Social Capital and College Students' Use of Online Social Network Sites: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
The Benefits of Facebook 'Friends': Social Capital and College Students' Use of Online Social Network Sites
Nicole B. Ellison / Charles Steinfield /Cliff Lampe
Michigan State University, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media
This study examines the relationship between use of Facebook, a popular online social network site, and the formation and maintenance of social capital. In addition to assessing bonding and bridging social capital, we explore a dimension of social capital that assesses one's ability to stay connected with members of a previously inhabited community, which we call maintained social capital. Regression analyses conducted on results from a survey of undergraduate students (N=286) suggest a strong association between use of Facebook and the three types of social capital, with the strongest relationship being to bridging social capital. In addition, Facebook usage was found to interact with measures of psychological well-being, suggesting that it might provide greater benefits for users experiencing low self-esteem and low life satisfaction.
Our empirical results contrast with the anecdotal evidence dominating the popular press. Although there are clearly some image management problems experienced by students as reported in the press, and the potential does exist for privacy abuses, our findings demonstrate a robust connection between Facebook usage and indicators of social capital, especially of the bridging type. Internet use alone did not predict social capital accumulation, but intensive use of Facebook did.
The strong linkage between Facebook use and high school connections suggests how SNSs help maintain relations as people move from one offline community to another. It may facilitate the same when students graduate from college, with alumni keeping their school email address and using Facebook to stay in touch with the college community. Such connections could have strong payoffs in terms of jobs, internships, and other opportunities. Colleges may want to explore ways to encourage this sort of usage.
Online social network sites may play a role different from that described in early literature on virtual communities. Online interactions do not necessarily remove people from their offline world but may indeed be used to support relationships and keep people in contact, even when life changes move them away from each other. In addition to helping student populations, this use of technology could support a variety of populations, including professional researchers, neighborhood and community members, employees of companies, or others who benefit from maintained ties.
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook "friends:" Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), article 1. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/ellison.html