According to Ashlee Humphreys in chapter 9 of her book, “Social Media: Enduring Principles,” social capital is measured by the number and strength of social connectivity. (Humphreys 160). With the dawn of social media influencer marketing, social capital has become increasing qualitatively measured and is hugely significant to a number of online based industries.
As social media platforms gain larger and larger user bases, it is inevitable that certain users garner larger followings. In the earlier years of the internet, this was primarily the realm of pre-established celebrities – people who found their fame in the “real world” and were simply meeting their fans online. However, as online platforms have proliferated, “regular” people have also found fame through means of content creation and engaging with their audience. Social media in particular is a perfect place to become famous because of the false sense of familiarity or friendship that it provides to content consumers. Any fan of Youtubers will tell you that they feel like their favourite Youtuber is their friend more so than simply a celebrity.
Since social media presents the opportunity for not only a high number of social connectivity, but also a high strength of social connectivity, it provides a high powered form of social capital that has proven to be very economically significant.
Previous to this kind of influencer marketing, marketers could depend on either a large reach (high number) or a large amount of trust (high connectivity), though not usually both. Recommendations in traditional ads provide exposure to a large number of people, while personal recommendations are more likely to be trusted, but cannot be spread as far. With the advent of the social media personality, brands are able to utilize the high connectivity side of social capital at a large scale.
Therefore, over the course of only a few years we have observed platforms like Youtube and Instagram become inundated with sponsored posts and brand deals. This of course provides a means of income to creative entrepreneurs producing content online (which can in some circumstances reach even larger audiences than television shows) however it also creates a new form of media and marketing literacy for users to become acquainted with that is quite different from forms of advertising seen in the past.
Overall, social media has provided a unique and powerful way for social capital to become a great economic force.