Saraf Anika Chowdhury
Thursday 3:00 PM
Understanding The Concept
Social capital is a concept that is of significance in the contemporary society due to its relevance and impact in several cultural aspects. It is important to understand the term ‘social capital’ in order to get better insight on any discourse on the matter. To understand social capital, it is important to understand the concept of capital. Capital can be simply described as an “investment of resources with expected returns in the marketplace” (Lin 2011, p. 3). Capital can also be described as that resource that is invested and mobilized with expectation of profit (Lin 2011). According to Lin (2011, p.3), “in the past two decades, social capital in its various forms and contexts has emerged as one of the most salient forms of capital”. Pierre Bourdieu defines the concept of Social Capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition” (Portes 1998, p.3). According to Portes, Bourdieu’s treatment of the concept of social capital is instrumental as it focuses on the profits and benefits earned by individuals through participation and construction of such resource. He adds that Bourdieu’s description of social capital indicates that it can be used by individuals to access economic resources, which can be then used to increase their cultural capital through contact with expert individuals or institutions (Portes 1998).
Bourdieu’s concept of social capital has two components; the first envisions it as a resource that is involved with group membership and social networks and the second relies on mutual recognition and cognition (Siisiäinen 2003). According to Siisiäinen (2003), modern examples of embodiments of social capital can be seen in trade unions, political parties, voluntary associations, and secret societies among others. Membership in groups and involvement in the developing social networks within these groups, and the social relations stemming from these interactions allow individuals to improve their social positions and establish themselves as actors of influence in the relevant field (Siisiäinen 2003). Bourdieu’s description of social capital insists that the outcomes of possessing social capital are reducible to economic capital; however, transactions involving social capital can often be characterized by uncertain time horizons, unspecified obligations and the possible violation of reciprocity expectations (Portes 1998). “By their very lack of clarity, these transactions can help disguise what otherwise would be plain market exchanges”, says Portes (1998, p.4).
Social Capital and Social Networking Sites
Social networking sites can be described as web based platforms and services that allow individuals to create public or semi-public profiles within a system and are platforms that allow communication with other profiles with those the individuals share a connection (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). “Most social networking sites share a number of common features such as profiles, list of connections, comments and private messaging” (Hinton & Hjorth 2013, p. 34). There are many diverse social networking sites all catering to enhance user-to-user communication. Social networking sites facilitate creation of virtual communities and social capital plays a key role in these online networks by making and maintaining these virtual communities (Hinton & Hjorth 2013).
Social networking sites and social media facilitate a fundamental function that is participation. People’s online experiences often consist of actively providing information and creation of personal content. Creation of user generated content and user created content and sharing of these contents encourages various types of labour sharing, ranging from creative and social to emotional and affective labour (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). By using social networking platforms to share media content the users have shifted from playing the role of a consumer to playing the role of a producer. When sharing these contents, the platforms ability to enable two-way communication allows the users access to public response (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). According to Hinton & Hjorth (2013, p. 58), “ instead of simply responding to content that has been created by an organization, here the users becomes the source of the original material. Bloggers become journalists, fans become the authors of extension to books and films”.
Social networking sites and platforms encourage user content sharing and participation; these participation increases the users recognition and familiarity. The social capital can be linked to having a digital reputation online. These qualities are popularly seen in the digital landscape through Internet gurus who often have large fan followings, but are also qualities possessed by regular users. “The number of times a name comes up in a Google search, an Ebay rating as a buyer or seller, the number of friends on Facebook, or followers on Twitter can all be seen as representations of digital reputation – the general public feeling or sentiment about a product, person or service” (Hearn 2010, p. 422).
By possessing a high degree of social capital and strong digital influence and by having access to social networking sites, individuals possess the ability to use the platform and establish a career; that incorporated with innovation and patent outputs can benefit the individuals by providing them higher chances of survival and ability to achieve high earnings. This makes online participation an activity of high value and by encouraging people to openly make use of these platforms individuals are motivated to transparently express their opinions and feelings (Hearn 2010). “In addition, simply by expressing their opinions and feelings, individuals have become empowered participants in an emerging online economy; feelings and opinions expressed in the form of ranking and rating for example, build personal reputation, which functions, in turn, as a new form of currency and, more generally, value” (Hearn 2010, p. 422). Establishing and facilitating social networks can thus potentially enable new communicative and affective transparency online and allow producing of an ethical economy (Hearn 2010).
Digital Influencers and Popular Example
The contemporary understanding of social capital is often associated with the concept of branding. According to McCue (2013), just as building a reputation for a brand helps companies stand the test of time social capital does the same for individuals. In the current social media landscape this social capital is also used to influence consumer behaviour. This is a highly effective way to influence consumer behaviour as through the help of technology the access of the influencer is larger and the audience is easily and cost effectively communicable (McCue 2013).
Marketing and branding have become central activities of contemporary capitalism (Hearn 2010). “Branding practices increasingly attempt to establish virtual contexts for consumption; experiences, spaces, relationships are all branded. In addition, branding activities are entirely dependent on the processes of meaning making and sociality of consumers as they not only buy but also live through the brand” (Hearn 2010, p. 426). This can be seen through the works of popular Internet users or digital influencers. The use of social capital can be seen in works of these digital influencers as over 80% of U.S. consumers reported being influenced in the decision to purchase a product or service by what they read or watched through the Internet, most often through content created by other users (Different Perspective 2014). Digital users are able to be highly influential as their profiles appear to be personal and by sharing their personal information they are able to create a sense of trust among their followers. The ability to conduct two-way communication allows them to build credibility (Different Perspective 2014).
Being a digital influencer is a career and can be a high paying one depending on the individual’s social capital. Popular Internet personality Michel Phan earns $3 million a year, comedy duo Smosh earns in $8.5 million a year and the most popular digital influencer currently, Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) earns $12 million dollars a year (Kreuser 2016). This shows that by using their social capital, features of social media platforms, user generated content and user created content, individuals are able to brand themselves into profit making business.
This has been a key concept that I have learnt this semester. My understanding of the group task working for the client was to provide them with ideas that would help them build social capital. By building social capital, social media tactics can be effectively used to gain results.
This is also an important concept uncovered due to its relevance to the contemporary cultural landscape. With the emergence of highly influential digital influencers it is important to be aware of how they are shaping the communities and the society.
Different Perspective 2014, ‘The Business Of Internet Influencers’, Different Perspective, accessed April 23, 2017, from <https://dppad.com/the-business-of-internet-influencers/>.
Hearn, A 2010, ‘Structuring feeling: Web 2.0, online ranking and rating, and the digital ‘reputation’ economy’, Ephemera: theory & politics in organisation, vol. 10, no. 3/4, pp. 421-438.
Hinton, S & Hjorth, L 2013, Understanding social media, 1st edn, SAGE, Los Angeles, CA.
Kreuser, A 2016, ‘What Influencers Like Michelle Phan and PewDiePie Get Paid’, Inc., accessed April 23, 2017, from <https://www.inc.com/amanda-pressner-kreuser/the-pricing-of-fame-what-social-influencers-are-getting-paid.html>.
Lin, N 2011, Social Capital, 1st edn, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
McCue, T 2013, ‘Social Capital Is Path To Social Selling’, Forbes, accessed April 23, 2017, from <https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2013/06/30/social-capital-is-path-to-social-selling/#35469737384a>.
Portes, A 1998, ‘Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology’, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 1-24.
Siisiäinen, M 2003, ‘Two concepts of social capital: Bourdieu vs. Putnam’, International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 183-204.