Discuss social capital from the perspective social networking theory (weak and strong ties/bridging and bonding ties)...

Discuss social capital from the perspective social networking theory (weak and strong ties/bridging and bonding ties) using examples of how high and low social capital gained on social media.

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Answer #1

What Is Social Capital?

Social capital is a positive product of human interaction. The positive outcome may be tangible or intangible and may include useful information, innovative ideas, and future opportunities.

In business terms, social capital is the contribution to an organization's success that can be attributed to personal relationships and networks, both within the organization and outside of it.

The term social capital is also sometimes used to describe the personal relationships within a company that help build trust and respect among employees, leading to enhanced company performance.


  • Social capital is a set of shared values that allows individuals in a group to work together effectively to achieve a common purpose.
  • In business, social capital can contribute to a company's success by building a sense of shared values and mutual respect.
  • The Internet has revolutionized social capital by enabling an infinite number of social connections suitable to any occasion.

Understanding Social Capital

The term social capital may have been coined no later than 1999. However, the concept that social relationships can have productive outcomes for an individual or a group is an old one.

Broadly speaking, social capital is a set of shared values that allows any group of people to work together effectively to achieve a common purpose. As such, the study of how social capital works or fails to work pervades the social sciences.

Today, social capital is arguably as valuable as financial capital. The Internet allows professionals to form global social connections and networks in many variations. Social capital is no longer narrow and local in scope.

In purely practical terms, it is estimated that up to 85% of jobs are filled through informal networking rather than through job listings. That is social capital in action.

Types of Social Capital

The Internet has revolutionized the concept of social capital, effectively creating an infinite number of social connections suitable to any occasion. For example:

  • Users of web services from Airbnb and Uber to eBay use social capital in order to make a selection based on the reviews of past users. The same people contribute to social capital by leaving their own reviews later. The companies that own those sites use reviews as an essential component of their quality control programs.
  • Social networking sites such as Facebook strengthen bonds based on personal interests, such as hobbies, or past experiences, such as a shared hometown or a past employer.
  • Social networks also have become a primary source of social capital for small business people, who can showcase their products and services online as effectively, if more cheaply, than big corporations.

Special Considerations

Researchers see two primary forms of social capital:

  • Bonding refers to social capital created within a group with shared interests and goals. A neighborhood association is an example.
  • Bridging is the creation of social capital across groups. If the bridging is successful, individuals in the two groups discover shared interests and goals and work together to achieve them. A neighborhood association that links up with a local police department is an example.

The Internet allows professionals to form global social connections; social capital is no longer narrow and local in scope.

Negative Effects of Social Capital

Social capital can be used for manipulative or destructive purposes. In business, an example would be a group of executives in an industry colluding to market prices. Nefarious groups, such as gangs and drug cartels, use social capital to strengthen bonds within the group and to recruit new members.

Moreover, the emergence of such groups can decrease the overall social capital of a neighborhood or city. Residents and local businesses suffer, and potential customers avoid the area.


This section reviews the literature that links social capital and civic engagement. Putnam (1993, 1995, 2000) argued that social capital is declining in the United States, which results in less civic and political involvement. Putnam (2000) explained that people are becoming more alienated from one another. When people are less connected to society, they care less about societal responsibilities, such as voting. Additionally, Uslaner and Brown (2003) suggested that civic and political engagement should be viewed as separate forms of participation. This stems from the underrepresentation of young adults who are politically engaged (Uslaner and Brown 2003; Kapucu 2011). Civic engagement is a broad term that is generally defined as an individual or aggregate action towards public interests. Civic engagement is commonly measured through political participation, involvement in civic groups, volunteering, charity work, and other activities that improve the community (Putnam 1993; Gil de Zuniga et al. 2012). Trust and civic engagement may also influence social capital and civic participation. This means that civic engagement increases social trust and, in return, social trust aids in increasing civic participation. Social capital is created through this process (Putnam 2000; Uslaner and Brown 2003; Gil de Zuniga et al. 2012). Several theorists have also argued that social capital is positively and strongly associated with civic engagement (Putnam 2000; Uslaner and Brown 2003; Gil de Zuniga et al. 2012). This implies that social capital increases as community involvement increases. Understanding this association allows for scholars to identify how different sources of social capital, such as the SNS, can affect civic engagement.


