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Faculty Members Receive Grants for New Research in Social Media


Faculty Members Receive Grants for New Research in Social Media

Projects investigate impact on labor markets, mobile word of mouth, and novel signals in online social interactions.

The Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative has awarded research grants to eight University of Minnesota faculty members. The College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management provided funding for the grants, which will support research projects examining social media, social computing, big-data analytics, and related subjects. "We are pleased to be able to make multiple awards to support the work of faculty by funding activities and assets that may not be eligible for other grant programs," said Joe Konstan, the collaborative's co-director.

The funded proposals cover a range of topics with applications to broader organizational and societal benefits.

Social Media's Impact on Labor Markets

Two projects will study the intersection of social media and labor markets. In the first, Work and Organizations Professors Alan Benson and Aaron Sojourner will collaborate with Akhmed Umyarov from the Information and Decision Sciences Department. The trio will conduct a randomized experiment on the effects of employer reputation in online labor markets like Amazon Mechanical Turk. Their experiment will test whether employers with good reputations online are able to complete jobs more quickly and achieve higher quality results as compared to employers with a bad or no reputation. This work will contribute to understanding the impact of online reputation as created by crowd-sourced reviews and comments, and to understanding functions within evolving online labor markets.

A second project on crowdsourcing also received funding. Professors Ching Ren and Shawn Curley will study what motivates individuals to participate in online marketplaces for work. Although love and ideology motivate individuals to participate in open-source projects, Ren and Curley hypothesize that online marketplaces for paid work represent a combination of different types of motivation, including intrinsic, extrinsic, and social. Understanding such motivations may help improve quality in online marketplaces for work and inform effective approaches for leveraging the crowd.

The Social + Mobile Confluence

Social media and mobile adoption are two mega trends rife with interesting research questions both individually and in tandem. Professor Gord Burtch received funding for his proposal to examine what happens when social ratings and reviews go mobile. In recent months, prominent platforms like Yelp have allowed users to post reviews via mobile devices. Burtch will study how the mobile channel impacts reviews of merchants and products on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and OpenTable. He hypothesizes that mobile reviews may affect quantitative and qualitative characteristics of electronic word of mouth, which could pose significant benefits and drawbacks for companies and brands across industries.

Apps and services delivered via mobile platforms face unique challenges, including user adoption. Soumya Sen's project will investigate how online incentives may affect the adoption of a mobile game app with a social component. The study has multiple dimensions and will collect data related to game adoption, player engagement, frequency of play, and revenue. In addition, Sen's project will examine different forms of incentives, for example, content-based incentives vs. virtual currency.

Unique Signals in Social Interactions

The fifth project to receive grant support examines some unique social signals present in online interactions. Proposed by Ravi Bapna and co-investigator Jui Ramaprasad from McGill University, the study uses an online dating site for the experiment. According to the United States census, 46 percent of singles now use online sites in their search for a partner. Partner selection is an important socio-economic decision made by humans, and online environments allow users to signal interest in one another in novel ways that aren't easily replicated offline. The proposed study will test the impact of one such signal, attractiveness ratings. Beyond dating sites, the findings may inform the design of other types of matching platforms.Joe Konstan quote

Ongoing Projects

This is the second round of grants to come from the University's Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative. In 2013, the collaborative provided grants to four projects featuring intercollegiate research teams from the Carlson School of Management and the College of Science and Engineering. Findings from those projects are expected this year. To date, the Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative has awarded more than $200,000 in research grants.  “SOBACO’s mission is to build upon and leverage the University of Minnesota’s existing strength in social computing,” said Konstan. “Our seed grant program supports innovative early-stage research. We’re particularly delighted to have the opportunity to support several outstanding junior faculty and their promising ideas."


The Social Media and Business Analytics Collaborative (SOBACO) is a research initiative of the University of Minnesota, with support from our industry partners. Together we co-create new knowledge to help people, businesses, and society thrive.