It was only a matter of time before social media’s impact in the marketplace would begin to alter the way executives go about their business in the workplace.

A new study commissioned by LinkedIn however, puts that evolution in some fresh perspective, with a look at how social media platforms are playing an increasing role in how information technology decision makers are making IT decisions.

And though the study doesn’t separate government IT professionals from their commercial counterparts, the findings are likely to feel familiar, says Mike Weir who leads LinkedIn’s strategic marketing efforts with technology firms.

Weir is no stranger to technology or government. He spent a half-dozen years at technology solutions provider CDW, including CDW’s government channel, before joining LinkedIn a year ago.

LinkedIn recently commissioned Forrester Research to look at the impact social platforms have had among IT decision makers. That 85% of those surveyed have used at least one social network for business was not surprising. What was surprising, said Weir, was that three out of four had engaged directly with an IT vendor through a social network. (Also not a surprise: 95% of IT decision makers report using LinkedIn.)

What’s evolved over the past two years, however, said Weir, is the extent to which the use of social networks has grown from a way for professionals to connect with their peers, into something deeper and more dynamic.

“This has created larger opportunities…(that) have allowed CIOs and IT decision makers to do a better job collaborating and validating what they’re learning,” Weir said, in an interview with Breaking Gov.

“We did see a 60% increase in the use of social media,” over the past two years, he said, but more to the point is the increasing sense of trust, efficiency, relevance and access executives are discovering across their professional social networks, he said.

The study, which polled 400 IT decision makers across North America, asked what’s causing IT decisions to turn to social networks? According to their responses:

  • 58% said to learn from trusted peers
  • 49% said to access a broader network of peers
  • 40% said to quickly find reliable information
  • 37% said networks provide relevant context to connect with vendors.

Kim Celestre, senior analyst for B2B social marketing at Forrester also noted that IT decision makers “jump in and out of the process of studying and choosing technology solutions. They access multiple digital touch points along their purchasing journey.”

What the findings confirmed, she said, is that social media influences the entire buying process, regardless of when and where the decision makers dip into it. They turn to social media to learn from peers, quickly find information, and connect with vendors in a relevant context.

The study, not surprisingly, plays into LinkedIn’s marketing strategy which involves creating a more visible, target-rich community for marketers. The study reports, for instance, that IT decision makers say social networks (59%) are more influential in their purchasing decisions than online media publication (46%).

But the study does serve to validate the growing role of ad hoc discussion and collaboration groups coalescing on LinkedIn and other social network platforms.

That growth, says Weir, reflects the desire to get at trusted information, by “congregating to ask broad questions within very specific groups, that are industry-centric, problem-centric.”

Weir cited the level of engagement he recently observed in a discussion group that had formed around the implementation of ITIL, a common set IT infrastructure management practices, which had quickly expanded to more than 125 comments.

He also noted that IT decision makers are four more times likely than average users to follow some of the more than 2 million companies that now have corporate profiles on LinkedIn.

Beneath that connective digital tissue, however, is a growing volume of content.

That has been fueled in part by LinkedIn’s acquisition of Slide Share, which Weir said offers 9 million pieces of content, including detailed slide presentations, charts and other data that are accelerating the utility of social networks.

But discussion groups are also pulling a growing array of network-relevant news stories, aggregated from a wide range of mainstream and specialty media sources (including Breaking Gov’s news feed.)

“Anyone can aggregate content, but we add the identity of who’s sharing and liking it,” he said.

The larger implication, however, observed social media expert Clay Shirky who spoke at a LinkedIn technology event last month, is an important shift in the way IT decision makers get more and more of the information that influences their decision making.

Instead of brands reaching out and communicating with audiences, Shirky said, we now have social communities where everyone’s interacting.

“In the 20th century, the model of media was that ‘we produce, and you consume.’ Now we’ve got a world where people can produce, consume – and share,” he said.