Academic research has always driven the business world to one degree or another, but ideas born out of research don’t always translate well into actual practice. A new partnership between INgage Networks and Michigan State University, however, is looking to strengthen the ties between social media research and business practice, bringing innovation from the classroom to the boardroom.
The partnership was announced March 1 at Michigan State University (MSU) with a presentation that featured remarks from both the university president, Lou Anna K. Simon, and INgage CEO Kim Kobza. As described during the presentation, INgage will open an office in MSU’s communication arts and sciences building with as many as 25 staff, both technical and nontechnical. The office will work hand in hand with the college to create and foster a multitude of social media projects in diverse areas of business, government, and academia.
According to INgage, the partnership is a logical one. Both MSU and INgage have a long history in social media, going back to the early days of the internet boom. “We’ve been doing this for 10 years—we’ve won two CODiE awards, 2008 and 2009, for social networking, and we’re a finalist this year,” says Kobza. With its ELAvate social computing platform, the company has worked to develop social sites and mobile communities for companies such as Adidas and Microsoft, as well as government projects such as the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The platform, which is being made available to students and faculty, will also form the basis for most of the projects fostered by INgage and MSU, although Kobza notes that other technologies might also play a role. INgage’s on-campus staff will also be available to provide support.
Kobza says that INgage was attracted to MSU by its long history of social media research. “We were searching for a university setting that could be a center of excellence in social media and social content and that had the R&D capabilities and a faculty that understands and studies the effective use
of social media.”
MSU certainly fits the bill. The university was studying social media even before most of the world recognized the term. “We’ve done a bunch of research on social media,” explains
Cliff Lampe, an assistant professor in MSU’s department of telecommunication, information studies, and media. “I personally have been studying what we now call social media for 10 or 12 years, before anyone else was really looking at these issues.”
The collaboration will focus on creating projects that take advantage of social media in different areas. “We currently have over 20 projects under active consideration,” explains Kobza. “They include projects like building economic development communities for business leaders in the state, building communities for technologists in the state, [and] supporting government agencies in a variety of different ways.”
Of particular interest to the program are projects that could help people struggling against the effects of the recession, like small-business owners. Kobza notes that Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis. “What really got our focus … is that if you look at the state of Michigan as a whole, like many other states, they face the problem of a very constrained budget, very limited resources,” says Kobza. “And yet they’re trying to solve really big problems.” By tapping into the power of social media, Kobza thinks states can take advantage of the knowledge of citizens and the business community.
According to Kobza, projects will be selected on the basis of readiness and clearly defined goals. “I would say this is a collaborative selection process, including both INgage and MSU at all stages of decision making,” he says. “There’s no committee that will make decisions, but rather the executives in each location will evaluate each project on its individual merits.”
For MSU, the projects will provide students with an opportunity for hands-on study. “We have three angles for our involvement here,” says Lampe. “One is definitely education
of students. We have students working on projects from the undergrad to Ph.D. levels.” Some of the projects might even figure into the curriculum of various courses, although Lampe says that’s being left up to the individual professors.
“We think that it’s a generational step forward for the industry of social media,” says Kobza, “and we can start to develop some basic science that will serve as a foundation for many types of industry as we move forward.”