Putnam (2000) believed that the creation of the internet was partially responsible for a decline in social capital, which led to reduced levels of civic and social participation. Internet users can become alienated from the rest of society because computers are typically used indoors. Additionally, Putnam (2000) argued that communication over the internet is more impersonal, which reduces the level of trust and expectation between online interactions. Researchers have also attempted to determine if internet usage adds, decreases, or supplements social capital. Wellman et al. (2001) studied a sample of 39,211 visitors of the National Geographic website between the years 1998 and 2000. The findings suggested that the internet supplements traditional methods of social networking, such as face-to-face or over the telephone. An interesting discovery was that heavy internet users had increased civic participation, but they had reduced levels of commitment to online groups. Wellman et al. (2001) claimed this evidence showed that the internet was becoming a normalized form of communication in society. Shah et al. (2001) examined the association between internet use and the production of individual-level social capital. Their findings suggested that weak associations exist between internet use and indicators of social capital, which include civic engagement, social trust, and life satisfaction. Recreational usage of the internet resulted in a decline in engagement (b=-.06, p< .5), trust (b=-.08, p< .001), and contentment (b=-.08, p< .001). Using the internet to exchange information was positively correlated with an increase in engagement (b=.11, p< .001), trust (b=.07, p< .05), and contentment (b=.08, p< .01). Those who used the internet for informational 14 purposes were positively associated with the production of individual-level social capital. However, using the internet for social recreation was negatively linked with the creation of social capital (Shah et al. 2001). In other words, those individuals who use the internet as their primary tool for socialization have less access to social resources. Understanding the various types of relationships people form online can help clarify how individuals can benefit from online interactions. Cummings, Butler, and Kraut (2002) reviewed past studies that compared online and offline social relationships and found three central themes. The first theme was that online social networks were valued for their ability to build and sustain work relationships, but not as valued as face-to-face interactions or phone calls. Next, online social networks were important for building and maintaining personal relationships, but face-to-face interactions or phone calls were more important. Lastly, when reviewing longitudinal studies, Cummings et al. (2002) found that new users of the internet felt more connected to others when they interacted face-to-face or over the phone as compared to communicating online. While early studies claimed that online networks have little value, other researchers have examined how online social networking can increase social capital (Cummings et al. 2002).


Social networking sites (SNS) have become a major factor in internet usage. Sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow users to interact with individuals or groups digitally by posting and reading the information provided by others in their network (Baumgartner and Morris 2010). Through these interactions, members of sites are able 15 to connect with individuals or groups who are similar to themselves, as well as those who have differing views (Ellison et al. 2007). In 2013, a PEW study found 72 percent of adults in the United States utilized SNS. This is an increase from 2005 when only eight percent of adults used SNS. In addition, 89 percent of young adults between ages 18 and 29 used social networking sites in 2013. While young adults have been the most typical users of social networking sites, 60 percent of individuals aged 50-64 are now using SNS, as well as 43 percent of those who are over 65 years of age. Furthermore, women (74%) tend to use social networking sites more often than men (70%). People of Hispanic origin (80%) use SNS to a greater extent than Blacks (75%) and Whites (70%). Social networking site usage is relatively consistent with regards to education and income. However, people in urban areas (74%) are more likely to use SNS than people in rural areas (69%) (Brenner and Smith 2013). This expansion of online social networking allows for further analysis of social capital. There are various forms of social networking sites, but the sites most commonly used are Facebook and Twitter. While these sites are both major players in online social networking, they are very different in function. Facebook is the second most visited website in the world and Twitter is tenth (Alexa 2013). Facebook users are allowed to add others as friends, as well as post comments, videos, and pictures. Users also have access to instant messaging, email, and are able to “like” Facebook pages. In the social capital literature, several studies have supported the claim that Facebook is predominately used for maintained and bonding social capital (Ellison et al. 2007; Valenzuela et al. 2009). 16 Twitter users are able to follow individuals, as well as have other individuals follow them. Through following, individuals are able to view status updates on their homepage. However, unlike Facebook, individuals can choose whether or not to follow individuals who are currently following them. Additionally, users are able to post their own or share each other’s status updates, which may include pictures or links. For instance, if an individual sees a status with which he or she agrees, that individual may share the status on his or her own profile. Research on social capital found that Twitter usage has been associated with bridging or expanding networks (Hofer and Aubert 2013).


