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Social Media and Relationships



Understanding how social media systems affect the way people work, learn, and live requires examination of the ways in which social media use is affected by and affects relationships. No matter what the underlying technology, the power of social media systems arises from the impact they have on relationships. Whether in friendship and dating relationships or professional and work relationships, social media use shapes and is shaped by how individuals see their relationships, who they have relationships with, and how those relationships are formed, maintained, and ended.
Social Media and
University of Maryland, US
University of Queensland, Australia
systems have become deeply embedded in many
day-to-day relationships. A grandmother sees
pictures of all her grandchildrens activities and
accomplishments, even though the family is
dispersed all over the world. A college student
receives a reward for referring her roommate
to an online site that has an open programmer
position. Videos of cats, babies, and famous (and
not so famous) people are seen widely as they
are shared from one person to another. Politi-
cians face scandals when private messages and
photos become public. Project team members are
able to work together more eectively because
friends from high school and nd new friends
at college through email and Facebook. Sales-
people carefully monitor who they connect to on
LinkedIn to avoid being accused of stealing their
communicate, exchange information, and share
digital artifacts (e.g., photos and videos) with one
another, oen in the context of larger groups,
communities, or networks. Social media systems
are very diverse. ey include wikis, micro and
normal blogs, online social networks for personal
and professional use, virtual worlds, and online
community platforms (Kaplan & Haenlein,
2010). Social media systems can be standalone
or be incorporated into larger multipurpose plat-
e International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, First Edition.
Edited by Robin Mansell and Peng Hwa Ang.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118290743.wbiedcs097
organization or support interaction and sharing
outside the context of traditional organizations.
Although the nature of the underlying tech-
nologies and features of specic social media
systems vary signicantly, a common element of
are involved in. Social media systems all support
some form of interaction and information shar-
ing, whether it is explicit interaction based on the
exchange of discrete messages among identied
individuals (e.g., social networking sites), or
indirect interaction that takes place through the
construction and discussion of shared artifacts
(e.g., wikis and blogs). However, explaining the
use and impact of social media systems requires
recognition that interpersonal communication
is not an isolated mechanical action. How a
social media system is used, what information
is exchanged, what communication occurs, and
how that information sharing aects individuals
and their behavior is inevitably shaped by the rela-
tionships that individuals have with one another.
Social media use and the interactions it supports
exist within the context of family relationships,
work relationships, collaborations, acquaintance
relationships, and friendships. Understanding the
full potential, impact, and limitations of social
media systems requires an analysis of how they
are aected by and aect interpersonal relation-
ships. More than simple information sharing,
social media systems matter because of the ways
they leverage and change relationships.
Online and Offline Relationships
and Social Media
ere is a well-developed, interdisciplinary body
of research that considers how social media
enabled online relationships relate to oine rela-
tionships. As the scale and scope of the internet
have grown, online relationships, or relationships
in which individuals interact entirely through
computer mediated communications systems
such as email, have become more common. ese
relationships in which interactions between
individuals occur through traditional media
such as telephone or face-to-face conversation.
Scholars and commentators have described
three ways in which social media enabled online
tionships: (1) social media systems enable new
relationships by overcoming the limitations
of oine relationships; (2) social media systems
enable online relationships that substitute for, and
thus diminish, oine relationships; and (3) social
media systems enable online relationships that
complement and reinforce oine relationships
(Ellison et al., 2010).
Online relationships as new opportunities
Much of the initial excitement about social
media systems over the past several decades has
stemmed from a somewhat utopian view of their
potential to enable relationships that otherwise
would be dicult or impossible. rough the use
of social media, individuals can “meet,” befriend,
and work with people in organizations and coun-
tries that would otherwise not be accessible. For
example, microblogs enabled some political activ-
ities in the Middle East during the Arab Spring
in 2011; and social networking sites allow indi-
viduals with rare medical conditions to receive
information and support from one another.
Online relationships underlie the formation of
new groups and the emergence of new social
links between existing communities (Ellison
et al., 2010). Individuals living in geographically
isolated communities can develop learning, col-
laborative, and social relationships outside their
immediate area. Employees in distributed, multi-
national rms can develop the relationships they
need in order to nd and use expertise within
the larger organization. e ability to support
the formation of new relationships that bridge
geographic, political, and social boundaries is a
signicant driver of social media’s transformative
impact on organizations and society.
Online relationships as substitutes
ere is a longstanding, popular narrative about
social media enabled online relationships sub-
stituting for, competing with, and otherwise
diminishing oine relationships (Wang & Well-
man, 2010). For example, a commonly expressed
concern is that teenagers are not developing
valuable communication and social skills because
they only interact through features of social media
systems such as pokes, tweets, and texts. Similar
concerns surface about social groups in public
settings such as restaurants and parks, where the
individuals in the groups are present but ignoring
one another because they are focused on their
mobile devices. Such anecdotes support the idea
that social media enabled online relationships
can displace and damage oine interaction and
Research on relationship formation suggests
that social media systems may increase the homo-
geneity of relationships with potentially negative
consequences. When given a choice, individuals
results in relationship networks composed of
people with similar attitudes, beliefs, knowl-
edge, and even appearance. In oine contexts,
individuals’ choices are limited by geographic,
organizational, and social constraints and, as a
result, relationship networks tend to be diverse.
Social media systems reduce these constraints,
allowing people to select relationship partners
from a much larger population. e principle
of homophily suggests that when social media
enabled online relationships substitute for oine
relationships, people will create more homoge-
neous sets of relationships, a phenomenon with
important implications for political news and
information sharing networks.
