Online Social Network Sites and the Concept of Social Capital ...

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  • OnlineSocialNetworkSites

    andtheConceptofSocialCapital

    CharlesSteinfield,NicoleEllison,CliffLampe,andJessicaVitak

    DepartmentofTelecommunication,InformationStudies&Media

    MichiganStateUniversity

    ForpresentationatTheInternetTurning40Conference

    SchoolofJournalismandMassCommunication

    ChineseUniversityofHongKong

    1.Introduction

    Duringthepastdecadeusageofonlinesocialnetworksiteshasgrowndramatically,now

    rivalingsearchenginesasthemostvisitedInternetsites(ExperianHitwise,2010).Withthe

    riseofsuchmegasitesasFacebook,whichbyitselfnowboastsmorethan400million

    activeusersaroundtheworld(FacebookPressRoom,2010),onlinesocialnetworkusehas

    becomeafixtureinthelivesofalargeproportionoftheworlds1.8billionInternetusers

    (InternetWorldStats,2010).Growingevidencefromanalysesofonlinesocialnetworksite

    usesuggeststhatthesesiteshavebecomeimportanttoolsformanagingrelationshipswith

    alargeandoftenheterogeneousnetworkofpeoplewhoprovidesocialsupportandserve

    asconduitsforusefulinformationandotherresources(boyd&Ellison,2007;Ellisonetal.,

    2007).SuchSNSbenefitsarederivedfromsocialrelationshipsandhavebeenbroadly

    conceptualizedassocialcapitaloutcomesofSNSuse(Ellisonetal.,2007).Beyond

    identifyingbenefits,newresearchexploresthefactorsthatleadtoimprovedoutcomesfor

    SNSusers(Burkeetal.,2010;Ellisonetal,2010).Giventhepervasiveuseofsocialnetwork

    sites(SNSs),thereisaneedforacarefulassessmentofthewaysinwhichusersincorporate

    thesetoolsintotheirdailylivesandobtainbenefitsfromuse.Thegoalsofthepaperare

    thereforetoreviewthebroadthemesfromthisbodyofwork,andtoexaminethe

    underlyingmechanismsthroughwhichsocialcapitalbenefitsaregenerated.Byexposing

    suchmechanisms,wewillbebetterpreparedtoeducatefutureusersaboutusage

    strategies,aswellasaiddesignerswhoareaddingsocialfeaturestomanynewformsof

    onlinemedia.

    Theremainderofthispaperisorganizedasfollows.First,socialnetworksitesarebriefly

    introducedanddefined,soastodifferentiatethemfromotherformsofonline

    communities.Thepaperthenintroducesthenotionofsocialcapitalandsummarizeskey

    findingsfromresearchexploringthelinkagesbetweensocialcapitalandtheInternet.We

    thenreviewtheliteratureinvestigatingthesocialcapitalimplicationsofonlinesocial

    networksites.Aspartofthisreview,weexploretheunderlyingmechanismsthatcan

    explainhowsocialnetworksitescontributetosocialcapitalformation.Thepaper

    concludeswithsuggestionsforfutureresearch.

    Charles Steinfield

    Charles SteinfieldThis paper was later published as: Steinfield, C., Ellison, N., Lampe, C., and Vitak, J. Online social network sites and the concept of social capital. In Lee, F. L., Leung, L., Qiu, J. S., and Chu, D. (eds.), Frontiers in New Media Research, New York: Routledge, 2012, 115-131.

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    2.DefiningSocialNetworkSites

    Manywebsitescontainsocialfeaturessuchasuserprofilesortheabilitytopostcomments

    onotherusers'content.Thesefeatures,however,donotmakeasiteasocialnetworksitein

    andofthemselves.ThetermsocialnetworksitebroadlyisusedtorefertoWebsitesthat

    enableuserstoarticulateanetworkofconnectionsofpeoplewithwhomtheywishto

    shareaccesstoprofileinformation,news,statusupdates,comments,photos,orotherforms

    ofcontent.boyd&Ellison(2007)assertthatSNSshavethreeessentialcomponents:1)a

    userconstructedpublicorsemipublicprofile,2)asetofconnectionstootheruserswithin

    thesystem,and3)theabilitytoviewone'sownlistofconnections,aswelltheconnections

    madebyothersinthesystem.Indeedresearchersconsiderthepublicdisplaysof

    connectionstobeacrucialfeatureofSNSsdifferentiatingthemfrommostotherformsof

    socialmedia(boyd&Ellision,2007;Donath&boyd,2004).Beyondthesebasiccapabilities,

    SNSsdifferinawidevarietyofways,includinghowprofilesareconstructed(e.g.,what

    fieldsareprovidedforuserstodescribethemselves?),howconnectionsaremade(e.g.,are

    theyreciprocalorcantheybeasymmetric?),whatothercommunicationfeaturesare

    available(e.g.,supportforprivatevs.publicmessaging),andhowcustomizablethepages

    arefroma"lookandfeel"perspective(boyd&Ellison(2007).

