Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

Can Social Capital Be Transferred Cross the Boundary of the Real and Virtual Worlds? an Empirical Investigation of Twitter

Academic journal article Journal of Electronic Commerce Research

Can Social Capital Be Transferred Cross the Boundary of the Real and Virtual Worlds? an Empirical Investigation of Twitter

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Micro-blogs like Twitter are playing increasingly important roles in social life. Some key users of Twitter have drawn huge attention from other people. Their opinions have had significant influence on the rest of Twitter users. In other words, these people are highly reputable and have more social capital in the Twitter world. But what factors contribute to the social capital in a part of the virtual world like Twitter is still largely unknown. This paper investigates the source of social capital in the Twitter world. We identify two types of sources that influence a user's social capital in the Twitter world: (1) inherited capital from outside the Twitter world; and (2) social activities conducted within the Twitter world. The results show that both inherited capital from outside, and activities within, the Twitter world, have positive influence on a user's social capital in the Twitter world. Our results suggest that social capital can be transferred from the real world to the virtual one. Meanwhile the inherited social capital of a user from outside the Twitter world significantly impacts the level of activities the user undertakes in the Twitter world. For ordinary people, inherited social capital positively associates with the level of their social activities in the Twitter world. But for the most well known Twitter users, who are usually celebrities, this relationship is negative. Implications for research and practice are further discussed.

Keywords: social network, social capital transference, Twitter, Google

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

The emergence of a group of Internet-based Web 2.0 technologies, often referred to as social media, has made individuals more connected than ever before. Individuals are enjoying, and are empowered by, these technologies, including benefits resulting from extensive communication, self-expression, information and knowledge sharing and enhanced collaboration. Importance and usage of micro-blogging, a broadcast medium in the form of blogging [Wikipedia 2011], have been growing. Micro-blogging "allows users to exchange small elements of content such as short sentences, individual images, or video links" [Kaplan & Michael 2011]. Numerous micro-blogging websites have been established, the most popular of which is Twitter. It integrates social networking and micro-blogging [Thompson 2007] and has achieved an impressive growth rate in terms of number of unique visitors. As an efficient diffusion channel, Twitter has been used to broadcast health information [Chew & Eysenbach 2010; Scanfeld et al. 2010], product information [Jansen et al. 2009; Zhao & Rosson 2009] and information about natural disasters [Takeshi et al. 2010], besides numerous other types of information. Twitter is also an instrumental tool for teaching and [Jensen et al. 2010] for users to collaborate with others in social networks [Grosseck & Holotescu 2008].

Individuals' virtual social networks are often many times larger than their real-world social networks. As social capital is a kind of valuable resource embedded within the relationships among people within a social network, this emerging Twitter phenomenon and the relationships between Twitterers' (i.e., those who tweet, Twitter users) virtual and the real worlds provoke many interesting questions. For example, "What makes one user more famous or reputable than others in the Twitter world?"; "Why do some users have more followers than others in the Twitter world?"; and "Can a user transfer his or her social capital in the real world to the Twitter world?" To answer these questions, this study explores the mechanisms of social capital formation in the Twitter world. Based on data from 1,943 users of Twitter and 1,000 most popular users from TwitterHolic,a we identify the key factors that contribute to top Twitter users' social capital and discuss important implications for those who use or intend to use Twitter. …

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