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Social Media’s Role in Building Stronger Community Connections

By Risa Wilkerson on December 10th, 2014

While debate continues about the implications of shorter and shorter content on social media, do we know anything about whether these channels help improve our networks or strengthen relationships? A recent study looks at whether Twitter actually builds meaningful connections by examining the formation of “bridging” and “bonding” social capital. The study used social media analysis to review Twitter data from three events: the Occupy movement in 2011, the IF Campaign in 2013 and the Chilean Presidential Election of 2013.

Online networks are able to produce social capital.

The study’s results suggest that online networks are able to produce social capital, both bonding and bridging. “Bonding” social capital is what builds trust and norms within (often like-minded) groups. Bridging social capital links disparate groups or those that aren’t as likely to connect organically. Without bridging, bonding can have negative consequences, such as deepening intolerance or distrust of others. Bonding and bridging are important for creating healthier societies, for which diversity and communication across different social groups are vital.

Creating positive interplay requires intentionality.

One interesting aspect of this study was the evidence that creating positive interplay online (as is also true offline) requires intentionality. Organizations and “professional brokers” were cited as critical to the formation of bridging capital, which exemplifies the lessons we’ve learned about developing strong and sustainable healthy community partnerships. For example, having a “backbone organization,” or a lead agency, as the glue for these intentional efforts enabled many of the partnerships we’ve worked with to achieve lasting results, like propelling successful policy campaigns and other healthy community priorities. Multidisciplinary and inclusive engagement across groups is a key ingredient to success in creating systems-level changes that improve policies and environments for health.

Leveraging Social Media for Healthy Community Change

I’m left thinking about how, while functioning as the national program office for three large, multi-year initiatives, ALBD witnessed social capital grow across the country as project directors and coordinators worked on similar issues, learning with and from each other. Our intentional efforts to connect these community leaders, online and in-person, helped foster both bonding and bridging linkages.

Since then, we have been talking a lot about how to continue supporting peer learning across communities even without a grant-funded initiative to spur the connection. We know that some online platforms enable people to share resources and join discussion groups, and we’re thinking about other ways to create and deepen a national learning network. Could social media be an integral part of that effort?

Has social media helped your organization improve your social capital? If so, how? Share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.