Collective Soul

Researcher Studies How Social Connections Shape Innovation
Jie Ren, PhD
Jie Ren, PhD
Marie Papp
Jie Ren, PhD, is fascinated by how people’s collective actions on the internet help individuals and organizations innovate, market, and make financial decisions. This ranges from how users connect on social media platforms to share tips on the stock market, to how the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected online product reviews as more people shopped from home while coping with the quarantine.

Ren first recognized the power of connectivity among people of different backgrounds offline when she worked as an English translator at an international exhibition center in Beijing and met people from around the world. “It was a big culture shock and I felt like the whole world was connected,” she said. Now an associate professor at the Gabelli School, Ren is weaving her background in business, science, and engineering with her interest in collective online behaviors to explore how they can shape business.

“Individuals are so empowered by the use of the internet, and you see a lot of tech platforms are only serving as the bridges to connect individuals. [Individuals] can not only be the consumers of something, but also the suppliers,” she said, pointing to the impact of social media, crowd- sourcing, and online reviews.

Litigation crowdfunding, social media’s collective impact on financial news and investors, and difference between social media and mass media in stock coverage are among the topics Ren explores in her research. Her work has been published in many scholarly journals, including the European Journal of Information Systems, Information & Management, Decision Support Systems, and Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology.

I look at each individual in terms of their creativity, and each individual’s talent.

Ren joined the faculty of the Gabelli School in 2014, and currently teaches undergraduate and MBA courses in information systems and business analytics. She earned a doctorate in information management from Stevens Institute of Technology after receiving a master’s in management science and engineering and a bachelor’s degree in e-commerce from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

Ren was born and raised in Shangqiu, China, to parents who are both doctors. They instilled in her the belief that every human life is unique and deserving of care. “I look at each individual in terms of their creativity, and each individual’s talent,” she said. One of Ren’s own talents is singing, often accompanied by her younger brother on the piano. She particularly enjoys traditional Chinese music and songs from the 1960s and 1970s.

Ultimately, Ren believes that consumers are the leading force behind companies’ innovative strategies, such as having to mind their actions as a company in light of negative online reviews.

“Each individual may not necessarily have the knowledge for the topic of innovation, but as a huge group of loosely connected individuals, we do have knowledge about many things,” she said. “The challenge is how to organize [individuals] so that they can contribute to the pool of knowledge. That’s the beauty of embracing individual talent and connectivity.”

—Gabrielle Simonson