Questions have also been raised about the qual-
ity of online relationships when they substitute
for oine relationships. In some regards, online
relationships are direct substitutes for oine
relationships. Communication with a colocated
friend and interaction with a friend who is
halfway around the world are, at some level, just
two competing ways for individuals to spend
their time and energy. Individuals routinely make
such choices and choose the relationship that
they value and benet from more. However,
while online and oine relationships seem to be
direct substitutes, dierences between the media
introduce subtle dierences in the relationships
that individuals may not take into account. Social
media enabled online relationships may seem like
ships, but those relationships can be insucient
if physical touch or intensive persuasion are
necessary. Similarly, social media systems may
enable long-distance collaborations, but partic-
ipants oen nd that those relations are more
needs change. As a consequence, social media
enabled online relationships are oen imper-
fect substitutes for oine relationships, and when
individuals fail to take the dierences into account
unexpected negative outcomes can emerge. e
possibility of online relationships replacing
oine relationships is a second, more ambivalent
or dystopic factor in social media’s transformative
impact on organizations and society.
Online relationships as complements
Although there are contexts in which social
media systems enable new and/or substitute
for oine relationships, it is most common for
online relationships to complement oine ones
(Wang & Wellman, 2010). Early studies of online
communities, email, and discussion forums in
the 1980s and 1990s suggested that social media
enabled online relationships were poor substi-
tutes, associated with dysfunctional interaction
behaviors (e.g., aming), loss of identity cues,
weaker relationships with family members living
in the same household, smaller social circles,
and higher levels of depression and loneliness.
However, subsequent studies have found little
evidence for these negative substitution eects,
and instead showed that there are many ways
in which online and oine relationships com-
plement one another. As individuals increase
their use of social media systems, they tend to
have more contact with their friends and family
members, resulting in larger and more diverse
social networks. Greater use of social networking
sites and larger online social networks is asso-
ciated with having more social ties and higher
levels of social interaction oine. ese spillover
eects occur because social media systems are
used to arrange, coordinate, and follow up on
oine meetings and social events. Relationships
formed online are oen continued oine as they
online and oine relationships function either
independently or as competing substitutes, in
most cases they act as complements.
Existing oine relationships aect the way indi-
viduals use social media systems and how online
relationships can enhance and support oine
ones. e complementarity of online and oine
relationships means that social media systems
are subject to a “rich-get-richer” phenomenon.
Individuals with stronger, more diverse, more
extensive relationships oine are able to use
social media systems to maintain and add to
those relationships online, while those with
weaker, less diverse, smaller social circles receive
less relational benet from the use of social media
(Kraut et al., 2002). e capability of social media
enabled online relationships to complement
oine relationships is a third basis for social
media’s transformative impact on organizations
and society.
While a strong distinction could be made
between online and oine relationships, as social
media have become more widely available, more
powerful, and more generally accepted, this
dichotomy has become problematic for both
theory and practice (Wang & Wellman, 2010). As
the number and diversity of relationships sup-
ported by and aected by social media systems
have grown, it has become unclear what it means
to talk about online relationships as a category
or type. At the same time, media convergence,
emergence of mobile technologies, and broad
availability of social media systems have reduced
conversations, tweets, texts, pokes, shares, likes,
chats, and emails are routinely used by individ-
uals to set up meetings, arrange dates, continue
conversations, and even interact with people
who are physically co-present. us it becomes
increasingly dicult to make a distinction
between online and oine relationships in both
practical and conceptual terms. Whereas some
useful insights have arisen from examination of
relationships in terms of their “location,” it is an
increasingly problematic way of understanding
social media systems and relationships.
Social Media and Types of Relationships
Individuals use social media systems in the
context of many dierent relationships. Friends
exchange pictures and videos clips. Consumers
interact with one another and with represen-
tatives of the organizations providing products
and services. Research collaborators plan and
execute projects. Family members share news of
accomplishments and signicant life events. In
each case, the basic capability of social media
systems to support communication, informa-
tion exchange, and sharing of digital artifacts is
appropriated by individuals in support of their
that are found among individuals of all ages,
cultures, and social contexts. ese relationships,
which include acquaintances, casual friends, and
close friends, are voluntary and reciprocal rela-
tionships in which partners respond to each other
personally and show communal caring. Individu-
als gain a variety of benets through friendships,
including ego support, self-armation, secu-
rity, utility, and stimulation (Wright, 1984).
Friendship relationships provide attachment,
companionship, help, and emotional support.
Friendships vary in intensity, and the closeness
among friends is oen used as a measure of
relationship strength.
dances that support friendship relationships.
Social networking sites, a class of social media
systems specically designed to support relation-
ship management, allow individuals to create rich
personal proles, identify relationship partners,
interact with one another, and traverse relational
links in a variety of ways (Ellison et al., 2010).
maintenance of friendship relationships.
Most notably, social media systems support
several forms of reciprocity, a central feature of
friendship relationships. At their core, friend-
ships are bi-directional relationships in which the
parties must both voluntarily and actively choose
to participate. Social media systems oer a variety
of ways for individuals to enact reciprocity. In
some cases, such as Facebook, recognition of a
relationship within the system requires explicit
acknowledgment by both relationship partners.
ment is possible, but not required. Similarly,
when individuals share messages, images, or
information, social media systems encourage
recipients to respond with action such as likes,
accepts, comments, and replies, each of which
that supports and strengthens the relation-
ship. Repeatedly performing these reciprocating
behaviors allows friendships to be maintained,
and even become closer, over time.
e voluntary, reciprocal nature of friend-
ships in social media systems also results in
them being characterized by relative equality in
or her network relationship partners that are of
ing demands. In situations when imbalanced
relationships emerge among mainly friendship
relationships, then a change in behavior is observ-
able, such as decreased levels of self-disclosure
or, in extreme circumstances, dissolution of the
It has sometimes been argued that friendships
that only exist in social media systems are less sat-
isfactory than those that are maintained through
both online and face-to-face interactions (Kraut
et al., 2002). is suggests that hybrid friendships
should dominate, with purely online and purely
oine relationships becoming less common over
time. While a hybrid approach to friendships may
be a superior way to maintain and to strengthen
a friendship between two individuals, individuals
consisting of a number of dierent friendships
that satisfy dierent social needs. us purely
social media enabled friendships may be well
postings where friends can articulate their con-
gratulations, encouragements, and best wishes
as an easy-to-use possibility for giving support.