    HundredsofSNSshavebeencreated,buttoday,Facebookisbyfarthelargestintermsof

    thenumberofusers,eclipsingMySpaceinglobaluniquevisitstoitsWebsiteinAprilof

    2008(Arrington,2008).Assuch,ithasbeenthefocusofmuchoftheresearchexamining

    theimpactsofSNSuse.

    Researchonuseofsocialnetworksiteshasproliferatedinrecentyears,whichisnot

    surprisinggiventheirrapidadoptionbyusersaroundtheworld.Anearlierreviewof

    researchonSNSusebyboyd&Ellison(2007)outlinedfourbroadareasofwork:

    Impressionmanagementandfriendshipperformance.Researchhereisconcerned

    withhowusersconstructonlineidentities,howusersmanipulateSNSprofiles,and

    howaspectsofprofiles,includingimagesoffriendsinfluencefriendshipformation

    andothers'impressionsofSNSusers(boyd,2008;boyd&Heer,2006;Marwick,

    2005;Tongetal.,2008;Waltheretal.,2008).

    Networksandnetworkstructure.Researchinthisarealooksatthestructureof

    networks,withinsightsintonetworkstructureandvisualizationsmadepossibleby

    theavailabilityoflinkdatainSNSs(Hogan,2008;LibenNowelletal.,2005)

    Bridgingonlineandofflinenetworks.Thiswork,expandeduponbelow,largely

    exploresthenatureoftiesinSNSs,withmanystudiesarguingthatsiteslike

    Facebookareusedtomaintainorextendconnectionstoexistingoffline

    relationships(Choi,2006;Ellisonetal.,2007;Lampeetal.,2006).

    Privacy.ResearchersinthisareahavefocusedontheextenttowhichSNSusers

    revealpersonalinformation,exposingthemselvestosuchproblemsasidentitytheft

    (Gross&Acquisti,2005).Additionalworkattemptstoexplainwhyusersarewilling

    torevealsuchinformationinSNSsites,whentheymightotherwiseseektoprotect

    theirprivacyelsewhereontheInternet(Acquisti&Gross,2006;Dwyeretal.,2007;

    Stutzman,2006).

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    AfocusofmuchoftheresearchonSNSsseekstoexplainhowusersderivebenefitsfrom

    theirparticipationinsocialnetworksitecommunities.Inparticular,thisresearchstream

    exploreshowSNSshelpusersaccumulatesocialcapital(Ellisonetal,2007;Steinfieldetal.,

    2008).Inthenextsection,wereviewthiswork,whilealsobrieflyintroducingthenotionof

    socialcapitalandexplainingitsrelevancetothestudyofonlinesocialnetworksites.

    3.SocialCapitalandtheInternet

    Thetermsocialcapitalhasbeenwidelyusedtorefertotheaccumulatedresourcesderived

    fromtherelationshipsamongpeoplewithinaspecificsocialcontextornetwork(Coleman,

    1988;Bourdieu,2001,Lin,2001;Portes,1998;Putnam,2000).Althoughsomehave

    expressedconcernthattheconceptlackstheoreticalandoperationalrigorforexample,

    Portes(1998)notesthatconceptualizationsofsocialcapitalcanalternativelyrefertothe

    mechanismsthatgenerateit(relationships),ortheoutcomesthesheervolumeofworkon

    socialcapitalinmanydifferentdisciplinesoverthepastthreedecadessuggestsits

    potentialutility(Adler&Kwon,2002).

    Twofrequentdebatesintheliteratureinvolvewhethersocialcapitalisanindividualora

    collectivelevelphenomenon(Lin,2001),oristheresultofhavinganabundanceofstrong

    orweakties(Burt,2000).Regardingtheformerissue,Putnam(2000),tendstoviewsocial

    capitalasacommunitylevelquality,andlamentsitsdeclineincommunitiesacrossthe

    UnitedStates.However,othersociologistslikeBourdieu(2001),althoughconceptualizing

    socialcapitalasaqualityofacollective,suggestthatindividualspossessvaryingquantities

    ofitbyvirtueofbeingqualifiedmembersofthecollective.Thisenablesindividualsto

    accessthegroupforfavorsofvaryingsorts,therebyconvertingsocialcapitalintoeconomic

    capital.Bourdieutheorizesthat,"Thevolumeofsocialcapitalpossessedbyagivenagent

    thusdependsonthesizeofthenetworkofconnectionshecaneffectivelymobilizeandon

    thevolumeofthecapitalpossessedinhisownrightbyeachofthosetowhomheis

    connected."(p.103).Thisprocessrequiresinvestmentinsocialrelationsovertime,as

    pointedoutagainbyBourdieu:"...other[goodsandservices]canbeobtainedonlybyvirtue

    ofasocialcapitalofrelationshipsthatcannotactinstantaneously...unlesstheyhavebeen

    maintainedforalongtime...atthecostofaninvestmentinsociability..."(p.106).

