Embracing digital networks: Entrepreneurs' social capital online

Claudia Smith, J. Brock Smith, Eleanor Shaw
2017 Journal of Business Venturing  
This paper presents a research agenda for understanding how entrepreneurs accrue social capital in the digital age. We develop a conceptual framework with 12 research propositions that specify how the unique technical capabilities of social network sites impact entrepreneurs' bridging and bonding social capital online. These propositions are informed by anecdotal evidence from founders that finds entrepreneurs' social capital accrual differs online. We include theoretical and methodological
more » ... ghts for overcoming research challenges concerning context dynamism, intertwined networks, and unclear behavioral norms. This agenda addresses a growing gap between contemporary entrepreneurial practices and existing social capital theory and research in entrepreneurship. growing use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social network sites (SNSs), including Twitter (Fischer and Reuber, 2011), little is known about how entrepreneurs establish social capital online. Research in computer-mediated communications (CMC) helps bridge this gap by demonstrating that social capital is accrued differently online versus offline (cf. Kim et al., 2011). SNSs enable unique technical capabilities called affordances (Ellison et al., 2011a), which provide a distinct context for understanding networks, relationships, and social capital (Ellison and boyd, 2013). For example, SNSs have the capacity to help entrepreneurs initiate weak ties (Morse et al., 2007) and manage strong ones (Sigfusson and Chetty, 2013). While CMC literature focuses on online networks of friendship ties, less attention has been focused on how social capital is accrued in the online networks that entrepreneurs use to launch, grow, and support their ventures. We address this gap by developing a conceptual framework that demonstrates how the unique affordances of SNSs likely impact entrepreneurs' networking behaviors online and, consequently, their acquisition of social capital. This framework, together with data collected from interviews with 16 founders, and extant literature, supports the development of 12 research propositions. These propositions identify the mechanisms by which SNS affordances likely influence the network broadening and deepening behaviors (Vissa, 2012) used by entrepreneurs to acquire bridging and bonding social capital online (Williams, 2006). This article offers three main contributions to entrepreneurship literature. First, we argue that entrepreneurship scholars can no longer ignore the online context within which many entrepreneurs now build and use social capital. To guide future empirical studies investigating this context, we present a comprehensive research agenda for extending theory and knowledge about entrepreneurs' bridging and bonding social capital online. Such research is essential to understand entrepreneurs' social capital in complex and blended online-offline contexts. Second, we build on early studies of entrepreneurs' online networking behaviors (e.g., Morse et al. 2007) and draw on CMC concepts to construct a comprehensive set of 16 SNS affordances that are important to understand entrepreneurs' social capital online. Our analysis of these affordances illuminates how entrepreneurs' accrual of social capital differs online. The delineation of these affordances makes these concepts more accessible
doi:10.1016/j.jbusvent.2016.10.003 fatcat:hgrw7ysfzjem3dalvkkljsfmuq