Whether selecting among or combining dierent
media, individuals have a steadily increasing col-
lection of options when it comes to maintaining
relationships with their friends.
Kinship relationships
Kinship relationships are the relationships that
individuals have with members of their family
by virtue of birth, marriage, or adoption. At
one level, these relationships are dierent from
friendships because they are oen not volun-
tary or reciprocal. Except in the case of some
marriages, an individual is related to other mem-
bers of their family because of someone else’s
choice, not their own. Relationships among fam-
ily members are also subject to status dierences,
social norms, and expectations that make kinship
relationships nonreciprocal.
In spite of these dierences, however, kinship
friendships and other relationships. Like friend-
ships, kinship relationships are enacted through
exchanges and interactions. Exchanging gis,
sharing information, and maintaining an aware-
behaviors in kinship relationships. Although
there may be social norms about these behaviors,
how much an individual chooses to engage in
relational activities with particular family mem-
bers is voluntary. As a result, the frequency with
which these activities occur reects the close-
ness, strength, and importance of the kinship
relationship for the individuals involved.
e nature of kinship relationships means
that social media systems have distinct eects
on kinship and family relationships. In cases of
marriage, dating, and romantic relationships,
which in many cultures blend the features of
friendship and kinship, social media systems play
an increasingly signicant role. Online dating, in
which individuals discover, evaluate, and interact
with one another through both formal services
common phenomenon. In these relationships,
issues of how individuals present themselves and
how people form impressions of one another
come to the fore. Social media systems’ fea-
tures for creating rich personal proles both
support the formation of long-term relation-
ships and provide opportunities for deceptive
Social media systems also aect kinship and
family relationships because they provide addi-
tional means for individuals to share information
and communicate with one another. Social net-
working sites, photo sharing platforms, and group
communications technologies all allow family
members to remain connected with one another
across distance, time, and national boundaries.
Parents can monitor children’s behavior and
activities, even aer they leave home. Older
family members can continue to interact with
others even aer their ability to travel becomes
impaired. Individuals who share only minimal
kinship ties can nd one another through online
genealogical communities and develop those
otherwise latent relationships. Within the context
of otherwise nonvoluntary kinship relationships,
social media systems allow individuals to share
information and communicate with one another
in ways that strengthen those relationships.
Professional relationships
Relationships are also a critical aspect of how
people and organizations work and collabo-
rate. Job seekers learning about employment
opportunities, entrepreneurs discovering and
receiving venture capital, managers monitoring
and inuencing activities in their organization,
and team members coordinating their collabora-
tive eorts – all of these activities rely, in part, on
professional and collaborative relationships.
As with friendships, professional relationships
vary with respect to their strength. Although
professional relationships typically lack the emo-
tional component of friendships, they dier in
terms of frequency and diversity of interaction.
At one extreme, strong professional relationships,
such as might exist between close colleagues,
involve frequent interactions and cover a wide
range of topics. ese strong relationships, which
evoke trust and interdependence, can be critical
for resolving problems when individuals and
organizations face crises and internal conict.
While strong professional ties are important,
individuals typically have many more work rela-
and minimal dependence. Yet, in spite of their
limitations, weak ties are critical to individuals’
ability to succeed in work settings. For example,
studies of the eectiveness of word-of-mouth
inuence have found that strong ties with friends,
family, and close condants are more inuential
than weak ties when sensitive information is
shared within groups, while the reverse is true for
general information sharing across groups (Smith
et al., 2007). Weak ties are valuable sources of
exploratory information, whereas close relation-
ships are essential to mobilize resources and
support. Together, the strong and weak relation-
ships that individuals have in the workplace play
a signicant role in shaping their information,
opportunities, and inuence.
A variety of social media systems have been
developed to facilitate professional relationships.
General professional networking systems, the
most prominent of which is LinkedIn, provide
a platform for individuals to track and leverage
their relationships with professional colleagues
and contacts. Within particular contexts, such as
scientic research and specialist communities,
domain specic networking systems have been
created to help individuals discover partners,
collaborators, and coauthors. Large organiza-
tions oen implement social media systems to
promote the formation and use of relationships
among employees, customers, suppliers, and
other stakeholders.
One of the most signicant unanticipated
consequences of social media systems for profes-
sional relationships is the blurring of boundaries
between social contexts. Family, friends, and
colleagues are roles that oen exist largely within
separate social spheres. When possible, indi-
viduals manage their relationships with friends,
family, and work colleagues in ways that assume
that the individuals from the dierent spheres
However, social media systems, such as Twitter
or Facebook, have the eect of bringing these rela-
tionships (and individuals) together. As a result,
on social networking sites, boundaries between
individuals’ private and professional relationships
are blurred. In analyzing the composition of
individuals’ Facebook contacts, Manago, Taylor,
and Greeneld (2012) found that the majority
were acquaintances (27%), followed by coworkers
and teammates with 24%; close contacts such
as best friends and romantic partners made up
24%; and only 18% of contacts came from the
ring of boundaries, known as context collapse,
means that relationships that previously could
be treated as independent become interdepen-
dent. Information and behavior that might have
been treated as semiprivate potentially become
semipublic. As social media systems have prolif-
erated, boundaries between work and personal
life that could previously be relied upon have, for
many people, become permeable and, sometimes,
even disappeared. e incorporation of social
media systems within the workplace has begun
to change both professional relationships and the
relationship between employees and employers
in ways that researchers have only begun to
Consumer relationships
Another context in which social media systems
aect critical relationships is retail marketing and
commerce. At one level, retail commerce involves
economic transactions that take place between
consumers who provide nancial resources in
exchange for products or services provided by
thought of as being only a transactional, eco-
nomic relationship, doing so potentially ignores
other, more social, aspects of relationships that
aect the functioning of consumer marketplaces.
