Using Social Networks and Guanxi in Case Study Research on Australian Firms Doing Business in China
Orr, Stuart, Menzies, Jane, Market & Social Research
This paper describes the application of Social Networking Theory (SNT) and guanxi to assist in the acceptance of participants for case study research. The research project method was developed for inductive research into the factors influencing Australian firms doing business in China. Case study research frequently encounters both active and passive participation resistance and non-response, especially when senior staff (CEO or Executive level managers) participation is required, which is why SNT and guanxi were incorporated into the participant recruitment. The process utilised social networks to establish shared understanding, mutual trust and facilitate the exchange of anecdotes, all of which increased the participation acceptance rate. The mechanisms adopted included gaining the external endorsement of a trade association, transferring researcher connection status from weak- to strong-tie levels, drawing on existing strong and weak ties and following up email requests with repeat emails, phone calls and trade association event attendance. This process increased the organisational participation acceptance rate for a given population by 400%.
Keywords: Qualitative Interview Recruitment, Social Networking Theory, Guanxi.
Research into a large-scale business development phenomenon such as internationalisation often encounters initial participant resistance (Beaunae, Wu, & Koro-Ljungberg, 2011), which makes it difficult to achieve good response rates and balanced respondent profiles. This is often due to the confidential nature of the event being investigated, uncertainty about the details of the event (event recordkeeping is frequently less thorough than routine recordkeeping), and because the participants most equipped to represent the organisation are usually senior and, consequently, time poor. In addition, potential research participants of this type are likely to decline an interview request from an unknown researcher. Social Networking Theory (SNT) can be used to improve participant acceptance rates. In the case of research on Australian businesses operating in China, the Chinese concept of 'guanxi' can also be incorporated to further improve participant recruitment. These methods should be applicable to improving acceptance rates in a range of other contexts, including research in international marketing and business. The objective of this paper is to 'demonstrate how social networking and guanxi can assist with recruiting suitable research participants'. Connections between SNT and guanxi will also be considered in the context of inductive research participant recruitment.
2.0 SOCIAL NETWORK THEORY AND GUANXI
SNT explains how relationships form in the context of active self-organising communities. Recent studies have advocated SNT as a framework for understanding behaviours within social and business organisations parabási, 2002; Buchanan, 2002; Watts, 2003). SNT is becoming increasingly important for business in areas such as partnerships and so it is logical that SNT may be a useful research method tool. One of the key features of social networks is that they are important mechanisms for accessing critical personal resources, such as knowledge (BarNir & Smith, 2002). Frequently, these resources are the subject of inductive research. A social network can be defined as 'formal and informal connections', which 'can extend across professional ties, to include friends, former classmates, co-workers, organizations, associations, as well as regions, nations or cultural groups' (Bartholomew & Smith, 2006, p. 83). SNT is based on the concept that social networks are made up of strong- and weak-ties with other actors (Granovetter, 1973). Strong ties involve clusters of individuals with whom an individual has regular and direct contact. They may be close contacts, family, friends, or co-workers. Barabási (2002) notes that groups of individuals joined by strong ties usually have a similar social and economic status. …