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Social Networks and Social Capital


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Social Networks and Social Capital

  1. 1. Social Networks & Social Capital Social Media – Dr. Giorgos Cheliotis ( Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore
  2. 2. Terminology: Social Networks Social networks are the networks formed by social ties  They can be ego-centric (personal networks) or alter/community-centric (see our notes on communities)  Generally they are both: my personal social network consists of people who are not connected to each other in any other direct or indirect way, but also of people who belong to some community (defined by kinship, interest, practice, or other) and hence likely know each other as well. *  Social ties can be maintained online and/or offline * This does not necessarily indicate which are strong or weak ties; but it is more likely that my strong ties will also know each other. It follows that those that are only connected through me are probably weak ties. But that does not mean that wherever we see a network of 3 or more people all knowing each other is it necessarily a network of strong ties! They could belong to the same social club and thus all know each other solely through the club’s annual meetings, which means their ties would be weak. 2 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  3. 3. Terminology: Social Networking Social networking is an activity aimed towards the creation of new ties or the maintenance of one’s social network (usually for professional advantage)  It is supported by one’s social networks  The term is sometimes liberally used in lieu of social networks or social network sites (SNS), e.g., ‘social networking sites’  It is more applicable to SNS which are built primarily for the purpose of extending one’s network for personal or professional advantage (e.g., LinkedIn) 3 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  4. 4. Terminology: Social Network Site (SNS) Social Network Sites (SNS) are websites that are primarily geared towards the management of one’s personal social network  They are thus more ego-centric by design, although they can also be used by online communities  Great platforms for social networking, but support a greater variety of activities  Key advantage over offline social network management: ties are made explicit and recorded for future reference and search by self or others; ease creation of new ties  Caveat: many social ties may not be reflected in a specific SNS; each SNS presents only a partial picture of one’s social network 4 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  5. 5. Social Network Sites are…  making headlines on a daily basis  used by millions of people around the world  banned from several corporate networks  banned entirely in some countries  loved by their loyal users and derided by skeptics  monitored by marketers for mentions of known brands  monitored by censors for mentions of sensitive topics  used by governments for outreach and communication  used by journalists as sources of rumor and information  used by law enforcement in crime investigation  tapped by companies and celebrities in brand management  read by employers when evaluating job candidates  forcing us to rethink friendship, community, self and privacy  constantly evolving… 5 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  6. 6. SNS history lessons  The cultures that emerge around SNSs are varied (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)  SNS design and policies change and the platforms evolve (via top-down action or in response to user demands)  Unexpected uses or uses not catered for by the SNS design pose problems for owners and administrators of platforms  Sustained conflicts between management and users will result in users replacing one SNS for another (attrition)  SNSs can use a variety of strategies to attract target user demographics (broad vs. narrow, local vs. international, activity- centered, etc.)  However, user demographics can change beyond management’s control  Homophily a double-edged sword: leads to growth but also to homogenization and ‘labeling’ which limits broader appeal 6 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
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  8. 8. Case Study: Facebook (1 of 2)  Starting small and narrow  Allows website owner to cater to target demographic first and ensure design is adequate for this audience  Cultural, generation gap and language issues can be mitigated with narrow strategy  Opening up  After securing target audience, opening up the floodgates by relaxing membership requirements can greatly increase platform’s user base  Some ‘oldtimers’ will not be pleased at the dilution of membership characteristics; allowing users to create own open or closed subnetworks/groups can remedy this  Search and recommendation features make it easy to filter through growing user base and discover useful latent ties  Localization is key to attracting global user base  Not necessary during early stages  Risk: country/language-specific competitors may gain foothold early and lock in users  Customization and extensibility by third parties  Allowing users to customize their experience and self-presentation is essential; but superficial changes such as changing colors and backgrounds of interface are not (depends also on culture and demographic)  After securing a large enough user base, providing the tools for third parties to build applications that extend platform’s functionality or desktop and mobile clients, will add a lot of value to users (Facebook Pages, FBML) 8 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  9. 