The contribution of SNS to social capital in times of restricted physical contact
Social capital is the collection of social assets and resources that provide value to an individual and on which they can rely in times of need. Social networking sites (SNS) have contributed significantly to the development of social capital. A common classification of social capital is into bridging, bonding and maintained social capital. Often social capital is built and maintained in the online and offline environments together but each environment can foster social capital separately. With the constraints on physical contact and interactivity brought about by Covid-19-related restrictions, the assumption is that there would be greater reliance on SNS to develop and maintain social capital.
This research examined whether, in an environment of ongoing restricted physical social contact, the use of SNS contributes positively to the establishment and development of social capital; and whether the use of different SNS exert different influences on the establishment and development of social capital. SNS use was assessed in terms of frequency and intensity of use; and social capital was assessed in terms of bridging, bonding and maintained social capital. Three SNS (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp) were studied. A cross-sectional survey of 282 New Zealand residents was used to gather the data, and regression analyses were conducted to analyse the data.
Findings indicated that frequency and intensity of use were key contributors to social capital, contributing mostly towards bridging social capital and the least towards bonding social capital. Additionally, intense and frequent use of Instagram contributed most towards bridging and maintained social capital, whereas intense and frequent use of WhatsApp contributed most towards bonding social capital.
The research contributes to the theoretical understanding of the role of SNS, particularly with regard to the building and maintenance of social capital but also against a background of restricted physical social contact. It is furthermore of benefit to managers who have - and can - embraced the use of SNS to build and maintain team cultures, especially in terms of Covid-19-related contact restrictions.
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