Individual consumers develop relationships
with producers that go beyond basic economic
exchanges (Granovetter, 1985). Individual con-
sumers exhibit loyalty and trust in producers; they
interact with them, and oen declare themselves
as being aliated with individual producers and
companies that they do business with.
In addition to producer consumer relation-
ships, consumer– consumer relationships also
play a signicant role in retail commerce. For
many purchases, consumers rely on their relation-
ships with one another to learn about products,
services, and providers. is information sharing,
referred to as word of mouth, is an important
factor in many purchase decisions. us, while
retail commerce may appear to consist of rela-
tively mechanical, economic transactions, it is
in fact a set of activities that are both embedded
in and enacted through a complex web of social
As with friendships, kinship, and profes-
sional relationships, social media systems have
a variety of implications for consumer relation-
ships. Social media systems are used in both
consumer– producer and consumer consumer
relationships. Consumer producer relationships
are realized in social media systems when indi-
viduals take actions that associate them with
specic product or service providers, such as
when a consumer adds a company as a Facebook
friend or signs up for a company’s online commu-
nity. Features of social media systems simplify the
formation of consumer producer relationships.
Facebook’s “Like” button allows consumers to
establish aliation and communication with a
company with a single click. Producers benet
from being added to a consumer’s Facebook
and visibility they receive when the alia-
tion is communicated to others in the persons
social network. Social media marketing seeks to
develop and leverage these relationships in order
to inuence purchasing decisions.
e widespread adoption of social media
systems has led many organizations to change
their marketing eorts, shiing from broadcasts
through mass media to relationship oriented use
of social media. Word of mouth, or consumer-to-
consumer communication about products and
service experiences, has signicantly increased in
importance. Word-of-mouth marketing employs
professional marketing techniques to actively
shape how individual consumers use their rela-
products and services (Kozinets et al., 2010).
Close friends on Facebook, other Facebook
contacts, third-party blogs, and independent
sources of trustworthy information (Harris &
Dennis, 2011). Less trusted are celebrities with
independent voices and information provided by
retailers or producers. ese sources are suspect
because consumers assume that the other parties
have a strong self-interest to promote the product
and highlight its benets. is ranking of social
media information sources mirrors the dier-
ent types of relationships an individual might
have – ranging from very close relationships to
very loosely connected relationships. Individuals
who are known by a consumer, with whom they
interact frequently, and who they perceive as
nonbiased are more trusted to provide informa-
tion and recommendations than sources such as
salespeople, celebrity spokespeople, or company
Social network analysis and social media sys-
tems allow companies to identify the most inu-
ential individuals in large networks (Wasserman
& Faust, 1994). Information about relation-
ships captured in social media systems enables
producers to identify relationships that bridge
otherwise dispersed networks. ese ties, which
cross structural holes, can provide a rm access
tomers (Burt, 1992). Starbucks, a pioneer and
leader of eective social media use, has three
customer dialogue management strategies which
rely on these social media systems and consumer
relationships: megaphone, magnet, and monitor
(Gallaugher & Ransbotham, 2010). A megaphone
activity involves Starbucks in sharing information
directly with its customers via Twitter (3.5 mil-
lion followers), YouTube (Starbucks has its own
YouTube channel), or Facebook. ese actions
critical information. e magnet strategy uses the
same systems and relies on consumer–producer
relationships, but operates in the opposite direc-
tion, with customers sharing information with
Starbucks. is inbound communication is used
by the rm both to capture customer feed-
as new drinks or avors. Using social media
systems for megaphone and magnet activities
allows Starbucks to enhance and leverage existing
consumer– producer relationships. Monitor activ-
ities involve using social media systems to observe
consumer consumer interactions that are rel-
evant for Starbucks, such as customer reviews
a knowledge advantage that increases the chances
that the marketing messages it designs will be
shared by word of mouth (i.e., “go viral”). By
monitoring social media based communications
among consumers, Starbucks also gains insights
into trends and gathers market intelligence. ese
three strategies, and the benets Starbuck receives
from them, illustrate the dierent ways that orga-
nizations can use social media systems to support
and realize benets from consumer producer
and consumer – consumer relationships.
Scholars, advertisers, and political activists see
of social interactions that can be used to study
the propagation of ideas, social bond dynamics,
and viral marketing. But the linked structures of
social networks do not necessarily reveal actual
interactions or meaningful relationships among
people. For example, within Twitter, the driver of
real usage is not raw follower counts, but rather
a sparse and hidden network of connections
underlying the publicly declared set of friends
and followers. Scarcity of attention and the daily
rhythms of life and work lead people to interact
with a small number of people who matter and
reciprocate their attention.
Another way that social media systems alter
sumers is by allowing the relationship to shi
from being based purely on two complemen-
tary roles (producer and consumer) to one in
which at least some individuals participate as
co-producers. Companies increasingly seek
to establish relationships with individuals in
which consumers take more active roles in co-
producing innovations, value, and meaning.
Beyond simply soliciting ideas from customers,
crowdsourcing and open innovation are the
practice of involving individuals in problem
solving and idea-generation processes which
traditionally were performed entirely in-house
(Howe, 2008). rough social media based
crowdsourcing platforms, such as 99designs,
iStockphoto, and Crowdspring, companies create
knowledge intensive relationships focused on
formal exchange of ideas for money, recognition,
and other forms of motivation. By allowing indi-
viduals to learn about and participate in problem
solving and innovation processes, social media
individuals in consumer relationships from that
of relatively passive participants to that of active
Friendships, kinship, professional relationships,
consumer relationships, and co-production rela-
tionships – each type of relationship aects and
is aected by social media in dierent ways. e
aordances that social media systems provide
allow individuals and organizations to create pro-
les, exchange information, make associations,
tained. As described above, how these capabilities
the objectives, expectations, and nature of each
type of relationship. Yet examination of dierent
that social media systems can aect relationships:
ey can redene them. Facebook allows users
to identify “friends.” LinkedIn asks people to
identify “classmates” and “colleagues.” Twitter
one hand, these are simple labels, which signal
to users when and how to use the social media
systems. On the other hand, when the use of a
particular system, such as Facebook, becomes
widespread, it can result in the development of an
alternative relationship type with its own expec-
tations, norms, and structures (i.e., real friends vs.