9. Case Study: Facebook (2 of 2)  Responsiveness to user demands  Balancing one’s own vision of how the platform should evolve with user demands is necessary (see Facebook privacy and data ownership disputes)  Providing tools for ordinary users, civil society organizations, professionals and companies to leverage social networks for the management of their brands or the promotion of products, campaigns and causes will add further value  Becoming a hub  Making it easy to cross-link and authenticate across platforms will make users happier and encourage other platforms to link to you (assuming you have already reached critical size) (see Facebook Connect and Facebook Links)  Advanced search and navigation functions plus indexing by major search engines increase ease of use and visiblity  Combating attrition  By providing a rich set of features and encouraging users to invest a lot of time in building online presence, cost of switching to another platform is increased along with customer loyalty (consider Facebook Photo Albums which some users use as main photo repository)  Making it easy to invite one’s friends to Facebook not only adds value to user but also increases switching costs because of network effects (single user less likely to switch if friends all using the same platform)  Caveat: an overly aggressive lock-in strategy may alienate some users who will opt for more ‘open’ alternatives 9 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  10. 10. Additional issues in SNS (1 of 2)  Profile page and ‘friendship’ list as identity markers, performance, or Self-presentation ‘signals’ and friendship  Strong vs. weak ties and limits to size of one’s social circle management  Issue of authenticity of profile and network  Roles in SNS (passive members, active networkers, bridges, key players, organizers, etc.) Network  Clustering effects by language, culture, interest, identification of structure communities and sub-networks  Analysis of structure to identify latent ties  Reconstruction of user private data and phishing through publicly Privacy, public exposed profile data and exploitation of trusted strong ties impressions and  User (in)ability to manage public impressions surveillance  User data protection policies and government surveillance  User-initiated tracking of members, stalking and ‘human flesh search’  Policies, misunderstandings and conflicts regarding ownership of data Data ownership, and media items posted by users on SNSs free speech and  Policies regarding copyrighted content copyright  Allowed forms of speech (culture and jurisdiction-dependent) 10 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  11. 11. Additional issues in SNS (2 of 2)  Social capital debate (similar to debate on online communities’ role in Support and promoting or eroding social cohesion) knowledge  SNSs in context of organizations and other specific social contexts (e.g. sharing in college campus, in firms, etc.)  How SNSs can accommodate for different social norms  Avoiding cultural conflicts between different user populations in the Glocalization same SNS  Attracting an international audience  How SNSs reach critical mass and dominate in local markets  Children and young adult use of SNS Youth  Risks (stalking, predation, sexually charged content)  Role of SNS in socialization  How news, innovations and rumors propagate in SNS Information  What sources/profiles are trusted more diffusion  Crises, hoaxes, pranks and social dramas unfolding through online social networks 11 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  12. 12. On data, reports and visualizations  Relative ease of tracking the traces left behind by electronic communication has led to cottage market in statistics, reports and infographics  Beware: sources not always trustworthy and methodologies not perfect and not documented properly  Not a replacement for own data collection and research but can be useful for getting a feel for the global reach and use of SNSs 12 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
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  16. 16. How could we explain differences in adoption? 1. It could be just a matter who reaches critical mass first, which can be entirely unpredictable 2. It may be a matter of key local online players becoming lead users and helping spread the platform by word of mouth 3. Local presence of company, localization of website and sensitivity to local cultural are also likely factors 4. Or is it a combination of luck in achieving critical mass, a knack for attracting leading online users, and localization, i.e. a combination of the above? 5. Is it conceivable that a future platform built in a small country and/or in a minority culture could become international and achieve broad appeal? 16 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  17. 17.  