Social Networking & Why It Works….

Social Networking’s usage has exploded breaking down geographic confines and creating a smaller digital world. The successful increase of collaboration and communication excels at an unprecedented scale. Most historians would credit the printing press as the most important invention of all time…. but then came the internet and now web 2.0 technology, the “most important invention” question suddenly isn’t so easy to answer. While the printing press increased the availability of text, leading to increased literacy rates, the collaborative nature of web 2.0 has doubled and tripled the quantifiable amount of knowledge our world now produces.

So what’s so attractive about social networking? And why does it continue to change our world? The Social Exchange Theory offers some degree of insight into this technological phenomenon. From a sociological approach, the social exchange theory might be described as the economic analysis of non-economic social situations (Emerson, 1976). According to the social exchange theorists, Thibaut and Kelley, (1959) the following reasons that make people to engage in a social exchange;

1. anticipated reciprocity

2. expected again in reputation and influence on others

3. altruism and perception of efficacy

4. direct reward

The economists Kuhn (1963) states the most organized social groups, both small and large, are based upon the single generic process that economists call production. In his example, Kuhn, describes a village operated as a corporate group, it members bound together in a special form of exchange. The result is a valued product that might be divisible among all producers, or that might be converted through simple exchange to a divisible medium and distributed among members by some distribution rule (Emerson 1976).

The group-ness of the online world is thus established as a social exchange network, where each member can be a valuable contributor to the others growth. Further, the functionality of social exchange theory in social networking (online) groups can serve as a form of collaboration. Social networking sites are quite popular, and are beginning to attract attention of academic researchers. The results of a study by Dwyer et al (2007) were inconclusive as to which sites (Facebook vs MySpace) were more effective and why. The issue of trust in online social networking sites has been closely linked to the social exchange theory (Roloff, M.E. 1981) (Dwyer et al, 2007) and is determined as a precondition for successful online social networking (Metzger, 2004). However, the results of the Dwyer et al (2007) study encourage future research to understand the functionality of social networking. Professional Learning Communities and collaborative teaching activities may prove to thrive in these environments.


Dwyer, C., Hiltz, S., & Passarini (2007) Trust and privacy concerns within social networking sites: A comparison of Facebook and MySpace. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems. Keystone, Colorado. August 9-12, 2007.

Emerson, R. M. (1976) Social Exchange Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, ed. A. Inkeles, J. Colemen, and N. Smelser. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.

Kuhn, A. (1963) The Study of Society: A Unified Approach. Homewood, Ill: Irwin-Dorsey

Metzger, M.J. (2004) “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure: Exploring Barriers to Electronic Commerce 9 (4),” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (9) 4.

Roloff, M.E, (1981) Interpersonal communication: The social exchange approach. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Thibaut, J. & Kelley, H.H. (1959) The Social Psychology of Groups. New York: Wiley

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