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Back on track

After a few weeks (or months!) spent wandering the electronic wilderness, it’s nice to read some journal articles that fit closely with what I’m trying to do in my project. I think most of my recent reading would best be described as tangents and diversions – possibly, hopefully worth including in my thesis. But probably not.

“Expliring the types of SMEs which could use blogs as a marketing tool: a proposed research agenda” by Adeline Chua, Ken Deans and Craig Parker (AJIS 16(1) 2009) is one of those rare papers that just seemed to ‘click’ when I started reading it. As it should: it’s built on some of the same work I’ve based my own research on, and focuses on just how heterogeneous areas like “small business,” “SME” and “eBusiness technology” really are. That might seem obvious to some, but it’s been grossly oversimplified in a lot of the literature.

Chua, Deans and Parker focus on blogging, but their ideas can easily be applied to the other social media channels that I’m looking at in my research: micro-blogging, social network sites and forums. They write about factors that can make businesses differ from each other (summarising some of the literature on owners, business characteristics and operating environment), and then explore some of the marketing strategies and processes that appear suited to blogging.

Branding is a big one. It fits in nicely with some other things I’ve been reading on self-promotion and social media “micro celebrities” – something that I’ve observed in a few of my case studies. Managing reputation and trust is another, and is the focus of the paper that Barbara and I have been working on for ICWSM. Niche Marketing (my case studies have all identified very specific niches); gathering market intelligence (something the authors suggest is generally limited to business owners with strong marketing ability or entrepreneurial orientation) and generally promoting an online presence are also tasks well suited to social media use.

In their discussion of these strategies and proceses, the authors propose 21 research questions for future work in the area. They go on to discuss potential studies that could follow up on these, such as exploratory interviews with owner/managers and case studies (providing insights into the internal capabilities needed to use social media effectively) and website content analysis (to better understand the types of industries, products and services suited to using social media as a marketing tool). I’m doing both of these at the moment. After spending so long defending the research direction I’ve chosen to take, it’s nice feeling like there’s actually a research community out there that I fit into.

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