[ECAR 2007 Winter] Nicole Ellison – Facebook Use On Campus


Nicole Ellison, from Michigan State University, is talking on Facebook Use on Campus: A Social Capital Perspective on Social Network Sites.

Social network sites allow individuals to: construct a profile, articulate a list of other users that they’re connected to, and view and traverse their list of connections and those of others.

In Facebook people are primarily articulating an existing offline network, as opposed to trolling for new connections. An estimated 79-95% of all undergrads have Facebook accounts.

Who’s using Facebook? White students more likely (Hispanic students more likely to use MySpace). Students who live at home less likely to use social network sites.

When are students using Facebook? Not substituting for f2f time – use is less during weekends, for example. During summer it’s higher – when they’re not together.

Did a series of surveys of MSU undergrads, interviews and cognitive walk-throughs, and automated capture of web content.

What are students doing on Facebook?

  • Engaging in online self-presentation – going to be an increasingly important skill as digital citizens.
  • Engaging in social behavior: converting latent tiees to weak ties; maintaining existing relationships; resurrecting past relationships
  • Converting latent ties to weak ties – ties that are technically possible but not yet activated socially – e.g. someone who’s in a large lecture class with me but I haven’t spoken to yet. FB makes it easy to find out about these people, through their profile. Hypothesize that having that kind of social info about people lowers barriers to f2f contact. FB enables managing a large network of weak ties.
  • Maintaining relationships – students use FB to remember phone numbers or dorm room numbers (interesting thoughts wrt our directories).
  • Resurrecting past relationships – maintaining contact with high school friends.

Students surveyed said they had an average of over 250 FB friends and around 150 friends at that campus, and about a third of those are actual friends.

Social capital – benefits we reap from our relationships with others. Like other forms of capital it has real value. Bridging social capital is linked to weak ties – provides useful information or new perspectives for one another, but typically not emotional support. Bonding social capital reflects strong ties with family and close friends – support network.

Survey items about FB intensity. Facebook intensity is a good predictor of bridging social capital. Bridging social capital may be especially important in the period of emerging adulthood (18-25). They found that FB helps students with low esteem build bridging social capital more than students with high self esteem. In 2007 students reported 4 hours Internet use a day and 54 minutes a day on FB.

Stanford had a course (CS377W) on Creating Engaging Facebook Apps – two of the top five facebook apps were from this course.

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