“Facebook friends”). As a result, the examination
of the interplay of relationship and social media
systems in terms of relationship types, while
powerful, must be exercised with caution to avoid
misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
Social Media and Relationship Dynamics
A social relationship exists when two entities
have interactions with and expectations for each
other over a substantial length of time. While
it is possible to consider relationships as static
phenomena, in reality relationships are dynamic.
Relationships form, develop, and end. Character-
istics of relationships that transcend the dierent
stages may still vary in intensity, visibility, and
importance over time. Changes within relation-
ships can be deliberately initiated by participants
or happen by chance. us understanding social
media and relationships requires a consideration
relationship evolution.
Relationship formation
a number of factors including proximity, rst
impressions, similarity, and complementarity
(Dwyer, 2000). e online environment of social
media increases or decreases the relevance of
some of these factors. Physical proximity is less
important because social media systems allow
frequently interact. Indeed, Facebook is praised
for its ability to rekindle relationships between
school peers or childhood friends who have
the importance of physical proximity as a factor
in relationship formation, they can introduce new
functional or communication barriers. Bound-
aries between social media systems, whether they
arise because of corporate structure, technology
features, or national policies, all make it less
likely that a relationship will form between two
individuals using dierent social media systems.
For example, in China the social networking
site Facebook is blocked. is policy results in a
strong boundary between Facebook and other
Chinese oriented social networking sites such as
RenRen. Integration between social networking
sites can facilitate the formation of relationships
among individuals from the dierent user pop-
ulations, but corporate strategy and technology
limitations can prevent these bridges from being
created. Just as physical proximity is an important
enabler for traditional relationships, in the land-
scape of social media systems, media proximity
that allows individuals to encounter and interact
with one another plays an important role in the
First impressions, oen based on physical
appearance, are another signicant factor in face-
to-face interaction that impacts on the extent to
which individuals want to form relationships with
one another. Early discussions of text based social
media systems operated from the assumption
that the absence of visual cues would reduce,
or even eliminate, the impact of appearance
on relationship formation. However, Walther’s
(1992) social information processing theory
argued that people needed more time to reduce
the uncertainty about the potential relationship
partner because limited cues are available. To
counterbalance the vacuum created by the lack
of visual cues, individuals add various personal
details to their proles. When individuals decide
about forming relationships based on online
interactions, these personal proles are used to
form impressions of the potential relationship
partner and allow for aection and liking to
manifest. Furthermore, social media systems
with multimedia capabilities allow individuals
to attach photos and videos to their online pro-
les, re-emphasizing appearance as a factor in
relationship dynamics. However, even with the
advent of multimedia proles, it remains the case
that social media systems dier from face-to-face
contexts in that they allow individuals much ner
grained control of what they wish to reveal about
An abstract factor that aects the formation of
relationships is the t between the interests, skills,
and resources of the participants. Homophily, or
attraction of similar individuals, is a strong ten-
it is based on surface characteristics, such as
race, gender, or ethnicity, or deep characteristics,
such as values and beliefs, individuals oen seek
out and form relationships with others who are
like themselves. However, homophily is counter-
balanced by a need for complementarity. Because
exchanges play a signicant role, viable relation-
ships oen involve individuals whose interests,
capabilities, and needs complement one another.
Together the two tendencies of homophily and
complementarity are signicant factors in the
Whether homophily or complementarity dom-
inates depends on the nature of the relationship.
Resource and need complementarity is a greater
tionships, such as professional aliations or work
related collaborations. Sites such as LinkedIn pro-
vide recommendations, discussions of job open-
ings, searches for information, and introductions
to otherwise unreachable individuals all based on
complementarity in order to support the forma-
tion of professional relationships. In social media
systems, such as Facebook, that focus less on util-
itarian, but still on voluntary relations, the tech-
nology provides recommendations, searches, and
alerts that focus more on similarities, reecting
the greater importance of homophily.
Social media systems change the conditions
under which relationships form. By reducing
the need for physical proximity, these systems
support faster, broader relationship formation.
By changing how personal information is con-
veyed, they shi the locus of control, change
role of impression management in relationship
formation. us, while the fundamental basis
for relationships does not change, social media
systems can signicantly alter what relation-
ships exist by how they encourage and promote
relationship formation.
Relationship maintenance
and development
One way that relationships develop is when the
participants perform behaviors that reduce the
social distance between them. Exchange based
theories of relationships, such as social exchange
theory or social comparison theory, suggest that
expectations of positive rewards are the driv-
ing force for relationship development. ese
rewards can include pleasant communications,
the exchange of photos, and the sharing of news.
itate the exchange of rewards among relationship
partners. Despite the uncertainties associated
with gi giving, as rst articulated by Marcel
Mauss in his seminal work e Gi,thecost
of a digital gi, such as “Like” or a supportive
comment, is low compared to an oine gi.
Digital gis and other gi giving practices in
social media turn the event focused act of hand-
into an everyday practice and, in doing so, sig-
nicantly aect relationship evolution (Skågeby,
Another way that relationships develop is
when the partners share gradually more personal
information. Based on generalized reciprocity,
increased self-disclosure of one individual is
likely to lead to higher self-disclosure by the
other, strengthening the relationship. Users dis-
close personal information in social networking
sites for a variety of reasons, including conve-
nience, the ability to build relationships and
received value from them, recognition, and
enjoyment of interpersonal relationships (Kras-
nova et al., 2010). ese factors are analogous
to ndings from technology acceptance research
that showed perceived ease of use, perceived
enjoyment, and perceived usefulness to be pivotal
drivers for technology use. Social media systems
leverage the correspondence of motivations for
self-disclosure and technology use to promote
continued use of the technology and evolution of
the relationships aected by it.
