The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks: Social Media’s Impact on Business and Decision Making

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By Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks


I am thrilled to share key findings from research that Don Bulmer and I conducted  called The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks.  The research was conducted as part of our 2009 fellowship with the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR).

Don and I began this research this summer in efforts to explore a greatly overlooked area in social media – how decision-makers are using social media in their work.  A great deal of attention and research has been devoted over the last few years to evangelizing social media as a new form of customer-centric relationship building.  Build a network or use social media to deepen customer intimacy has become the mantra of today.  However, what is often overlooked is the impact of social media to change behaviors, and the potential to use social media to impact a professional’s decision-making processes. While everyone is endeavoring to capture the mindshare of the buyer, few understand what success truly looks like.

In an effort to better understand the impact of social media on business, we conducted research (as a first step) to examine the role that social media has on decision-making among business professionals.  Specifically, we sought to understand the following:


  • Is social media typically regarded as a trustworthy source of information for professionals?
  • Does social media offer effective tools to access information, advice and engage in professional collaboration? How do they compare to traditional off-line networking?
  • What are the tools and sources of social media that professionals rely on to make decisions?
  • Will social media change the business and practice of enterprise-level operations?
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The methodology for this 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%)
  • Company size ranged from less than 100 to over 50,000 full-time employees
  • Age was well distributed with the greatest proportion in the 36-45 range
  • 25 countries were represented, with 58% of respondents living in the US
  • All respondents were either the decision makers or influenced the decision process within their company or business unit

Below are key findings and an executive summary of the research.  The full report will be available over the coming weeks through SNCR.  A presentation of results with detailed charts are available on the SNCR website, now (located halfway down the page).

Six Key Findings From The Research Include:
1.  Professional decision-making is becoming more social – enter the era of Social Media Peer Groups (SMPG)


  • Traditional influence cycles are being disrupted by Social Media as decision makers utilize social networks to inform and validate decisions
  • Professionals want to be collaborative in the decision-cycle but not be marketed or sold to online; however online marketing is a preferred activity by companies.

2.  The big three have emerged as leading professional networks: LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter

  • The average professional belongs to 3-5 online networks for business use, and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are among the top used.
  • The convergence of Internet, mobile, and social media has taken significant shape as professionals rely on anywhere access to information, relationships and networks
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3.  Professional networks are emerging as decision-support tools

  • Decision-makers are broadening reach to gather information especially among active users

4.  Professionals trust online information almost as much as information gotten from in-person

  • Information obtained from offline networks still have highest levels of trust with slight advantage over online (offline: 92% – combined strongly/somewhat trust; online: 83% combined strongly/somewhat trust)

5.  Reliance on web-based professional networks and online communities has increased significantly over the past 3 years

  • Three quarters of respondents rely on professional networks to support business decisions
  • Reliance has increased for essentially all respondents over the past three years

6.  Social Media use patterns are not pre-determined by age or organizational affiliation

  • Younger (20-35) and older professionals (55+) are more active users of social tools than middle aged professionals.
  • There are more people collaborating outside their company wall than within their organizational intranet

Executive Summary of the The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks Report:

To be continued at

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