Oriol Miralbell: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge

Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Oriol Miralbell entitled Webs de xarxes socials i intercanvi de coneixement. Anàlisi de l’adopció i ús dels membres de les comunitats virtuals professionals del turisme (Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities), directed by Francesc González and Jaume Guia.

Defence of the thesis: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities.

The thesis aims at analyzing how knowledge is exchanged in social networking sites, with a focus on professional virtual networks in the field of tourism.

Main topics of the thesis or theoretical framework:

  • Social virtual networks: Barry Wellman makes the difference between open and diffuse networks, and dense and limited groups. The former ones usually imply freedom of participation, while the later are more centralized and hierarchic, with stronger and fixer relationships.
  • Knowledge transfer: that happens in virtual communities and communities of practice. In the later, the existence of a leader is important, as is the inclusion of the “periphery” of the network. Knowledge transfer is also related with informal learning and personal learning environments. Downes and Siemens base connective knowledge networks in openness, autonomy, diversity and interaction.
  • Social networking sites. O’reilly defines the web 2.0 as a way to leverage the collective wisdom and where the user takes control of their own information. Social networking sites enable the exchange of knowledge, managing one’s relationships (interactivity), creating a public profile by articulating a list of contacts (autonomy), or sharing lists of contacts with other users (openness, diversity).
  • Exchange of knowledge in virtual communities: confidence, loyalty, emotional identification, reciprocity and commitment are fundamental for the exchange of knowledge in virtual communities.
  • Usage and adoption of social networking sites: there are several aspects (cognitive, contextual, etc.) that explain how people adopt technology. Davis, Bagozzi and Warshaw developed the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), which is what based this research.

A model was designed to see what was the utility of social networking sites for knowledge exchange, based on the TAM model.

Social networking sites help in solving some barriers usually found in the field of tourism: high competition and lack of collaboration, atomization of the sector, lack of knowledge, etc.

More than 80,000 virtual communities [1] members out of 28 communities in several social networking sites (Linkedin, Facebook, Ning) were identified and a sample of users was selected to be surveyed about usage and perceived utility. The main characteristics of the sample is higher education, a majority of people in the 30-44 y.o. range, professionals of the tourism or knowledge sector, not very high earnings, proficiency in the use of ICTs. Facebook is the SNS more used, followed by Twitter and Linkedin, though Linkedin was much more used in relationship with the average SNS user, that is, tourism professionals use linkedin more than the average population. More than half of the users had friends as their contacts, but besides this, the level of trust in the network is very high. It is believed that SNS are adequate for sharing knowledge but not as good for creating new knowledge.

We can state that autonomy, diversity and openness favours interactivity among members and thus increase the usage of SNS. SNS are perceived more as places to get in through with people and share knowledge, rather than spaces for collaborative learning. There is a low perception of generation of new knowledge. Thus, features of SNS should be improved in terms of generation of knowledge (if that was their purpose). Notwithstanding, there is a positive perception of SNS often times based in high rates of trust in these platforms. Hence, SNS could be used for collaborative work between members of the tourist sector.

Discussion

Some questions from the committee:

  • Agustí Canals: was there any validation of the questionnaire?
  • Agustí Canals: what is the relationship of the model and demographic data?
  • Agustí Canals: is this research representative of other fields or, at least, other knowledge-intensive fields?
  • José Luis Molina: how does the model relate to personal knowledge management?
  • José Luis Molina: how does the model would vary taking into account only specific regions of the globe?
  • Esther Pérez: what are the reasons behind the choice of the model of acceptance of technology?
  • Q: does the model fit better in some specific geographic areas rather and other ones? what about different ages?
  • Q: how should the model evolve to fit the pace of change in reality?

The questionnaire was validated: there was a pre-survey with a very small sample, the questionnaire was corrected and then the new questionnaire was used in the final survey.

The direct interaction of the researcher with many of the surveyed networks leads him to believe that there are not many differences in the usage and perception of utility of SNS for tourism professionals in different regions of the world… but language. Indeed, problems are shared, attitudes are similar and practices do not differ much from different SNS and/or social networks.

It is worth noting that the personal relationships factor is crucial in the usage of SNS. Knowledge is defined very different and is thus difficult to measure, but personal relationships have common structures and this is what usually shapes social networks.

TAM was adopted because of its wider use in many other researches.

People of different ages may end up using SNS in different ways, but the core of professional virtual communities, which is knowledge and relationships would still be the same. That is, forms may vary, but content would still be the same.

Generation of knowledge not only happens when it is actively pursued, but also serendipitously, in sharing ideas, information or other knowledge.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2012) “Oriol Miralbell: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge” In ICTlogy, #110, November 2012. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=4008

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7 Comments to “Oriol Miralbell: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge” »

  1. Quería confirmar un dato.
    Has dicho que la investigación se hizo con 80.000 comunidades. ¿El dato es correcto?
    Me parece un número altísimo.
    Seguro que con más información se aclara la cosa.

    • No, no se hizo con 80.000 comunidades: de identificaron más de 80.000 comunidades virtuales, de entre las cuales se obtuvo una muestra de 363 usuarios que respondieron el cuestionario.

  2. Entendido.
    Igualmente el número es increíblemente alto. ¡¡Ochenta mil comunidades online dedicadas al turismo!! Me sigue impresionando.
    Gracias por la aclaración.

    • Deberías preguntar a Oriol qué palabras clave utilizó para encontrarlas y en qué/cuántos idiomas. Si no he entendido mal esto era para Facebook, Linkedin y Ning.

      No sé si me parecen muchas: buscó en todo el mundo y seguro que cada comunidad o centro turístico tiene la suya, además de las temåticas. Echa cuentas…

  3. The total amount of members of the 28 virtual communities analyzed in this research project was 85.000. These virtual communities were dedicated to discuss tourism professional issues and members were professionals belonging to three different groups: tourist service professionals, public administration (DMO, Tourist Boards, Goevrnment, etc.) and knowledge professionals (Counseling, research and academia).
    Thank you very much Ismael for summaryzing my defence.

  4. Muchas gracias por la aclaración Oriol e Ismael.
    Quizá un día pueda echar un ojo a la tesis. Me interesa la metodología para poder aplicarla a otros ámbitos profesionales.

    • Será un placer poder compartir contigo la experiencia.
      Un saludo cordial,
      Oriol

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