e role of social media systems in relationship
maintenance and development is particularly
important for the mobile workforce and tele-
workers. ese individuals are oen physically
maintain these relationships. For these indi-
viduals, social media systems provide a way to
increase feelings of belonging and social integra-
tion through the continuance of the physically
cut-o relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
Driven by the desire for attachment, these indi-
viduals use both active and passive features
of social media systems to communicate with
others in their social network and maintain
their relationships (Burke, Marlow, & Lento,
Relationship dissolution
Relationships that have grown close over time
are characterized by increased self-disclosure and
the sharing of personal details. Yet the absence of
face-to-face interaction complicates verication
of the exchanged information. us it is easy for
individuals to create representations of them-
selves, provide false or misleading information,
or purposefully omit certain information to gain
personal benets. Concealing an individual’s true
identity is even part of some social media systems
by design. For example, in Second Life and other
virtual worlds, individuals are represented by
ction. However, in the context of relationships,
deception about self-identity, whether intentional
or not, can have detrimental impacts. Conse-
quently, deceiving which is easily done in social
media systems may result in termination of the
Ending a relationship in the social media envi-
personal involvement. Yet the reasons to end a
relationship in the virtual space are oen less
likely to relate to conicts between relationship
partners. Conicts over personal disposition (e.g.,
one of the parties being inconsiderate) or specic
behaviors (e.g., being late) may matter less in
social media systems, while too much interaction
a relationship being dissolved. Individuals are
also more likely to formally end a relationship
because of the information overload caused by
a partner’s extensive communication activities,
such as a constant stream of Twitter messages
or Facebook postings. Under these conditions,
the individual wants the stream of uninteresting,
boring, or otherwise undesirable communication
to stop and achieves this by withdrawing from
the relationship.
Social media systems provide features that
support withdrawing by reducing interaction fre-
quency, changing security and visibility features
completely (Wisniewski, Lipford, & Wilson,
2012). Social media enabled relationships can
also be ended by removing the other party from
the explicit records of one’s contacts. Whether
this change is reported broadly depends on the
system and the types of relationships it supports.
In some cases,such as Facebook’s somewhat noto-
rious “relationship status,” changes are broadcast
widely. In others, such as Skype, removing a
person from one’s contact list does not trigger a
Social media systems allow ending a rela-
tionship in a nuanced manner, making the
termination less confrontational and less stressful
emotionally for the relationship partners. Instead
of removing a contact as a Facebook friend, indi-
viduals can increase the social distance between
themselves and the other person by restrict-
ing the amount of information visible to them.
Again, it would not be detectable for the removed
partner that the relationship is being weakened.
If a user chooses not to keep the relationship
dissolution private, social media systems also
allow communication of the change.
Social media are a diverse collection of tech-
nologies and applications that allow individuals
to communicate, exchange information, and
share digital artifacts with one another. ese
basic capabilities can be appropriated to support
many dierent types of relationships. Whether
creating substitute relationships, enabling new
types of relationships, or complementing exist-
ing relationships, social media systems are
important inuences on the way people and
organizations relate to one another in all spheres
of life.
SEE ALSO: Blogging; ICT and Gender; Iden-
tity and Agency; Impression Management in
Social Media; Microblogs; Mobile Lifestyles in
the Business World; Online Consumer Behav-
ior; Online Games, Casual; Online Games and
Children; Online Games, Community Aspects
of; Online Games, Cooperation and Competition
in; Online Games, Player Experiences in; Privacy
and Social Media; Professional Gaming; Social
Media; Social Media and Activism; Social Media
and Youth
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Brian S. Butler is a professor in the College of
Information Studies and in the Robert H. Smith
School of Business at the University of Maryland
where he is Director of the Master of Information
Management Program and Director of the Center
for the Advanced Study of Communities and
Information. His work, which has appeared in
Information Systems Research,MIS Quarterly,
Organization Science,Journal of Biomedical
Informatics,andtheJournal of Medical Internet
Research, combines theories and methods from
organizational theory and management to better
understand how emerging technologies alter
the way teams, communities, and organizations
Sabine Matook is a senior lecturer in information
systems at the UQ Business School, University
of Queensland. She received her doctoral degree
from the Technische Universität Dresden, Ger-
many. Her research interests focus on the IT
artifact, social media, and agile IS develop-
ment. Her work has appeared in the European
Journal of Information Systems,Information &
Management,Journal of Strategic Information
Systems,International Journal of Operations &
Production Management,andDecision Support
Systems. She has presented research papers at a
variety of international conferences. Her teaching
areas include systems analysis and design, man-
agement information systems, and IS research
... A social network is a set of individuals or organizations linked by their social relationships (e.g. friendship, memberships or transactions) of a specific type (Butler and Matook 2015). SM networks are a special form of social network typically facilitated through the Internet (Kane et al. 2014). ...
... SM members create personal websites (profiles) in the networks as a representation of themselves to connect with friends, family, and colleagues. The aim of creating such representations is to establish and maintain relationships to other SM members (Butler and Matook 2015). Yet, this focus has been impaired in the recent past due to privacy issues with social media resulting in low trust in others they do not know (Baccarella et al. 2018) SM platforms were created to enable personal relationships, thus they tend to be friendship based, with rules of friendship playing an important role (Butler and Matook 2015). ...
... The aim of creating such representations is to establish and maintain relationships to other SM members (Butler and Matook 2015). Yet, this focus has been impaired in the recent past due to privacy issues with social media resulting in low trust in others they do not know (Baccarella et al. 2018) SM platforms were created to enable personal relationships, thus they tend to be friendship based, with rules of friendship playing an important role (Butler and Matook 2015). For example, Facebook labels all connections to people as 'friends.' ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Social media (SM) has evolved into a common technology to establish and maintain relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Yet, recently SM users have used the platforms less for their personal relationship management. Thus, the opportunities for companies to interact with their customers were reduced. This paper conceptualizes how companies need to approach a commercial friendship with SM users so that the user provides access for the firm representative to their personal sphere online. The focus is on understanding the heuristics users would apply based on certain decision factors. We build on the relationship marketing literature that suggests the willingness of SM members to engage in relationships with business representatives is tied to social, psychological, economic, and customization benefits. Our short paper presents the research model and describes the proposed research method to aid in understanding the factors motivating SM users to accept commercial representatives as a real friend.
