Maria Fernanda Arreola, ESSCA School of Management, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Over the last years, entrepreneurship researchers have attempted to explain the role of the internet revolution in the commercialization of products and services (Poon & Swatman, 1997: Guillen & Suarez, 2001: Wennekers, Sander, et al., 2005). In the Web 2.0 era, search platforms, online selling points and social media, have had a large impact on how we conduct business. Social networks have become especially responsible for changing how we engage in and make relationships with others. Although social media has not replaced offline communication forms, it has become an integrated portion of our daily interactions (Baym, Zhang, & Lin, 2004). Its quick adoption worldwide has turned it into a transnational exchange platform, with indisputable high penetration, adoption and use rates (Lenhart & Madden, 2007).
From a business perspective, studies have captured the consequences of our digital interactivity on two ends: on one, authors have explored the repercussions of social media use on the establishment of a marketing value proposition (Hoffman & Marek, 2010; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010); on the other, researchers have recognized the structural effects of social media to businesses’ operations (Guttentag, 2013; Ho, Au & Newton: 2003). These two approaches assume that firms exist outside of social media, but use it as a complimentary portion of their activities. I propose the existence of a third category, a phenomenon I call “Social Media Entrepreneurship” that consists on the emergence of new entrepreneurial ventures, through social media use.
I explain this new form of entrepreneurship by turning to the process of social capital creation through social media. The concept of social capital represents the benefits that derive from of our participation in social networks (Aldrich, 1999, 81-88). As described by Bourdieu, it is “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition” (1986, p. 248)
Social media has been shown to be a faster and more precise way to developing our networks and therefore enriching our social capital. In fact, in addition to replicating many key features of traditional social capital development, social media provides increased benefits. For instance, through its use, we can more easily access networks with few redundant ties (e.g., people with whom we share no common friends), overcome personality traits (like lack of confidence) and seek immediate personal benefits (informational, instrumental or emotional) (Utz & Muscanell, 2015). We also can increase the density of our existing networks (e.g. by joining groups) allowing us to develop communities. Additionally, since social media connections are started on a binary basis (either accepted or declined) the person has an indication of the subsequent limits for further interaction or the development of a relationship with his target. Social networks offer therefore a valid and reachable source for developing new social connections. More importantly, general social networks (such as Facebook, Qzone, Orkut and Netlog) possess platforms that allow for the sub-categorization of specialty groups, through which people can create connections with similar departing points (interests, nationality, country of residency, age of children).
Entrepreneurial emergence relies on social capital for its development (Aldrich & Martinez, 2001; Burt, 2000; Hansen, 1995). This is explained in that, through networks entrepreneurs can gain access to resources outside their control including information, assets, skills and customers (Aldrich & Martinez, 2001; Zimmer, 1986; Greve & Salaff, 2003) or as per Coleman, “... social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence” (2000, pg.16). Entrepreneurs require social capital to capture resources that are otherwise unavailable, including human and financial ones (Aldrich & Martinez, 2001). As entrepreneurs strengthen their relationships or add new links to their networks, their social capital increases and so does the likelihood of achieving their goals.
The creation of social capital through social media can therefore lead to the emergence of new firms. By utilizing the networking, organization and communication structures that social media provides, users can recognize and develop new business ventures. In this paper, I aim to explain the features of this “Social Media Entrepreneurship” (SMEp). I therefore navigate how nascent entrepreneurs interact with social media platforms, and I depict how they allow them overcome challenges of access, time, capital, language and information, to establish the commercialization of products and services.
In order to explain the SMEp phenomenon, I perform a three-phase study of a group of immigrants using social media in France. I intentionally select a group of people that lack deeply rooted and strong network ties, in order to show the extent to which social media helps alleviate and compensate for this handicap (previous research has established that foreigners tend to lack social capital, see McMichael & Manderson, 2004). The empirical study consists of a netnographic three-month review of interactions on a Facebook group, a collection of twenty-two semi-structured interviews of likely social media entrepreneurs and a survey of entrepreneurs using social media. The results allow us to understand the existence of SMEp, the differentiating factors between traditional firms using social media and social-media entrepreneurs and the types of resources that are captured through the social capital gained through social media. The discoveries lead use to the conclusion that social media is an environment that allows for the creation of firms, that would have not existed otherwise. Our key contributions involve increasing our understanding on the effects of social platform use in the business environment as well as the depiction of the phenomenon of Social Media Entrepreneurship. I also make a final note on the opportunity of other researchers to study the economic, social and policy-impact of the emergence of such firms.
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