    Thisinstrumentalnotionofindividualinvestmentiscentraltolaterworkonsocialcapital

    byLin(2001),whoseesasitscentralpremisethatindividualspursue"investmentinsocial

    relationswithexpectedreturns"withtheideathat"individualsengageininteractionsand

    networkinginordertoproduceprofits."(p.6).AccordingtoLin,resourcesembeddedin

    socialrelationsenhanceoutcomesbyfacilitatingtheflowofinformation(e.g.about

    opportunities),exertinginfluence(e.g.hiringafriendofafriend),clarifyingsocial

    credentials(e.g.signifyingthatsomeonedoesindeedhaveaccesstoresourcesstemming

    fromagroupthatstandsbehindthem),andreinforcingidentityandrecognitionthatcan

    contributetoanindividual'ssensethatthesocialgroupistheretoprovideemotional

    support.

    Thedebateoverwhethersocialcapitalderivesfromadensenetworkofstrong

    relationships,orfromaloosersetofweakonescanbetracedbacktoGranovetter's(1973)

    conceptualizationofthestrengthofweakties.Granovetter(1973)examinedthenotionof

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    tiestrength,whichhedefinedasacombinationoftheamountoftime,emotionalintensity,

    intimacy,andreciprocityinagivenrelationship.Hearguedthatweaktiesaremorelikely

    topromotethediffusionofnonredundantinformation,aseachtieislikelytobeconnected

    tootherswhoarenotalsodirectlyconnectedtoaparticularperson.Ontheotherhand,that

    person'sstrongtiesarelikelytobeconnectedtoeach,suggestingthatmuchofthe

    informationflowingthroughthiscloseknitnetworkofrelationshipsisredundant.

    LaterworkbyPutnam(2000)conceptualizedtwodistinctformsofsocialcapitalone

    emanatingfromweaktiesthathecalledbridgingsocialcapital,andasecondthatisderived

    fromstrongorintimatetieslikefamilyrelations,calledbondingsocialcapital.Bridging

    socialcapitalismoresuitedtoinformationdiffusion,andiscreatedthroughexposuretoa

    heterogeneousnetworkoflargelyweakties.Bondingsocialcapitalrepresentsthekindsof

    benefitsthatarisefromcloserelationshipswithinanexclusivegroupfamilyandclose

    friendsandislinkedtoemotionalandsocialsupportaswellassubstantivetangible

    supportlikefinancialloans.

    BecausetheInternetprovidesindividualswithnewwaystointeractwithothers

    includingothersrangingfromclosecontactstorelativestrangersresearchershaveasked

    howInternetuseinfluencessocialcapital,andwhethertherearedistinctionsbetween

    onlineandofflinesocialcapital(Resnick,2001;WellmanandGulia,1999;Williams,2006).

    Ellisonetal.,(2010)reviewpriorstudiesofInternetuseandsocialcapital,concludingthat

    therearethreedistincttypesoffindingsfoundintheliterature:1)Internetusepromotes

    socialcapitalformation,2)Internetusecandiminishsocialcapital,and3)Internetuse

    reinforcesofflineinteractionsandcansupplementsocialcapitaldevelopment.Inthefirst

    case,anumberofstudieshavefoundthatgreaterInternetuseisassociatedwiththe

    formationofmeaningfulrelationshipsandenhancedconnectiontobothonlineandoffline

    communitiesofpeople(Best&Krueger,2006;Hampton&Wellman,2002;Rheingold,

    1993;Wellman&Julia,1999).

    AcontrastingviewcanbefoundinstudiesbyKrautetal.,(1998)andNie(2001),who

    suggestthattimespentinteractingwithpeopleonlinereplacestimespentinfacetoface

    interactionswithlocalcontacts.Thegeneralargumentisthatdistantandonlinecontacts

    arenotabletoprovidethesametypesofsocialsupportasphysicallyproximateones.

    Finally,thethird,morenuancedview,seestheInternetnotasasubstituteforotherforms

    ofinteraction,butasasupplement,servinginanadditiverolewhencombinedwithother

    methodsofcommunication(QuanHaase&Wellman,2004;Uslaner,2000).Thisthird

    perspectivedirectsourattentiontotheaffordancesofdiverseservicesontheInternet,

    suchastheabilitytoremovebarriersofdistanceandtime,expandreach,manage

    dependencies(e.g.throughcalendars),preserveahistoryofinteractions,andreifygroups

    thoughnamingthat,whencombinedwithotherformsofcommunication,canenhance

    socialcapitalbydecreasingthecostsofformingandmaintainingrelationships(Resnick,

    2001).

