A Social Capital Perspective on Collaboration and Web 2.0

A Social Capital Perspective on Collaboration and Web 2.0

Gunilla Widén-Wulff (Åbo Akademi University, Finland) and Anna-Karin Tötterman (Åbo Akademi University, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch010
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Social interaction technologies can successfully employ the previously untapped power of the web to utilize the collaborative creation of information and user-driven content. In this chapter, the social capital framework is applied to illustrate how Web 2.0 tools and techniques can support effective information and knowledge management in organizations. Interactions within and between organizations generate important practices that underscore the role of social capital. Managing social capital for effective knowledge sharing is a complex process, and Web 2.0 lends some support for organizations by creating a new culture of voluntary, contributive, and collaborative participation. The argument is made that Web 2.0 technologies can be seen as important tools that can bridge the creation and sharing of knowledge in diverse organizational contexts.
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Research on social capital has been carried out in different disciplines and at different levels depending on the chosen perspective (e.g., Fukuyama, 1995; Putnam, 2000). At the organizational level, social capital has been connected, for example, to interunit resource exchange (Tsai & Ghoshal, 1998) and to individual gains in terms of status and career opportunities (Burt, 1997; Lin, 1999). There exists no unified definition of social capital, however. In this chapter, we use a definition of social capital by Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998, p. 243) that includes the individual and the social aspects: “The sum of actual and potential resources embedded within, available through, and derived from the network of relationships possessed by an individual or social unit. Social capital thus comprises both the network and the assets that may be mobilized through that network.”

Social capital is also often described in three dimensions: a structural dimension (network character), a relational dimension (trust and social identity), and a content dimension (communication to facilitate social capital). The structural dimension includes the network structure and the nature of the network ties between the actors. Networks are viewed as the cornerstone for resource exchange and the ties can be described as information channels (Adler & Kwon, 2002). The relational dimension embraces social identity and trust. The notion of trust is a crucial aspect of social capital (Fukuyama, 1995). An atmosphere of trust among the members of an organization has been suggested as an important factor facilitating information and knowledge sharing, cooperation, and other forms of collective actions within and outside the social unit (Huotari & Iivonen, 2004). Identification is also viewed as an important part of relational social capital (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). Cognitive identification can be described as the process by which individuals view themselves as part of a social unit and define themselves by the group (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998; Tyler & Blader, 2001).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge Management: A broad concept which refers to the theoretical and practical base for the effective management of organizational knowledge.

Social Interaction Technologies: An assortment of interactive and collaborative applications, such as blogs and wikis, where users can consume, create, and recreate information resulting in new contents and structure.

Wikis: Web-based applications that can be used for collaborative knowledge management.

Web 2.0: An Internet phenomenon where new competencies emerge in the form of more social and interactive uses of the web.

Social Capital: Refers to capital that is created and nurtured in social relations.

Knowledge Work: Creation, application, and utilization of knowledge. Includes the development and use of tacit knowledge.

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