Social capital, reputation and trust
This post is aimed at compiling a bunch of different thoughts that I’ve been having about the Trust & Reputation area of my project. I’m becoming more interested in the ways that people are using social media to develop trust and reputations for their business, trading on social capital in order to do so.
‘Social capital‘ is a concept that’s being flung around a lot. Oxoby(2009) refers to two different definitions for it. Putnam’s (1995) definition is the one I’m most familiar with: considering social capital as a stock that is “an accumulation of individuals’ investments in community.” Dayton-Johnson (2003) is a bit more specific: paraphrased in Oxoby’s article as “an individual’s sacrifices (time, effort, consumption) made in an effort to promote cooperation with others.” Dayton-Johnson separates social capital (flow of investment) from social cohesion (stock of those investments).
That leads me into concepts like embeddedness, from Granovetter’s (1985) work: the degree to which an entity is embedded in a social network. Strong ties have an a direct impact on business behaviour (Uzzi 1997), while weak ties help to link together different clusters of stronger ties (Granovetter 1983). I found a Master’s thesis that looks at online social networks, and how information sharing leads to the generation of social capital (Coulson 2009). It’s not focussed on business owners, but it’s the first piece I’ve read that specifically examines how users (in this case, a group of 20-something college students) go about creating and maintaining weak ties via social networking sites.
Community engagement is a big part of what my case study participants are trying to do online. It’s the ‘social’ part of social media: not just talking directly to suppliers and customers, but getting them to talk about you as well. Consultants get people referring them to potential customers. Restaurants get bloggers spreading the word about special events. Retailers get groups of customers keeping each other informed about new releases. I want to find out how each business is doing that (through a year or so of trying different methods!), in order to look at ways of helping businesses engage more efficiently.