to analyze what was missing in the initial analysis.
As stated before, the interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Following the transcription, the coding process started. As suggested by Charmaz (2006) the coding process was constructed in two phases. First, each line of the interview was analyzed and named; then, a focused, selective phase where the most significant initial codes are used to sort, synthesize, integrate and organize the data. After the transcription a line-by-line coding or micro-analysis as defined by Strauss and Corbin (1998, p. 57), was conducted. This type of coding allows identifying implicit concerns as well as explicit statements (Charmaz, 2006, p. 50), as well as creating narratives from the different answers provided by the interviewees, which further help to refocus following interviews. The initial codes were later grouped into a 'main' category through the use of, what Strauss and Corbin (1998, p.123) denominated, axial coding. The axial codes, as described by the authors, allow the researcher to put the fractured data, created with initial coding, to be bridged back together into a coherent whole.
Further subcategories and categories were generated from the different experiences presented in the data, and presenting how the researcher made sense of the data collected. The creation of these categories and sub-categories was helpful to present how the different data related to each other. An example of how the codes were developed into their related categories can be seen in Table 5.2
As can be seen in Table 5.2, each interview was coded line-by-line and the different codes were compared to each other in order to identify differences and similarities within the data, which lead to grouping them into a code that expressed the relationships between the data. Once the first three interviews were coded and compared with each other, the codes were grouped into different categories or sub-categories. These categories should be brought up as the data is being analyzed and links in between the different concepts are created. The categories, subcategories and links that are created should present how the researcher made sense of the data (how he/she understood it). In the case of this research, many of the categories are named after in vivo codes brought up by some entrepreneurs, and which could describe the characteristics of the other entrepreneur's answers. In vivo codes refer to special terms used by the interviewees during their narration and can "serve as symbolic markers of participants' speech and meanings".
However, because of our inexperience with the method of grounded theory, we needed a basic structure to guide us through the process. In other words, the categories which were developed (refer to Appendix 4(A-D)) through the analysis and comparison of the line-by-line and axial codes (refer to Appendix 3 (A-E)), were related back to the theories and literature in order to easily compare the concepts to their theoretical implications. Therefore, the presentation of the categories (or empirical findings) will maintain a similar structure to the one presented in the theories and literature review sections. In other words, the presentation of the codes will first address the concepts regarding network theory, such as: management of the networks (rational vs. embedded perspectives) and structural diversity. It will continue with social capital concepts: strong and weak ties and gathering social capital. And will end with the SNS appropriation of these concepts for creating and managing relationships, as well as the process to develop rapport via the Internet. Figure 5.1 depicts how the research structure helped to organize the different categories developed while analyzing the data.
Changing the network
Keeping it Interesting
Defining Social Electronic Networks
Using SNS for Business
Discovering differences and similarities
Creation and Management of Social Networks
Rational vs. Embedded Perspectives
Network structural diversity
Strong and Weak ties (Types of information)
Creating and gathering social capital
Types of relationships contained in an SNS created network
Developing social capital with on-line acquaintances
3.1 Network Theory
3.2 Social Capital
4.3 SNS Literature
Main Categories Developed from the Data Analysis
Research StructureFigure 5.1: Organization Structure of the Main Categories
Source: Derived by authors.
Could you describe who has provided you with help regarding the company
"I started myself, and later my sister and brother in law got involved in the business [â€¦] I also belonged to a [specific interest] group, and might have had similar problems or needs, so [they] can help me when specific situations arise [â€¦] they provide me with advice, or help on whom or where to contact someone who can help"
family help, specific network contacts, gain advice and help
Different relationships that provide help
Creating Network Relationships
"[we asked ourselves] what kind of people did we know and are there anyone who can [help us], we started to see in our network [...] people were very honored to be asked because that means that you actually labeled them as people that you appreciate"
previous relationships, use the network, people who have knowledge, creating unexpected relationships
"My brother has helped me since the idea creation [...] but I have gotten help from asking people I know, with the luck that someone knows someone [who can help me] and so on, that is how I have found most of the contacts needed to get the company up and running"
family help, people in the network, someone knows someone
"Before we started this company we had been consulting [...] [all of our previous relationships] were necessary for starting this company [...] it was a mixture of the previous contacts that we knew [in our previous jobs] with the new ones we had from the business world"
colleagues, previous clients, close network
Table 5.2: Example of Line by Line & Axial Coding