How Much Is Your Social Capital Worth?

Hazelton et al.’s (2007) social capital theory was beginning to remind me of the Tragedy of the Commons. The way he was describing it, gaining capital and paying back debts via favors and relationship connections, made it seem like it would be so easy for someone to become greedy and take and take and take favors but never pay them back. If a public relations practitioner, or anyone for that matter, takes advantage of people’s generosity and kindness, then those used people will start to become questionable of everyone’s motives and slowly stop helping others. Later in the chapter, Lin discussed a “generation gap” and how older Americans are less familiar with social tools (p. 97). I can’t recall the exact location I saw this yesterday (might have been on Twitter), but it was a statistic saying how on average 40-year-old mothers have more friends on Facebook than their teenage children. Additionally, my grandparents are on Facebook. And I’m sure there are many 55+ individuals on Twitter following the latest senior citizen deals and information. So what “generation gap” is he talking about? 

Lin then went on to discuss social capital and how it is gained through the use of social media tools and technologies such as cell phones. To counter-argue this, I’m going to use my dad as an example. He just recently got a cell phone last year and the only person he calls on it is me or my mom, has never had an email address, and thinks Facebook is a waste of time. Yet I would say he’s got a pretty decent account of social capital. The connections he has with neighborhood people and others around town are astonishing for someone with so little communication tools. It also seems like every one wants to offer him a favor or invite him to an event even though he denies. (I think now it’s turned into a sort of competition to see who can get him at their neighborhood party first.) This makes me wonder, do public relations practitioners really need all of these “fabulous” social media tools in order to gain social capital or are we just using them as a crutch?

This also relates to the “Meetup” website as discussed by Shirky on page 195. What happened to meeting people in public and introducing yourself and building a conversation? Why take the mystery out of new acquaintances by stalking their online life first? Are we getting lazy or is social media robbing us of our social skills? And what effect do these limited social skills have on building personal social capital?

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“Whenever you improve a group’s ability to communicate internally, you can change the things it is capable of” (Shirky, p. 171)

Does this mean that if that tool is taken away the public is no longer capable of accomplishing things? Have they lost their original communication skills?

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In chapter seven of Shirky, he talks about people tweeting through situations and updating others during crises in Egypt. As unfortunate as the current crisis in Egypt is, this chapter was perfect timing to relate to current events. Only in present day, the Egyptian government has banned the Internet thus limiting the public’s social communication. I believe text messaging has been enabled again, but that still does not provide them with much. Will this Internet ban actual limit people’s social interaction though?

Shirky later said

"Many countries place restrictions on the media in the run-up to elections, but this raises the question of who "the media" is today and what controls should be put on them. Different countries are coming up with different answers - Singapore banned blogging during the last few weeks before a 2005 election but couldn't control Singaporeans blogging overseas; the Thai government forbade blogging on all political matters, to little effect; and the U.S. election commission decided not to even try to apply its media coverage rules to blogging" (p. 209-10).

Why does the United States not even bother? Do they realize that the media is, essentially, out of the hands of the government and is now people driven? And also, how is Egypt succeeding with banning the Internet (and blogging)? How long will they be able to continue this control?

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Lastly, I wanted to mention how on Wednesday I went to an FPRA event and listened to Rick Vaughn, VP of Communications for the Tampa Bay Rays, speak. I found it surprising that with all he has to deal with regarding the stadium moving, players in the media, etc., he said that his biggest challenge was social media. We often take advantage of it and think social media is so much simpler than it actually is, but in reality it’s a complex level of strategic communication that everyone still has a lot to learn about.