Improving Survey Response Rates from Chief Executive Officers in Small Firms: The Importance of Social Networks

Article excerpt

Social networks are an important source of information for entrepreneurs and small firms. In this study, we consider the influence of social networks on survey response rates from small firms, focusing on effects of trade association endorsement and regional affiliation. Our findings show that trade association endorsement has a positive effect on survey response rate. In addition, the demonstration of the researcher's social ties to the firm's region has a positive effect on survey response rate. Our results lead to several practical implications for survey research on small firms and on industrial populations in general. Targeted personal follow-up with managers in close geographic proximity to the sponsoring university(ies) appears to be a particularly cost-effective strategy to increase response rates.

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Recent research has established that social networks are an important means for entrepreneurs and small firms to access critical resources (BarNir & Smith, 2002; Brush, Greene, & Hart, 2001; Greve & Salaff, 2003). Social networks can provide access to new technical, market, and customer information, as well as insight into best practices or failed approaches (Ahuja, 2000). This information translates to knowledge, and helps small firms adapt their strategies and behaviors in the face of external environmental change (Frazier & Niehm, 2004). Social networks can include formal and informal work connections, and may extend across professional ties to include friends, former classmates and coworkers, organizations and associations, as well as regions, nations, or cultural groups (Hansen, 1995). These networks of contacts can help small firms infuse greater knowledge into their system (Smith, Hood, & Houghton, 2005). By serving as information conduits, networks can enhance the learning opportunities and capabilities of network members (Ahuja, 2000).

In this research note, we consider the act of mail survey completion as a form of information exchange between the researcher and the manager. As such, we expect social networks to have an effect on survey completion, and we conduct a study to evaluate the effect of social networks on survey response rate from small firms.

Trends in Survey Research on Entrepreneurs and Small Firms

To assess trends in survey research on entrepreneurs and small firms, we conducted a review of articles published over the last 7 years in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice (ETP) and Journal of Small Business Management (JOSBM). As shown in Table 1, mail surveys are the dominant form of data collection in entrepreneurship and in small business research in compared with other methodologies. Our review of published articles in these two journals for the time period 1998-2004 revealed that 36 and 47% of total and empirical articles published, respectively, used data from mail surveys. By comparison, mail survey methodology appears to be used considerably less in research not focused specifically on small business or entrepreneurship. For example, surveys were the main source of data in less than 7% of articles published during 1985-1987 and 1995-1997 in three major management journals--Academy of Management Journal (AMJ), Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ), and Journal of Management (JOM) (Scandura & Williams, 2000). The predominant sources of data for articles published in AMJ, ASQ, and JOM are primary field studies and secondary data such as public databases (Scandura & Williams, 2000). There are several reasons these methodologies have not been used as often in small business research. Primary field studies require large time commitments from the organizations involved. Small firms generally have less organizational slack than large firms to accommodate such requests (Bourgeois, 1981). Archival research, or using secondary published data, is also less viable for small firms than for large firms; as many small firms and new ventures are not publicly traded, less comprehensive data on this sector are publicly available. …