Researchers have also examined how the motives, usage, and composition of online networks have impacted the production and maintenance of social capital. Given the relatively recent occurrence of SNS, there has been limited research on SNS and social capital. As a result, a few of the studies included in this review examine aspects of social capital indirectly. Researchers initially focused on the internet in general as a tool for networking, but as the landscape of the internet changed, so did the focus of research (Shah et al. 2001). Ellison et al. (2007) studied the link between using SNS and the creation of different forms of social capital. They built on Putnam’s (2000) definition, which differentiated between bonding and bridging forms of social capital, but also incorporated their own concept of maintained social capital. Ellison et al. (2007) surveyed a sample of 286 undergraduate students to find how Facebook usage was related to social capital and psychological well-being. The findings showed that the use 17 of Facebook has been positively correlated with all three types of social capital. Bridging social capital shared the strongest relation to Facebook usage, which was measured by the intensity of Facebook use, individual perception of the network, and the motives behind Facebook use. The results of Ellison et al.’s (2007) study also showed that Facebook usage was linked to the individual’s psychological well-being, which was indicated by measures of self-esteem and life satisfaction. Ellison et al. (2007) explained that Facebook usage was linked to bridging social capital because it makes group participation more convenient and likely. Bonding social capital accounted for less variance but was still related to self-esteem, satisfaction with life, and the intensity of Facebook use. The researchers explained that Facebook helps reinforce the relationships between close groups by reducing the effort required to upkeep close relationships. Facebook intensity was positively associated with maintained social capital, insinuating that the more individuals use Facebook, the more likely they would be able to utilize the resources of others members of their network (Ellison et al. 2007). Aligned with Lin’s (2008) theoretical framework, the following section will discuss the exogenous effect that individuals’ position in the social hierarchy, network structure, and motives have on the creation and maintenance of social capital. Furthermore, the following studies examined how SNS affect measures of social capital, such as life satisfaction, social trust, civic participation, and political participation. Most relevant to this study is the effect SNS have on their users’ civic and political engagement. 18 Subrahmanyam et al. (2008) interviewed a sample of 110 college students from a large urban university about their SNS usage patterns, motives, and online versus offline friend groups. The results showed that 91 percent of respondents surveyed used the internet daily and 63 percent reported using SNS on a daily basis. In 2008, a majority of users (88%) indicated that Myspace was their main SNS, while only 8 percent said that Facebook was their favorite site. This contrasts with the SNS usage reported in the Pew study by Brenner and Smith (2013), which noted that 72 percent of internet users are members of Facebook. This difference in favorite site usage shows how quickly the online social environment can change. The most common motive for SNS was keeping in touch with distant friends (81%). Other reasons included their friends being members of the site (61%), connecting with relatives (48%), and making plans with their close friends (35%). Lastly, almost half (49%) of users had the same top three friends on and offline (Subrahmanyam et al. 2008). Park et al. (2009) examined how motives of Facebook Group users affect their offline political and civic participation among a population of 1,715 college students. Facebook Group users create a sub-network of individuals with a common interest. For instance, various users can “like” Facebook groups that focus on a specific topic, such as a favorite public figure. The researchers identified four common reasons people use SNS, which include socializing, entertainment, status seeking, and information gathering. The results indicated that using SNS for informational purposes was more strongly related to civic and political engagement than using SNS recreationally. Furthermore, user motives varied according to sex, geographic location, and year in school. The demographic features can be classified by Lin’s (2008) exogenous 19 variables. Sex and year in school can be related to a person’s position in the social hierarchy. The individual’s geographic location can also be related to the network characteristics since the user’s network would likely include other users from the same area. Valenzuela et al. (2009) surveyed 2,603 college students from Texas to determine how Facebook intensity and measures of social capital are interlinked. The findings showed statistically significant relationships between measures of life satisfaction when factoring in the intensity of Facebook use (b=.15, p<.001) and social trust (b= .26, p<.001). In addition, life satisfaction (b= .05, p<.001) and intensity of Facebook use (b= .14, p<.001) were significantly related to social trust (Valenzuela et al. 2009). Demographic variables, such as parent’s education level, race, and year in school, were in accordance with Lin’s (2008) notion that the individual’s position in the social hierarchy affects their production of capital. Ahn (2012) examined how usage patterns of two different social networking sites, Facebook and Myspace, were linked with bridging and bonding forms of social capital. This study was unique in that the researcher’s sample consisted of 852 high school students. Studies in this field have typically relied on college students and young adults for their samples. Ahn (2012) used the Internet Social Capital Scale, which is based on Putnam’s (2000) definition of social capital. Overall, the results showed that students who reported using Facebook and Myspace had higher levels of social capital, both online and in school. Ahn (2012) reported that respondents who were members of Facebook (b= 0.12, p<0.05), Myspace (b= 0.23, p<0.05), or both (b= 0.11, p<0.05) had higher levels of bonding capital, but the amount of time spent on SNS had no effect. 20 Moreover, the results showed that being a member of Facebook (b= 0.15, p<0.05) or both SNS (b= 0.18, p<0.05) was related to higher levels of bridging social capital, both in school and online. The amount of time spent on SNS was positively correlated with bridging social capital (b= 0.12, p<0.05), but not with bonding social capital. Unfortunately, being a member of Myspace also had no effect on bridging social capital. Lastly, Ahn (2012) found that having positive experiences on SNS improved only bonding social capital (b= 0.26, p<0.05). Additionally, education is significantly related to participation in civic and political acts, which are both associated with social capital. Paul et al. (2012) examined how online social networking site usage affected academic performance in a sample of 340 college students. The main goal was to determine whether social networking sites could be utilized as effective teaching tools. The results showed a negative correlation between time spent on SNS and academic performance. Paul et al. (2012) suggested this negative association was the result of students not using SNS as an academic resource. However, further analysis showed that students feel competent that they would be able to use SNS for educational reasons if required. This indicates that SNS could be used as a supplement for traditional educational means over an online network. Providing students with another source of learning could help educate and result in higher levels of civic and political engagement and more social capital (Paul et al. 2012). Gil de Zunig

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