Social media - caring in a shared world (4): Social media capital

How and why can academics build and maintain their social media capital

How and why can academics build and maintain their social media capital? This is the fourth post in the series: “Caring in a shared-world”. See also (1): Self & others and (2): Towards an authentic Identity and (3): Online identity reconstruction.

I define social media capital as the accumulated benefits deriving from social assets like interpersonal relationships, institutions or other assets of a community or group. Social media capital:

  • is a way for academics to understand the value of their online social networks.
  • can support academics’ maintenance, development, and expansion of their online image.
  • arises from academics’ capacity to consider others, to think and act cooperatively.

Social media capital, therefore, relates to the building of social relationships and social structures. It involves academics’ knowledge about each other, their wider environment, and the ambition to develop positive relationships based on kindness, reciprocity, and respect. Academics engaging in building of their social media capital can develop supportive social structures that enable prosocial actions and discourage abusive behaviours.

The multi-dimensional nature of social media capital

Social media capital is multi-dimensional and comprises every facet of social structure and interaction. The Institute for Social Capital (2022) indicates that social structures and interaction exist at the micro, meso, and macro level. The micro-level comprises social relationships between individuals. The meso level includes social groupings, such as family or workplace, and the macro-level addresses society, culture, and institutions, driven by an individual’s social status, power, reputation, values, and social networking preferences.

Social capital levels (Institute for Social Capital, 2022)

While social capital has individual characteristics, these characteristics comprise a collective environment to which an individual belongs. Social relationships are influenced by the interaction between an individual (micro-level), as well as by the characteristics of the wider social environment (meso and macro-level).

At the micro-level, an individual has a certain level of control over their preferences and choices of their social capital. At the meso and macro level, social capital becomes routinised and institutionalised. At these levels, an individual becomes just one of many social actors and has less control over the constitution of their social capital. Therefore, the main idea of social media capital is that academics acquire social capital, on social media platforms, comprising social structures and interactions across the micro, meso, and macro-level. 

Why is social media capital important?

In an increasing digital world, social media capital can be seen as an important factor contributing to how academics can digitally market themselves (see How to digitally market yourself: a beginner's guide for students and academics). Social media capital is important because it can:

  • support academics’ visibility.
  • enable connections with influencers.
  • support academics’ career advancement.
  • increase the reach of both academic audiences and other stakeholders.
  • enable the finding of collaborators around the globe.
  • increase an academic’s reputation.
  • increase motivation, innovation, and creativity.
  • develop cultural awareness about academic issues of inclusion and diversity.
  • promote an academics’ institution.
  • support research grant applications.
  • build academics’ reputation and trustworthiness.

Hence, the value of academics’ social capital is important because it comprises multiple aspects that impact academics’ professional success. 

Maintaining social media capital

Building social media capital is a long-term process and necessitates repeated positive interaction with others. In contrast, social media capital can quickly be destroyed. A key reason for the potential fast destruction of social media capital may be the one-click cancellation of relationships. A cancellation means withdrawing from a connection with others who use their profile in ways that are perceived inappropriate or harmful. Having said that, social media capital may also be damaged by influences that reduce the goodness and disrupt the social networks. Hence, this includes any antisocial action, anything that makes academics feel less caring or social towards their stakeholders. Such actions may include online harassment, betrayal of trust, inappropriate use of language, or trolling.

Therefore, to mitigate the risk of cancellation academics need to value harmony of their social media capital. The concept of harmony focuses on the maintenance of relationships despite inevitable tensions or disagreements. Harmony does not mean to give-in in order to maintain peace because that would lead to peace built on lies. The problem with such an approach is that if academics give up their opinion or interest for the sake of peace, their needs may not be met, and their voices may not be heard due to the dominance of others. Also, academics who experience misuse and stay silent create a surreal harmony. While academics should never tolerate abuse, harmony may be restored if they reflect on values that they share with people and how they can attune disagreements with others. Hence, it is necessary to continuously compromise, tune and maintain relationships so that everyone’s voice is heard and valued, and everyone can be held accountable for their actions.

Harmony is not only about the governance of behaviour, but it is also about governing emotions when academics build and maintain their social media capital. Harmony does not mean that emotions need to be suppressed, but it is about the management of emotions so that they are in tune with the specific situation. Moreover, following Jaggar (1989), emotions are defined as sources of knowledge that tell us about the state of things in our relationships with others. Hence, having the right emotions at the right time. Therefore, academics may engage in reflective practices to become self-aware of how they feel about their social networks of their social media capital. 

Finally, in order to maintain harmony, the wellbeing of academics and their stakeholders matters. Everyone within a situation deserves to be noticed and cared for. This includes the academics themselves. Academics’ self-care is crucial to maintaining harmony. Self-care is related to academics’ awareness of when a connection within their social media capital becomes toxic or harmful. Hence, when restoring harmony or the cancellation of a connection is the right thing to do. If academics encounter social capital that negatively impacts their wellbeing, then they may have to cancel the connection and put their interests and values before others. However, if academics seek to understand the values they share with others and accommodate disagreements then they may maintain or restore harmony. Academics, therefore, require developing awareness of the boundaries between themselves and their stakeholders and the related values such relationships have.

Tips to build your social media capital

Building social media capital is a long-term process and comprises multiple strategies.

Proactive Networking

  • Search for valuable connections.
  • Contact others and engage with their content.
  • Join communities and groups.
  • Write interesting posts and share your opinion.

Be strategic

  • Decide what type of connections that you are looking for.
  • Have a clear target audience.
  • Plan the topics that promote your profile.
  • Engage with academics’ posts that add value to your own profile.
  • Communicate with purposefully and meaningfully.


  • Develop a diverse network that adds value to your profile.
  • Approach an international audience.
  • Include and engage with an audience that is different from you.
  • Be creative and innovative when choosing your content and connections.

Plan your time

  • Dedicate weekly time to focus on building your social media capital.
  • Schedule time to engage with specific stakeholders.
  • Take time to attend events and group meetings.
  • Schedule time to review your profile and maintain its design and quality.
  • Keep in touch with former colleagues and alumni.

Stay focused

  • It is important to narrow down the range of stakeholders.
  • Make sure you choose quality connections and focus less on the quantity.
  • Assess if each of your relationships is beneficial.
  • Carefully analyse your relationships profile and avoid connecting with an unknown audience.
  • Building a social capital comprising of value relationships may be one of the most efficient ways to digitally marketing yourself and developing of your career prospects.

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