... Moreover, the virtualization of social media has incontrovertibly altered the process of building new relationships by removing political, social and geographic barriers. This is what Matook and Butler (2015) considered as a significant impact social media has on organizations and society. ...
... Some behavioural scientists have further observed other inherent risks associated with its use. According to Matook and Butler (2015), social media breeds "homophily" in society, as relationships have become more homogeneous. This may hinder real-life interactions and mental and emotional development, especially among the young users who tend to adopt it as a substitute for offline relationships. ...
Social life is becoming digitized due to technological advancement, especially the Internet and social media, which have changed interaction, communication and the trajectories of human relationships. Access to the Internet and social media have practically altered the extent of youth inclusion in or exclusion from social, cultural, political and economic activities...
... Social media reshaped the way individuals form and maintain relationships. It allows the development of exclusively online relationships while also helping individuals that formed offline relationships keep in touch with each other when separated (Butler & Matook, 2015). This perspective is supported by previous studies (Joo & Teng, 2017) that report positive associations between social media use and better relationships among family members. ...
The present study investigated the associations between social media use integration and Technological Intimate Partner Violence (TIPV) while also exploring the mediating role of the three dimensions of jealousy and the moderating role of moral absolutism. Our sample consisted of 404 adults aged 18 to 59. The results indicated a significant positive effect of social media use integration on cognitive jealousy and TIPV. Social media use integration was correlated with behavioral jealousy and TIPV, while TIPV was positively associated with all three dimensions of jealousy. The moderated mediation analysis suggested that behavioral jealousy fully mediated the effect of social media use integration toward TIPV at all levels of moral absolutism, while cognitive jealousy had a partial mediating effect only at medium and high levels of moral absolutism. We discuss our findings by pointing out that (a) various dimensions of jealousy might be influenced differently by social media use integration, and (b) individuals with high levels of moral absolutism might be more prone to cognitive jealousy after being exposed to prolonged social media use. We acknowledge that our results may have limited generalizability as our sample was primarily female. Research involving larger portions of male participants would be important to pursue.
... Social technologies have increased the capacity for communication [13,23] and for some people, have become important information sources [68,102]. Users communicate by posting comments in the hyper-connected networks in which mobile devices enable them to remain connected wherever they are [19,54]. ...
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Social media firestorms (SMF) are commonly seen as destructive forces of toxic comments hurled at a target for perceived wrongdoing. Yet some research suggests that SMF can provide beneficial outcomes for the target. In two studies, we qualitatively examine SMF comments (in terms of purpose and tone) and quantitatively examine users’ motivations for making different types of comments. Results show that SMF comments are diverse, either supporting or condemning the target and being either aggressive or cordial in tone. Further, the results show that users’ understanding of the triggering event in the real world influences the purpose of their comment (support or condemn) while disinhibition and others’ online comments (i.e., herd influence) shape how they comment (tone). We conclude with an expanded SMF definition as “A digital artifact created by large numbers of user comments of multiple purposes (condemnation and support) and tones (aggressive and cordial) that appear rapidly and recede shortly after”. Some SMF persist as destructive and harmful firestorms; some exist to condemn the target but without aggressive language; and some support the target’s behavior. Thus, SMF are not always abusive and toxic. The implications of our research are that SMF can be positive, enable collective actions, and require a detailed examination of their elements (purpose and tone) to understand their effects in the digital and real world.
... Mingle and Adams [35] stated that for the purpose of instruction, online media are highly recommended, however, an appropriate observation must be there by advising the understudies about the odds of webbased media as they may be highly dependent on it. Butler and Matook [36] affirmed that for the purpose of learning, online media connects individuals and makes strategies for their learning. Abdulgalil and Abuelgasim [37] directed a contextual analysis to research understudies' mentalities in utilizing social media for the purpose of learning. ...
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Heidegger's philosophy has long been one of the core references for information systems (IS) researchers, often drawing upon one of two distinct perspectives he employed in his writings. The first of these perspectives is found in Heidegger's work on presence, and the second in his work on relations. We refer to these two as his presence perspective and his relation perspective. The presence perspective builds on ideas developed in early sections of his major work, Being and Time (1927:1996), contrasting the presence of being-in-the-world with that of readiness-at-hand. The relation perspective builds on ideas developed in later sections of Being and Time, elaborating on the concept of being-with [Mitsein]. We discuss the ways these two key perspectives in his philosophy are intertwined and reinforce each other when we consider them together, and how they amplify and extend each other's scope of effect in human situated practice. We argue that Heidegger's philosophical perspective on human existence is a powerful theoretical lens for understanding both the subjective and the objective poles of our experience of being in the world. It provides an integrated framework for research on both poles that is useful across the IS field.
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Social media platforms’ unique characteristics may make them particularly good outlets for getting even with relational partners. Establishing the prevalence of social media revenge and identifying the forms such revenge may take in different relationship contexts is an important first step in broadening our understanding of these behaviors. In a mixed-methods study, undergraduates ( N = 732) and community members ( N = 124) were randomly assigned to one of four relational contexts (coworkers, family, friends, and romantic partners) and asked to describe an act of social media revenge experienced or observed in their assigned context. They then rated how often they were the avenger, target, and observer of five control and monitoring and 11 direct aggression behaviors adapted from the Cyber Dating Abuse Questionnaire. The prevalence of social media revenge across all relationship contexts, roles, and revenge types was low and participants reported observing social media revenge more frequently than being the target or avenger. Social media revenge was also more prevalent in some relationships than others and the type of relationship between avenger and target may have implications for how revenge is executed. Analysis of participants’ accounts identified novel revenge behaviors and suggested ways to improve measurement of social media revenge.
