Organizational technological opportunism and social media: The deployment of social media analytics to sense and respond to technological discontinuities

Published in: Journal of Business Research

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Can Social Media Analytics help companies respond to technological changes? It depends on organizational skills, processes, and structure.

Social media is now a crucial component of digital strategies businesses employ in various industries. Social media platforms, which have billions of users globally, present a unique chance for businesses to connect with their target market, interact with clients, and increase brand recognition.

In January 2023, there were 4.76 billion social media users globally, or nearly 60% of the world’s population, according to a report by We Are Social and Meltwater. In addition, the study found that people spend an average of two hours and thirty-one minutes every day on social media, giving it an ideal platform for companies to interact with their clients.

However, less is known about how social media data and information can be employed inside organizations for decision-making activities different from marketing strategies and activities. Despite the benefits of social media for connecting and collaborating with customers, it needs to be clarified how social media may help organizations sense and respond to technological changes.

Organizational capabilities to sense and respond to external technological changes are central in a highly dynamic market characterized by rapid customer needs and technological innovation shifts. The inability to sense technological developments and discontinuities can lead to losing a sustainable competitive advantage over years of market success. It is well known how even very successful firms lost their competitive positions due to their inability to sense significant technological shifts.

In this study, we interviewed 14 managers from 6 different organizations and collected 251 surveys from managers in high-level decision-making roles to shed light on the following question: can social media data and information help organizations in sensing and responding to technological discontinuities?

We found three critical elements that enhance organizational abilities to leverage social media data to spot technological discontinuities.

First, social media data are complex, informal, and fragmentary; therefore, organizations must build structured analytics processes and activities to make sense of these data. Technological discontinuities can be spotted by analyzing the weak signals that shepherd the demand-pull technological change. Namely, collecting relevant information about customer needs shifts, gaining access to external knowledge about possible technical solutions, and identifying emerging market trends.

Second, the analytical process needs specific analytical skills, especially considering complex and unstructured data available on social media. Unfortunately, the necessary skills are not strictly specialistic, encompassing several knowledge fields essential to spot the relevant technology-related pattern in data. To give some examples, an in-depth understanding of the data analysis process, significant business acumen, and a solid knowledge of technological scenarios. Therefore, organizations that aim to be competitive in understanding technological trends and shifts from social media signals must focus their HR activities on developing those skills internally or buying them externally through recruitment processes.

Lastly, the relevant knowledge to address the challenge of developing internally the required skills or to enhance the fitting of the externally acquired ones is dispersed among organizational silos, such as the R&D, marketing, and IT functions. Therefore, only inter-functional integration can boost the necessary dialogue and learning to develop the analytical process and related skills.

To conclude, our study shows that in the final sample of 251 firms, the three variables mentioned above are strongly and significantly associated with the organizational level capabilities of sensing and responding to technological discontinuities and, consequently, firm performance.

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Authors at the Department of Management

Ludovico Bullini Orlandi

Academic disciplines: Organization and Human Resource Management

Teaching areas: Organization Theory and Design

Research fields: Digital transformation, HRM, Newcomer socialization

Ludovico Bullini Orlandi is an Assistant Professor in Organization and HRM at the Department of Management and co-scientific director of the Master in HR & Organization at the Bologna Business School. He conducts research mainly on topics related to digital transformation and its consequences within organizations, human resource management, and organizational behavior.