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Social Media Research at Smith

Nov 01, 2011

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When a video of unhygienic behavior by a Domino’s Pizza employee went viral on YouTube and came to the attention of bloggers nationwide, company management turned to Twitter to address the issue and ease its customers’ food safety concerns. The episode was a graphic (revoltingly graphic!) depiction of the way online communities and the content they create have the power to boost a company’s sales and reputation, or sink it for good.

Social media is ubiquitous, and companies are eager to take advantage of social networks (and also to avoid brand-killing online missteps). Smith School faculty have a robust research agenda encompassing a wide variety of issues related to the challenges and opportunities inherent in the Web 2.0.

Strategy

Some faculty research reveals better strategies for reaching the right customers. One recent study showed that if you’re conducting an online viral marketing campaign, you don’t necessarily want to reach out to the person who has the most friends on his social media platform. It turns out that just having a lot of friends doesn’t translate into having a lot of influence. Instead, companies should be targeting people who have the most varied interests, because their networks extend into more groups—and results in a wider reach of potential customers.

Social tagging is also a hot research topic. Recent studies are examining the ways that social tags provide informational value about brand equity and stock returns, how social tags on Amazon can be used to forecast demand for books and customize pricing strategies for different genres, and the way social tags reveal information about customer sentiment on Twitter.

Listening

Other Smith research is helping to make sense of how user-generated content affects a company’s brand and sales. It’s important to know what people are saying about your company or product online, but you can’t take comments or reviews at face value. A recent study showed that people who are very active online—those who consider themselves “experts”—tend to be more negative, and their activity may scare off less active customers with more positive opinions. A company’s social media strategy should seek to engage these “mass market moderates,” and companies evaluating online product reviews or opinion sites need to account for the disproportionate volume of highly negative voices. But the self-avowed “experts” can bring you important positive word-of-mouth too, a different study found—if they are satisfied with your company or product, and if giving a positive review lets them show off their own knowledge and expertise.

Network Structures and Connections

Corporations need to monitor online conversations and actively engage people in a positive way. But which community members are worth watching? Quantitative models can be an important tool for better decision making. Smith faculty developed a model that identifies influential users in a social network—those who influence the site activity of others—to help advertisers more effectively target their online marketing. Another model helps track the way influential users promote products, to help companies better structure their rewards for viral promotion. One professor developed a model that even helps companies identify and take advantage of the influence social networks will have on purchasers while they are still in the design stage for the product.

The Web also offers a treasure trove of information that companies can exploit to better understand their customers, and to more effectively monitor their brands. Smith faculty are working on studies that show managers how to use social media for faster, more immediate and more data-rich brand mapping. Content-creators like bloggers are of interest to managers. How can companies leverage these influencers and their networks? Smith faculty are examining both the network and the content of blogs to better help companies monitor information diffusion in the context of brand monitoring and predict which author blog channels are worth watching.

And some of the school’s research is just plain cool. Smith faculty are studying what social media strategies are effective in helping rock bands grow their audience base, how Twitter can be used to predict where an album will debut on the Billboard Top 200, and even how social tags can help predict stock market returns. Stay tuned to Smith for more results!

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The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.