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Social Networking Argumentative

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Pierre Bourdieu defines 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 and recognition” . Nan Lin’s definition is much more straightforward: “Investment in social relations with expected returns in the marketplace”. Put another way, social capital is the use of interpersonal relationships to gain an advantage in the marketplace – an academic wording of the adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

With the advent of social networking tools on the Internet, the process of meeting new people has received a cyberspace twist. Though social networking initially began as a way of meeting new friends or acquaintances, the potential of websites like MySpace or Facebook for building up significant social capital is slowly being realized. New entrants like LinkedIn and Xing are built around providing social networking services explicitly for business purposes.

Social networking services promote the building of social capital by expediting the process of “meeting” new people. A user of MySpace can easily maintain correspondence with his or her contacts. Moreover, he or she can check his contacts’ contacts and in the process hope to become acquaintances with his second or third degree contacts. Social networking tools make it easier for a person to increase those who know him. A person can data mine the network of contacts that social networking provides to be able to find relevant person or people that can give him “expected returns in the marketplace” as per Nan Lin’s definition.

            Aside from simply increasing ones numbers of contacts, social networking tools allow one to reach target audiences better. As opposed to traditional advertising and marketing methods, connecting with users through social networking sites can be perceived as a more personal and targeted way of reaching ones customers. This is the relation between supplier and customer becomes one between contacts even if the connection is strictly on the Internet. Connecting through social networking gives the user a sense of perceived intimacy which will hopefully translate to loyalty. Having a dedicated group of users organized through social networking also makes collecting feedback easier as well as providing a means to directly communicate with people who are the most likely early adopters of your product or service.

            A key factor in evaluating whether a social networking service is more adept at increasing ones social capital as compared to another would be the user base of the particular service. While MySpace and Facebook lead the pack in number of users with hundreds of millions of members, their makeup may not be appropriate for your needs. Sermo is a social networking service that only has 20,000 members but all its members are US M.D.s or D.O.s which may be more relevant to build the social capital of someone in the medical industry.

            The features of a particular social networking service may also be more adept at building social capital. Because of the requirement of bearing expected results in the marketplace, having contacts is not enough. While MySpace’s shoutouts maybe entertaining for its teenage users, it is of no importance to a professional looking to increase his social capital. New entrants like LinkedIn provide features which are more relevant to building social capital as opposed to expanding one’s social circle. LinkedIn allows one to search one’s network based on educational background, professional experience, and previous positions held. While not as exciting as “favorite movie”, these things are more relevant for people who are looking for contacts to increase their social capital.


Bourdieu, P. (1986), The Forms of Capital, in John G. Richardson (edt), Handbook of Theory and Research in the Sociology of Education, New York, Greenwald Press.

Lin, N. (2001), Social capital. A theory of social structure and action, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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