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    4.SocialNetworkSitesandSocialCapital:ThemesfromResearchFindings

    Onlinesocialnetworksites,becauseoftheirfocusonrelationshipformationand

    maintenance,havebeenextensivelystudiedthroughthelensofsocialcapital.Three

    consistentthemesareevidentacrossmuchoftheSNSresearch:

    1. ThetypesofidentityinformationandinformationdisclosureonSNSsinfluences

    usageandoutcomes,andresearchconfirmsthattherearebenefitsthataccompany

    suchinformationdisclosure(Burkeetal.,2009;Burketetal.,2010;DiMicco&

    Millen,2007;2008;Donath&boyd,2004;Dwyeretal.,2007;Dwyeretal.,2008;

    Lampeetal.,2006;2007;Mazuretal.,2009).

    2. TherearedistinctformsofsocialcapitalbenefitsassociatedwithSNSuse,largely

    dividedintobondingsocialcapitalencompassingvariousformsofsocialsupport

    fromstrongtiessuchasclosefriendsandfamily;andbridgingsocialcapital

    encompassingexposuretoinformationandresourcesfromweaktiessuchasco

    workers,classmates,andacquaintances(Ellisonetal.,2007;Ellisonetal.,2009;

    Steinfieldetal.,2008;Steinfieldetal.,2009).

    3. SNSsblendonlineandofflinebehavior,ratherthanoperatingasdistinctarenasfor

    socialaction(Ellisonetal.,2007;Ellisonetal.,2009;Ellisonetal.,2010;Lampeet

    al.,2006;2007;2008;Mayer&Puller,2007;Steinfieldetal.,2009;Subrahmanyam

    etal.,2008).Henceitisimportanttoviewinteractionswithothersinonlineand

    offlinecontextsaspartofanintegratedsetofcommunicationpractices.

    IdentityandInformationDisclosureinSNS.Despitealloftheprivacyconcernsthat

    accompanyuseofSNSs(Gross&Acquisti,2005;Acquisti&Gross,2006;Lenhart&Madden,

    2007),theavailableresearcharguesthatwithouttheinformationdisclosuresinprofiles

    andthroughotherservicesofSNSs,includingstatusupdates,comments,andthedisplayof

    onesnetworkofconnections,usersarelesslikelytoaccruebenefits.AspointedbyEllison

    etal.(2010),theinformationprovidedinSNSprofilescanlowerthebarrierstoinitial

    interactionandfacilitateformationofcommonground.Suchinformationcaninclude

    contactinformation,backgrounddata,personalcharacteristicssuchasfavoritemusic,films

    orotherpreferenceandtasteindicators,andphotographs(boyd&Ellison,2007).Studies

    indicatethattrustandwillingnesstoshareinformationwerehigheronasitethatrequired

    actualidentitiesFacebook,thanonasitethatdidnotMySpace(Dwyeretal.,2007).In

    addition,greaterinformationdisclosureappearstoenhanceperceptionsbyothersthana

    useriscredible(Mazuretal.,2009).

    Intheirreviewoftheimpactofprofileinformation,Ellisonetal.,(2010)concludethat

    accesstopersonalidentityinformationsupportsrelationshipformation.Supportingthis

    wasevidenceinworkplaceuseofSNSsthatprofileinformationhelpspeopleengagein

    peoplesensemaking,theprocessofunderstandingwhosomeoneisandtodetermine

    howandwhythatusershouldinteractwithsomeone(DiMicco&Millen,2008,p.1).The

    identityinformationintheprofileassistsindividualsinfindingcommongroundandthus

    facilitatescommunicationandcoordinationprocesses(Clark&Brennan,1991;Olson&

    Olson,2001).PreviousscholarshiponSNSssuggeststhatprofileinformationinFacebook

    mayhelpusersfindcommongroundwithoneanother(DiMicco&Millen,2007;Dwyeret

    al.,2008;Lampeetal.,2007).IntheLampeetal.(2007)study,profileelementswere

    groupedintothreedistinctcategories:1)referentinformationincludedfieldshighlighting

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    informationusefulinestablishingcommongroundbasedonofflineindicatorssuchas

    hometown,school,major,andcampusresidence,2)interestinformationincludedvarious

    preferencesandtastesinmusic,filmsandthelike,and3)contactinformationincluded

    phone,email,instantmessagenames,website,andsimilarindicatorsforfacilitatinga

    connection.Inamultivariateanalysis,Lampeetal.,(2007)foundthatthemoreusers

    completedinformationineachoftheseprofilecategories,thegreaterthesizeofapersons

    network,illustratingthatinformationdisclos...

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