How do online social networks augment one’s offline social network?  What is the net balance for society and for individuals from the increased use of SNSs? 17 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  18. 18. Social Capital The term broadly refers to ‘resources’ that accrue to an individual or group through the maintenance of a network of social ties. It is more often associated with intangible resources representative of social cohesion (e.g., trust, reciprocity, mutual support). A social group’s or individual’s stock of social capital can be thought of as a reservoir of social trust and support that they can tap into in their daily lives and especially in times of need. Pro-social behavior, e.g., demonstrating care for one’s friends, helps replenish the stock. Strong ties traditionally privileged in social capital discourse but ‘strength of weak ties’ brought some balance Frequent use of the reservoir without replenishment, e.g., through selfish exploitation of the stock for one’s own advancement, will lead to faster depletion with a resulting loss in social cohesion. In this sense, social capital is a special case of a ‘public good’, or ‘commons’. 18 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  19. 19. Dimensions of social capital 1. Bonding (Putnam)  Generated by strong ties. Considered essential in every society. Concerns over loss of bonding social capital prevalent in related scholarship (see also our earlier notes on communities)  Bonging social capital is the effect of maintaining strong ties 2. Bridging (Putnam)  Weak ties at play; ‘bridges’ more essential than other weak ties. Complementing or making up for loss of strong ties and increasing in importance in modern urban societies and CMC  Bridging social capital is the effect of maintaining bridges Maintained (Ellison et al.)  Social capital salvaged by CMC after physical disconnection from offline social network (implies some social capital lost by physical disconnection, e.g., move to another place for work or study) 19 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  20. 20. Results of study by Ellison et al. Facebook use positively associated in university campus with:  Bridging social capital Students who use Facebook more frequently perceive a greater connection to the wider campus community Significant and sizeable effect, regression model used by researchers can explain a lot of the variance in bonging social capital (beta=.34, Adj. R2=.44)  Bonding social capital Students who use Facebook more frequently perceive a greater availability of trusted parties and support networks in campus Variables in model can only explain smaller percentage of variance (Adj. R2=.23): Result is weaker in explanatory power, i.e. model not as good in capturing bonding social capital (study limitation)  Maintained social capital Students who use Facebook more frequently perceive a greater connection to old high school friends Variables in model can only explain smaller percentage of variance (Adj. R2=.16): Result is weaker in explanatory power, i.e. model not as good in capturing maintained social capital (study limitation) 20 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  21. 21. Thoughts and additional findings  Main target audience for Facebook profile seem to be old friends and then current friends and acquaintances from immediate environment; but strongest results of study are with respect to the effects of weak ties (bridging social capital)  Possible interpretation: users maintain FB pages for their friends and closer circle of acquaintances but FB is actually most helpful in the management of weak ties  FB more valuable in bridging for users with low self-esteem and/or dissatisfaction with professional and/or social environment  Possible interpretation: CMC helps users overcome social or psychological barriers to communication 21 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  22. 22. Thoughts on Design Users must be able to search for and be findable by the contacts they seek (depends on user) However, allowing for serendipitous connections to occur is also essential SNSs can be particularly useful for users suffering from social exclusion or experiencing difficulty in making connections for other reasons What are the options and profile fields that are Think about SNSs you essential for different user demographics? use, why they appeal to you, and why they may How can SNSs help mitigate particular forms of not appeal to others; discrimination and social exclusion? Aren’t these how could they be naturally propagated online? improved? 22 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  23. 23. Credits and licensing  Front page photo by janine berben (license: CC BY-NC-ND)  Facebook screenshot by Robert S. Donovan (license: CC BY)  SNS history chart taken from Boyd & Ellison, 2007 in JCMC  Facebook infographic published in the New York Times  French global social media map published in Le Monde  German global map from ethority  Asia map by Ogilvy  Reservoir photo by snappybex (license: CC BY)  Ethernet cable photo by Jonathan Ah Kit (license: CC BY-NC-ND) Original content in this presentation is licensed under the Creative Commons Singapore Attribution 3.0 license unless stated otherwise (see above) 23 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (