The influence of social capital through social media: a study of the creation of value in shopping behaviour

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ABSTRACT When consumers access information from groups through social network sites (SNSs), they develop social capital in the form of bonding and bridging ties with these groups. The purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of these bonding and bridging behaviours on consumers’ use of the social network information (SNI) gained from SNSs in their purchasing decisions. The study integrates constructs from the Technology Acceptance Model and the concept of flow to examine how these behaviours influence consumers’ perceptions of how useful the SNI is, of how easy the SNI is to use, and how they engage with SNI. The study utilizes structural equation modelling to examine questionnaire data from a random sample of social network users. The findings demonstrate that bonding and bridging ties influence consumers’ perceptions of the usefulness and ease of use of the information provided by SNSs, and therefore influence their use of the information when making shopping decisions. In addition, consumers who access SNI through bonding ties are likely to have flow experiences which further contribute to their use of the information. This study makes a theoretical contribution by expanding knowledge of the social capital influences on consumers’ perceptions of the value of the social media shopping experience.


Consumers’ purchasing decisions can be influenced by online interactions with people that they know or that they have met through social network sites (SNSs) (Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007; Felix, Rauschnabel, and Hinsch 2017). SNSs can provide consumers with ways to interact with each other, thereby accessing social network information (SNI) that can help them with purchase decisions (Bilal, Ahmed, and Shazad, 2014; Heinrichs et al. 2011; John et al. 2017). When consumers access information and relationship resources through SNSs, the resources take the form of social capital which constitutes ties between groups of consumers (Paxton 1999). These ties are distinguished according to (a) whether they constitute bonding between consumers with existing, close emotional ties and (b) whether they constitute bridging ties with new and diverse groups (Putnam 2000). SNSs are a viable medium for individuals to accumulate and activate their online bridging and bonding social capital (Phua, Jin, and Kim 2017). Previous research (Cao et al. 2013) has determined that consumers’ strong bonding ties with family and friends constitute key information resources when accessing SNSs to make shopping decisions and that bridging ties facilitate the diffusion of information through these SNSs (Burt 2001; Putnam 2000). There has been significant research attention directed to the factors associated with the use of SNSs (Shin and Kim 2008, Venkatesh, Morris, and Davis 2003), the effects of different types of social capital on the use of SNSs (Hoyman and Faricy 2009), the effects of SNSs on the development of social capital (Ahn 2012; Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007; Kavanaugh et al. 2005), and the effects of social capital on the integration of information (Choi and Scott 2013; Choi and Chung 2013; Newell, Tansley, and Huang 2004). However, there has been minimal attention paid to the effects of both kinds of social capital on consumers’ perceptions of the value of the information garnered from SNSs (i.e. SNI) for the purposes of shopping. The purpose of this study is twofold: First, this study investigates the influence of bonding and bridging behaviours on consumers’ perceptions of SNI. Second, this study examines the influence of these behaviours on consumers’ perceptions of SNI’s usefulness, their perceptions of how easy SNI is to use, their engagement or flow with SNI experiences, and ultimately on their use of SNI when shopping. This study contributed to the expansion of previous studies on the effect of social capital on consumers’ perceptions of SNI. Furthermore, this study provides guidelines for understanding how different types of social capital (i.e. bonding and bridging capital) affect consumers’ shopping behaviours according to various aspects of SNI experiences (i.e. ease of use, usefulness, and flow)

Theoretical background

An SNS represents ‘a virtual community in which people with shared interests can communicate by posting and exchanging information about themselves’ (Shin 2010, 428). This research is grounded in the perspective that SNSs are sociotechnical systems and thereby attends to the social and technical components of SNSs. Prior research provides a number of theoretical frameworks from which constructs can be integrated to build this study’s conceptual model. Social capital theory (Putnam 2000) underpins the examination of social dimensions related to SNI use. The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis 1989) and the concept of flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1997) provide ways to examine the technical aspects of SNI usage.

Social capital through bridging and bonding behaviour

This study adopts the definition of social capital as ‘social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity’ (Putnam 2000, 6). These social networks can provide value for members which can then be mobilized for action (Beaudoin 2009) and which is linked to the information and influence that the networks provide (Adler and Kwon 2002). Forms of social capital vary along bonding (i.e. internal) and bridging (i.e. external) dimensions. Bonding social capital is bonds of connectedness formed within homogenous groups and bridging social capital is the bonds that are formed across diverse social groups (Putnam 2000). Bonding refers to ‘the interpersonal solidarity that is often present among people who associate in small groups, local communities, and other settings over extended periods of time’ (Wuthnow 2002, 670). Bonding forms of social capital are represented by networks of people who have strong levels of associability and trust, so that they can pursue collective goals (Leana and Van Buren 1999). Bonding is based on dense networks and occurs most easily when group membership is homogeneous (Leonard and Onyx 2003; Putnam 2000). Bonding social capital provides four benefits that help improve overall performance: knowledge sharing, complementarity, quality control, and conflict resolution (Okoli and Oh 2007). Whereas bonding ties are related to bonds of trust and solidarity with homogeneous members, bridging ties are based on forging ties with the broader society (Paxton 1999). Bridging relationships develop among acquaintances who know each other but who are not deeply invested in the relationship. In particular, bridging social capital is suited for diffusing SNI (Putnam 2000), and researchers have examined how bridging social capital is accrued (Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007). These bridging ties help to advance goals, and span gaps in networks (Burt 2001; Putnam 2000). In particular, bridging capital provides benefits in the form of accessing diverse information and controlling disconnected actions (Cao et al. 2013; Burt 2001).

Perceptions of SNS: ease of use, usefulness, and flow

SNSs are online platforms which allow individuals to connect with others, and as Weinberg (2009, 149) states, ‘are generic terms for sites that are used to connect users with similar backgrounds and interests’. These platforms generally have the following characteristics: users (1) have uniquely identifiable profiles that consist of user-supplied content, content provided by other users, and/or system-level data; (2) can publicly articulate connections that can be viewed and traversed by others; and (3) can consume, produce, and interact with streams of user-generated content provided by their connections on the site (Ellison and Boyd 2013, 158). These SNSs are built upon peoples’ existing social ties (i.e. friends, family, and acquaintances) and allow them to publicly engage with people they know and with people with whom they expect to share interests. Although researchers recognize the importance of specifying the particular attributes of different SNSs (Ellison and Boyd 2013), the attributes of particular SNSs are subject to dynamic rates of change in their infrastructures. This is particularly true in the retailing and marketing context in which this research is situated. This context is characterized by multichannel operations, and retailers and marketers are keenly interested in managing the flow of information and advertising across these channels. Given that retailers strategize to develop customer relationships through multiple SNSs (Shin, Pang, and Kim 2015), they are particularly interested in understanding how consumers’ value perceptions and purchasing behaviours are affected by their interactions with these platforms (Watson et al. 2015). As a result, this research takes an integrated perspective of consumers’ use of SNSs (i.e. including various and/or multiple SNSs) (Ngai, Tao, and Moon 2015) and examines their interactions with multiple sources of SNI.

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) provides a way to examine the influences on peoples’ attitudes towards using technologies like SNSs. TAM asserts that perceived usefulness and ease of use are major influences on peoples’ attitudes towards using technologies and ultimately towards their actual use (Davis 1989). Perceived usefulness is defined by Davis (1989) as the extent to which a person believes that using a technology will enhance their task performance and perceived ease of use is the extent they believe that using it will be free of effort. These constructs have been widely studied and show that they mediate people’s intention to use technologies (Venkatesh and Davis 2000), and also their intentions to buy from the web (Cheung et al. 2003). Researchers have also integrated constructs from TAM with constructs from flow theory to examine individuals’ behaviours towards information technologies based on their subjective experiences with the technologies (Siekpe 2005). The concept of flow was originally characterized by Csikszentmihalyi (1997) as an intrinsically motivated optimal state. Characteristics of a flow state include (a) the integration of a clear goal, (b) feedback, (c) the matching of challenges with skills, (d) concentration, (e) focus, (f) control, (g) loss of self-consciousness, (h) transformation of time, and (i) the autotelic nature of an activity. A positive flow state has been empirically confirmed to be a predictor of attitude towards information generated from a system and the extent of use of the system (Trevino and Webster 1992). In particular, researchers have linked the state of flow to online information searches and found that consumers’ attitudes towards firms’ websites and brands are enhanced when the experience is engaging and enjoyable (Mathwick and Rigdon 2004). When researchers have incorporated TAM and flow constructs, they have found that there are linkages between flow, characteristics of the technology, and purchase intentions (Hsu and Lu 2003; Sanchez-Franco 2006; Siekpe 2005). For example, Agarwal and Karahanna’s model (2000) conceptualizes flow as cognitive absorption and incorporates the TAM (Davis 1989). They theorize that flow is a precursor of greater usefulness and perceived ease of use, which then leads to behavioural intention to use. The subjective nature of these purchase intentions is related to the value that consumers attach to their decision-making (Woodruff 1997). Hoffman and Novak (2009) therefore advocated the use of the concept of flow to better understand subjective purchase and repurchase intentions from the web (Cheung et al. 2003). They argue that flow could affect navigation and usage patterns in online shopping (Novak, Hoffman, and Yung 2000; Hoffman and Novak 2009).

Review of literature

Previous research (Hossain and deSilva 2009; Choi and Chung 2013) has determined that social ties affect users’ usage behaviour of SNSs, and researchers have also argued that social factors should be considered when explaining the effects of the technological aspects on usage (Rau, Gao, and Ding 2008; Venkatesh, Morris, and Davis 2003). Accordingly, researchers have examined relationships between TAM constructs, social capital, and knowledge sharing, and have determined that both types of social capital (i.e. bridging and bonding) have positive impacts on users’ perceptions of information quality (Cao et al. 2013). For example, Yen, Chiang, and Chang (2014) found that for SNS users within an organization, there is a positive relationship between social capital development and users’ intentions to use and share SNI. Building upon these findings,this research examines the particular relationships between the antecedents of bridging and bonding social ties and mediators of perceptions of the ease of use, the usefulness, and the experience flow in the actual usage of SNI.

Relationship between bonding and bridging social capital

Research examining the bonding and bridging ties associated with SNS use has shown that engagement with SNSs maintains peoples’ existing ties and provides the basis for forming new connections (Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007). Research on the relationship between bonding and bridging has been conducted in voluntary organizations (Leonard and Onyx 2003), healthcare organizations (Kim, Subramanian, and Kawachi 2006; Mitchell and LaGory 2002), and enterprise resource planning teams (Newell, Tansley, and Huang 2004). Researchers have determined that there is a close relationship between bonding and bridging social capital (Weisinger and Salipante 2005; Newell, Tansley, and Huang 2004). Without bridging social capital, bonding groups may become isolated, and likewise, without bonding social capital, bridging groups may not become cohesive (Newell, Tansley, and Huang 2004). In particular, SNSs provide visible traces of social relationships (i.e. comments, posts, @replies, ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ content) which enable interactions between people in individuals’ networks who have not been previously connected (Ellison and Vitak 2015). These interactions thereby enable the formation of bridging ties through individuals’ previously established bonding ties. Therefore, this study hypothesizes that Previous research has examined the relationships between bridging social capital and perceptions of SNS usefulness. Researchers have found that bridging relationships are positively related to useful benefits such as higher volumes of information, fewer redundancies, and better control (Cao et al. 2013; Kavanaugh et al. 2005; Putnam 2000). Gilewicz’s (2009) study of LinkedIn users found that ease of use was positively related to the development of bridging social capital. Furthermore, Choi and Chung (2013) found that users’ perceptions of social capital are predictors of their perceptions of SNS’ perceived ease of use and usefulness. Likewise, Lampe, Vitak, and Ellison (2013) found that there were positive relationships between bridging capital and perceptions of SNSs. Their study of Facebook users found that users with perceptions of high bridging capital from its use also perceived that it was highly useful. Researchers have also identified positive relationships between social capital and users’ experiences of flow with SNS. Hsu and Lin’s (2008) study of blogging found that ease of use, enjoyment, and information sharing were positively related to users’ social identification and their intention to use SNI. Their research underscored the importance of enjoyment in users’ SNS interactions. This research, therefore, contends that there are positive relationships between bridging social capital and users’ perceptions of ease of use, usefulness and flow experiences with SNI.

Bonding social capital

Bonding social capital affords consumers with useful benefits in terms of information exchange in the following three ways: knowledge sharing, trust establishment, and conflict resolution (Cao et al. 2013; Coleman 1988). Research has determined that bonding ties positively influence SNI users’ perceptions of ease of use of SNI (Cao et al. 2013). For example, users are more likely to expect that SNI is accessible to them if it is recommended by people with whom they have close ties. The flow of users’ experiences with SNI is also positively influenced by the nature of bonding ties. Given that these ties are characterized by close relationships with others on SNSs, it is understandable that the related SNI producing interactions are engaging (Barker et al. 2013). Therefore, this study claims that there are positive relationships between consumers’ bonding social capital and their perceptions of the usefulness of SNI, its ease of use, and the flow of their SNI experience.

Perceived ease of use of SNI for shopping

Numerous studies have identified the positive relationship between consumers’ perceptions about ease of use and usefulness of SNI (Choi and Chung 2013). For example, consumers are more likely to think that information is useful if they have been able to find it easily. This research therefore hypothesizes that Past research has demonstrated the relationship between perceived ease of use and flow experience. The ease of use plays an important role in forming flow experiences (Hsu and Lu 2004). Agarwal and Karahanna (2000) have identified that flow is positively related to users’ perceptions of the ease of use of SNSs. These perceptions are particularly important when users are assessing how to satisfy their SNI needs. This research builds upon these findings and hypothesizes that H9: Consumers’ perception of the ease of use of SNI has a positive impact on the flow of their experience with SNI. Researchers have determined that ease of use is more important for intrinsic tasks, like information searches, than for operational tasks, like purchase transactions (Agarwal and Karahanna, 2000; Gefen and Straub 2000; Venkatesh, Morris, and Davis 2003). Previous studies have demonstrated that perceived ease of use has a positive effect on the intention to use SNI in shopping context (Lee, Lee, and Kwon 2005; Ramayah 2006; Kuo and Lee 2009). Also, Willis (2008) has found positive effects between perceived ease of use and flow experience on usage of SNS. This research therefore hypothesizes that Previous research has determined that perceived usefulness is an important factor when consumers make a shopping decision to actually use a product or service (Pikkarainen et al. 2004). For example, Saadé and Bahli (2005) found that perceived usefulness has a positive effect on consumers’ intention to use online learning services. Also, Nysveen, Pedersen, and Thorbjørnsen (2005) identified that perceived usefulness has a strong impact on consumers’ intention to use services they purchase. Likewise, this study hypothesizes that Consumers’ reactions to social media are also related to their experiences with ‘flow opportunities’ where the consumer is ‘completely engaged with his or her interaction with the computer’ (Hoffman and Novak 2009). In particular, researchers have determined that flow directly influences the use of online environments for purchases (Bridges and Florsheim 2008; Hoffman and Novak 2009; Sanchez-Franco 2006). Hoffman and Novak (2009) have called for studies of the effect of flow when consumers access SNSs during their purchase decisions, and Koufaris (2002) found that consumers’ perceptions of SNI being both useful and enjoyable positively influence their propensity to use the information with shopping activities 