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Word of mouth marketing — the intentional influencing of consumer-to-consumer communications — is an increasingly important technique. The authors overview and synthesize extant word of mouth theory and present a study of a marketing campaign in which mobile phones were seeded with prominent bloggers. Eighty-three blogs were followed for six months. Findings reveal the complex cultural conditions through which marketing “hype” is transformed by consumers into the “honey” of relevant, shared communications. Four word of mouth communication strategies are identified — evaluation, embracing, endorsement and explanation. Each is influenced by communicator narrative, communications forum, communal norms and the nature of the marketing promotion. An intrinsic tension between commercial and communal interests plays a prominent, normative role in message formation and reception. This “hype-to-honey” theory shows that communal word of mouth does not simply increase or amplify marketing messages. Rather, marketing messages and meanings are systematically altered in the process of embedding them. The theory has implications for how marketers should plan, target and benefit from word of mouth and how scholars should understand word of mouth in a networked world.
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There is some panic in the United States about a possible decline in social connectivity. The authors used two American national surveys to analyze how changes in the number of friends are related to changes in Internet use. The authors found that friendships continue to be abundant among adult Americans between the ages of 25 to 74 and that they grew from 2002 to 2007. This trend is similar among Internet nonusers, light users, moderate users, and heavy users and across communication contexts: offline, virtual only, and migratory from online to offline. Heavy users are particularly active, having the most friends both online and offline. Intracohort change consistently outweighs cohort replacement in explaining overall growth in friendship.
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This paper explores the use of gift-giving as a theoretical and conceptual framework for analyzing social behavior in online networks and communities. Not only has gift-giving the potential to frame and explain much social media behavior, but reversely, and perhaps more importantly, mediated social behavior also has the potential to develop gift-giving theory. Information and communication technologies form joint sociotechnical systems where new practices emerge. The paper focuses on describing the academic background of the gifting framework to help develop a deeper, theory-based, understanding of these sociotechnical phenomena. Three themes are prevalent in the gifting literature: other-orientation, social bonding and generalized reciprocity. The paper gives examples of how these themes are enacted by end-users via the use of information and communication technologies. Finally, sociotechnically embedded economies, called gifting technologies, are identified and discussed.
With a more specific focus than the all-encompassing textbook, each title in the Foundations of Psychology series enables students who are new to psychology to get to grips with a key area of psychological research, while also developing an understanding of basic concepts, debates, and research methodologies. In this book Diana Jackson-Dwyer presents an introductory survey of classic and recent research on relationships and the theories that underpin them.
In today's fragmented media landscape, generating positive word of mouth (WOM) among consumers has become an important tool for marketers. Marketers are challenged with identifying influential individuals in social networks and connecting with them in ways that encourage WOM message movement. In this article, we explore the nature of social networks, their role in influence, and the characteristics of the most influential individuals. We also examine the characteristics of viral marketing messages. Our findings contradict the commonly accepted notion that WOM influence comes from an elite, highly-connected few. Rather our research suggests that most people are moderately connected and are as willing as the highly connected to share marketing messages with others. Also, we find that influence is motivated by our basic human need to be helpful by giving advice, and that people share a common enjoyment in seeking out valuable information. The implications of these findings for marketers are discussed. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR] Copyright of Journal of Advertising Research is the property of Warc LTD and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. This abstract may be abridged. No warranty is given about the accuracy of the copy. Users should refer to the original published version of the material for the full abstract. (Copyright applies to all Abstracts.)
Exemplars of open innovation have revealed that intellectual property (IP) need not only be sourced through existing hierarchical or market relationships. Rather IP can be acquired from individuals and firms with whom an organization has no prior relationship. In such cases, an intermediary, operating as an innovation exchange or brokerage, frequently facilitates the development and acquisition of IP. This paper examines one type of innovation intermediary, the ‘Solver Brokerage,’ which enables innovation exchanges between organizations and unknown external firms and individuals (i.e. a crowdsourcing process). While the commercial success of Solver Brokerages indicates the potency of arguments concerning the potential of crowdsourcing, little is known about the operation of such brokerages or the crowdsourcing processes that they enable. This paper examines extant research on innovation networks, crowdsourcing, and electronic marketplaces to identify three processes (knowledge mobility, appropriability and stability) that we argue are necessary to ‘orchestrate’ crowdsourcing. Using a field study of four Solver Brokerages, an innovation seeking organization, as well as 15 innovation providers (i.e. members of the ‘crowd’), the paper illustrates the ways in which the three orchestration processes are enhanced in Solver Brokerages. It reveals that while knowledge mobility and appropriability processes can be enhanced by activities under the control of the Solver Brokerage, stability is largely determined by innovation seeking organizations and the innovation providers. The paper concludes that broker-provided value-added ‘orchestration’ services need to enable knowledge mobility and appropriability, and to ensure that ‘unsuccessful’ innovation seekers and providers appropriate sufficient value to participate again.
Sharing information online via social network sites (SNSs) is at an all-time high, yet research shows that users often exhibit a marked dissatisfaction in using such sites. A compelling explanation for this dichotomy is that users are struggling against their SNS environment in an effort to achieve their preferred levels of privacy for regulating social interactions. Our research investigates users' SNS boundary regulation behavior. This paper presents results from a qualitative interview-based study to identify "coping mechanisms" that users devise outside explicit boundary-regulation interface features in order to manage interpersonal boundaries. Our categorization of such mechanisms provides insight into interaction design issues and opportunities for new SNS features.
Some observations suggest that friendships are developed and maintained because they involve some form of reinforcement or interpersonal reward. Other observations suggest that friendship has an intrinsic, end-in-itself quality making it unnecessary, if not contradictory, to assume that friendships must be rewarding to be formed and sustained. The present paper outlines a model of friendship based on a conception of self and self-referent motivation. The model represents, in part, an effort to reconcile the observed rewardingness of friendship with its intrinsic, end-in-itself character.