Social Network Analysis: Check out my friend list

Humans form and maintain relationships with people regularly. Consider your family members, your business partners, your teachers, etc., etc. We operate under the assumption that among interacting individuals, forming relationships is of great importance. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a method used to analyze and simplify complex human systems by “mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers or other information/knowledge processing entities” (as cited in Gretzel, 2001). Various pieces of information can be used to form relations in the network data, including: kinship, social roles, distance, affective (like, hate, respect), and transference of resources (Gretzel, 2001). In order to utilize and organize information further, the researchers draw upon several different social theories. The theory I focus my post on is the theory of social capital.

The theory of social capital is straightforward in that people make investments in social relations in order to achieve some return. This theory can be viewed on both an individual and a group basis. One perspective looks at individual as they discover resources in their social network in order to achieve their expected return. Theorists ask: How do individuals choose to invest in their social relations? How do they utilize their resources to gain a return? (Lin, 1999). Another way to study social capital is to look at it on a group level. How do group members work together to gain and maintain capital? How does the collective accumulation of capital benefit individual members? (Lin, 1999). Social capital can be hard to quantify but some researchers have tried to measure it using distance from resourceful places (network distances) or embedded resources in the network. One way to more easily find out this information, researchers can look to social networking sites.

A great number of social network sites have been developed in order to form and maintain a variety of relationships including romantic relationship initiation, work related opportunities, and connecting via shared interests. Individuals connect with people they know offline as well as meet new people. One site that has revolutionized social media is Facebook. Social networking, Facebook in particular, has become especially popular among college-aged students. There are arguments for and against social networking sites on the Internet increase or decrease social capital. In relation to college students, it may act to maintain connections with high school friends (as well as the possible resources that they carry….) (Ellison et al. 2007). In addition, college students and young adults often correlate having a lot of friends on Facebook to a great amount of social capital. Whether that’s accurate or not is debatable.

Ellison, et al. (2007) did research on the benefits of Facebook “friends” on social capital in college students. Researchers conducted an online survey at Michigan State University. The survey gathered information on frequency of  Facebook usage, information included on their profile, utilization for meeting new people versus connecting with offline relations, and general well-being. The participants then answered questions regarding social capital at Michigan State University. There were three measures of social capital: bridging (exchange of information among individuals of an institution), bonding (close relations with specific individuals), and maintained social capital (exchange of information with previous relations). Results indicated that Facebook usage had positive effects on offline behavior. There was a strong association between Facebook use of college students and the three types of social capital, most significantly with bridging social capital (Ellison et al., 2007). Results also indicated Facebook had a  positive correlation with psychological well-being which may prove the site beneficial to users with low self-esteem.

Humans and other mammals will continue to interact and form relationships. There are a variety of studies concerned with the expected and achieved social capital. Ellison, et al. (2007) studied the correlation of Facebook usage with social capital. It would be interesting to see this study repeated now that the website is not limited to college students. How would it affect social capital in young adults who opt not to go to college or even in older adults? As technology advances more and more, there are more and more ways to connect to each other. But will these increased online communication prove detrimental to our social capital at a certain point? We’ll have to keep tabs on that.

 

Resources:

Ellison, N.B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe C. (2007, August). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of   Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168. doi: 1o.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x

 

Gretzel, U. (2011, November). Social Network Analysis: Introduction and Resources. Retrieved February 18, 2016, from http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/tse-portal/analysis/social-network-analysis/

 

Lin, N. (1999). Building a Network Theory of Social Capital. Connections, 22(1), 28-51. Retrieved from http://www.insna.org/PDF/Connections/v22/1999_I-1-4.pdf

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