Discussion and conclusions

Consumers’ decisions to actually use SNI when shopping is directly influenced by their perceptions of the potential usefulness of SNI, of the ease of use of the SNI, and of the Table 4. Structural models results. Structural path Coefficient t- 11 flow experience they have with the SNI (Venkatesh, Morris, and Davis 2003). Additionally, this study shows that consumers’ perceptions of the potential usefulness of SNI and of the related flow experience are influenced by their perceptions of the ease of use of the SNI. In other words, the SNI’s ease of use affects perceptions of how useful the information is and of how enjoyable the SNI experience is, and is therefore an important influence on consumers’ actual use of the information for shopping decisions. This study also shows that consumers’ perceptions of how easy to use, useful, and enjoyable the SNIs are affect the value they ascribe to the social ties they have with the groups affiliated with the related sites. In particular, the value of consumers’ bridging ties is increased when consumers perceive that the information they access through their expanded exposure to SNSs is useful and easy to use. Additionally, this study shows that consumers’ perception of the usefulness and ease of use of SNI influence their perceptions of the value of bonding ties when it relates to their shopping behaviour. Previous research (Cao et al. 2013) has determined that consumers’ strong bonding ties with family and friends constitute key information resources when accessing SNI to make shopping decisions. This study shows that their perception of the usefulness and ease of use of the SNI influences their perceptions of the value of these ties when it relates to their shopping behaviour. This study’s findings suggest that there are nuances in the influence of bonding ties on consumers’ use of SNI when purchasing. Keeping with previous research (Boyd and Ellison 2007; Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe 2007), these findings confirm that consumers’ bonding ties to their existing SNS contacts provide the foundation for bridging with other groups. Moreover, consumers are also likely to experience flow with the SNI referred through bonding ties, which further influences their intention to use the information. This finding is in contrast to their flow experiences with SNI referred through bridging ties, which are not as likely to influence their intention to use the information. In keeping with Koufaris (2002) finding, consumers are therefore more likely to enjoy the SNI experiences when they have been referred by family and friends. As determined in prior research (Hoffman and Novak 2009; Sanchez-Franco 2006), because these flow experiences directly influence consumers’ propensity to use SNI when purchasing, bonding ties have significant influences on consumers use of SNI. Additionally, consumers are more likely to perceive that the SNI referred through bonding ties is more enjoyable than the information received through bridging ties, and that, for this reason, they are more inclined to use the information from bonding ties when purchasing. This study makes a theoretical contribution by expanding knowledge about the effects of social capital on consumers’ perception of SNI when making purchasing decisions. In particular, this study expands understanding by showing how different types of social capital directly influence shopping behaviour, according to the influences of different aspects of the SNI experience (i.e. including ease of use, usefulness, and flow). These findings show that the influence of bonding ties on purchasing decisions is mediated by consumers’ perceptions of the SNI related to ease of use, usefulness, and flow. Additionally, perceptions of flow are mediated by the nature of social ties with the people who refer SNI. These findings have practical implications for marketing managers. They should understand how consumers are socially connected through their online platforms. In 12 H. HYUN ET AL. particular, data analysis of brand-specific SNS usage should discern patterns of social relationships between purchasers. The nature of these relationships are important when determining approaches to analysing customer relationship management issues, including customer churn (Verbeke, Martens, and Baesens 2014), and marketing and advertising across multiple channels. In particular, managers should focus on ensuring that the SNI derived from bonding communities is both easy to use and enjoyable. How does the structure of social networks’ interfaces lead to a fluid and engaging experience? Additionally, interrelationships between multiple SNS should also be examined for patterns in the social ties of participants. For example, how does the combined use of Facebook and Instagram reflect bonding and bridging ties? This study was limited by the nature of the self-reported descriptive information provided by the participants. Although the current sample provides demographic information, there is no corresponding information about the type of SNSs that they utilize, the types of groups that are involved with the sites, the time that they have been associated with the SNSs, and the nature of their affiliation with the group(s). Keeping with the recommendations of Ellison and Vitak (2015), this information would have provided a more granular examination of the social capital relationships related to particular SNS attributes. In addition, this research is limited by the size of the sample and a larger sample would provide the basis for a deeper investigation. Further research should consider the demographics of the users and the types of SNS platforms they used. Studies about the vagaries related to the usage of different types of SNSs in different retail sectors or with different product purchases would also contribute to a broader understanding of the nature of network influences. Finally, further research should also investigate the nature of the social capital related to SNI use. Given that this study demonstrates the influence of bonding and bridging ties on perceptions of SNI characteristics, more granular and qualitative studies should examine the nuances of the processes (relationship and temporal) that constitute the development of SNS social capital in relation to purchasing behaviour. These studies should investigate the size of the social networks, the types of relationships involved, and the stages of development of the social networks.


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Hyowon Hyun, Frances Gunn & Jungkun Park To cite this article: Hyowon Hyun, Frances Gunn & Jungkun Park (2019): The influence of social capital through social media: a study of the creation of value in shopping behaviour, The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, DOI: 10.1080/09593969.2018.1555543 To link to this article:

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