Social capital and subjective well-being: The mediating role of social networking sites
First Monday

Social capital and subjective well-being: The mediating role of social networking sites by Li-Ann Hwang, Jason Wei Jian Ng, and Santha Vaithilingam



Abstract
Many studies have examined the separate impacts of social capital (bonding and bridging) and the use of social networking sites (SNSs) on subjective well-being (SWB). However, few studies address the mediating role that SNS use has on the relationship between social capital and SWB. The current study addresses this research gap, examining the extent to which SNS use mediates the relationship between social capital and SWB. Moreover, this study theorizes SNS use to be a behavioural outcome of social capital, as opposed to the widespread view that SNSs are a tool to generate social capital. Using primary data from a sample of 307 undergraduate students, the partial least squares structural equation modelling technique was used to analyze the data via a sequential mediating mechanism. The findings highlight the importance of the utilitarian use of SNS in mediating the relationship between bridging social capital and SWB. On the other hand, the direct effect of bonding social capital on SWB was found to be stronger than the indirect effects, indicating that SNS use is not crucial in mediating this particular relationship. Theoretical and practical implications of the study are subsequently discussed.

Contents

Introduction
Literature review and research hypotheses
Methods
Empirical results
Discussion
Implications and limitations

 


 

Introduction

University students usually undergo a stressful transition period which requires adjustment to a new social and educational environment (Fisher, 1994). Moreover, students also have to confront stressors associated with course work, academic study, and examinations (e.g., Ansari, et al., 2014, 2011). Therefore, although the university environment provides abundant possibilities for students to socialise, pursue personal aspirations, and acquire and apply knowledge and skills (Mazzucchelli and Purcell, 2015), students are bound to face a myriad of challenges associated with social and academic pressures. All these challenges may negatively affect their life satisfaction, and subsequently their level of well-being. Under these circumstances, understanding how students can maintain a healthy level of subjective well-being (SWB) as they navigate through their university years becomes important. Here, SWB is defined as a person’s own affective and cognitive evaluation of their lives (Vittersø, et al., 2005).

An individual’s SWB is not explained solely by individual characteristics such as self-esteem (e.g., Cha, 2003), academic achievement (e.g., Van Petegem, et al., 2008), or demographic characteristics (e.g., Sivis-Cetinkaya, 2013), but also by their social interactions (Fiorillo and Sabatini, 2011; Klein, 2013). Social networking sites (SNSs) provide an online platform for such social interactions to take place amongst students if they are members of those sites (Ellison, et al., 2014). Being Web-based communication platforms, SNSs offer a wide range of functionalities for their users. Although they may be hugely used for fun and leisure, they are also used for utilitarian purposes (Kim, et al., 2015; Xu, et al., 2012). Furthermore, due to their design and features which allow for users to create personal profiles, share text, images and information, and to be linked to other members through association of similar interests (Lin and Lu, 2011), SNSs are increasingly associated with the creation and maintenance of social capital (Ellison, et al., 2007; Steinfield, et al., 2008; Su and Chan, 2017), which traditionally correlates with SWB (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004; Hommerich and Tiefenbach, 2018; Leung, et al., 2011).

Prior studies have presented theoretical and empirical support for the influence of SNS use on social capital (Ellison, et al., 2014, 2007; Su and Chan, 2017). In those studies, SNSs are, by and large, viewed as a tool to maintain and generate social capital. On the other hand, very few studies have considered Yoon’s (2014) proposition that SNS use is a “behavioural manifestation of social capital”. Yoon’s justification is built on social capital theory which views civic and political participation, and by extension, SNS use, as behavioural outcomes of social capital. This is because such engagements are voluntary and can only arise in an environment of strong ties built on mutual trust, a critical component of social capital (Yoon, 2014). This paradigm inherently implies that an individual will engage in such collective activities only after obtaining a certain level of social capital. This also reflects a social phenomenon in which the decision to use SNSs largely depends on the existing interactions among users, where the use of such social technologies is only feasible when a community of individuals is willing to use, and continue to use the technology together (Cheung and Lee, 2010). Therefore, whilst SNSs are used as an instrument for social capital formation and maintenance, this study’s context focuses on how university students capitalise on their existing social capital to engage in SNS use in ways that they perceive are useful to them. It is through this lens that social capital is perceived to be an antecedent of SNS use, where the use of SNSs depends on the nature and amount of social capital.

While past studies have provided empirical support for the relationship between social capital and SWB (e.g., Helliwell and Putnam, 2004; Wang, et al., 2015), and between SNS use and SWB (e.g., Lee, et al., 2013; Wang, et al., 2014), relatively little is known about the role of SNS as a mediating mechanism between social capital and SWB. Therefore, another objective of this study is to examine the mediating role of SNS use in the relationship between social capital and SWB using data from a sample of Malaysian university students. In particular, this study disentangles the purpose of SNS use into hedonic (i.e., enjoyment purposes) and utilitarian (i.e., learning purposes) uses, whereby the purpose of SNS use acts as a sequential mediator between social capital and SWB.

In this study, Facebook is considered as the SNS of interest as it is the most favoured SNS in Malaysia, with 97.3 percent of Malaysians owning a Facebook account (Malaysian Communications Multimedia Commission, 2017), and approximately 28 percent of this number range from 18 to 24 years old (We Are Social, 2018), which is the typical age group of university students.

 

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Literature review and research hypotheses

Social capital

Existing literature has noted the various definitions of social capital due to its multidimensional facet consisting of different levels and units of analysis (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000). Nevertheless, there is a shared understanding that social capital is characterised by the possession of networks in a social structure that actors can derive benefits from (Lin, 2001; Williams, 2006). This study adapts Putnam’s [1] definition of social capital, defined as the “connections among individuals — social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” According to Putnam, social capital is a collective public good which inheres between two or more individuals, providing benefits to individuals and the larger community (Bhandari and Yasunobu, 2009; Julien, 2015). The underlying premise is that whilst social capital is a collective asset which focuses on the community as the central unit of analysis, individuals (as members of the community) can aggregate their resources which in turn provides benefits to all actors — individual and collective (Lin, 2001; Woolcock and Narayan, 2000).

Given that one of the core characteristics of social capital is about possessing networks, this study considers the two forms of social capital classified by Putnam (2000) that are based on network attributes: bonding and bridging social capital. Bonding social capital consists of links among individuals with identical characteristics (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004), encompassing closed networks of close friends and families (Sabatini, 2009). In contrast, bridging social capital comprises of individuals from diverse backgrounds, and unites people from various social cleavages (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004). In the literature, bonding and bridging social capital have also been characterized as strong ties and weak ties respectively (e.g., Ellison, et al., 2007; Fu, et al., 2017; Krämer, et al., 2014).

Social capital and subjective well-being

Social support gained from one’s network of relationships is valuable in improving one’s SWB as it is associated with increased positive emotions (Diener and Oishi, 2005). The network of strong ties is also crucial for providing emotional support through the frequent communication and interaction with family and friends, thereby enhancing an individual’s SWB (Williams, 2006). Furthermore, such expressive resources cannot be obtained through weak ties (Wang, et al., 2015; Williams, 2006). The support acquired from one’s close relationships with people can boost one’s confidence, provide a sense of reassurance, and act as a buffer against stress (Uchida, et al., 2008; Umberson and Montez, 2010). Therefore, individuals with a network of strong tie relationships would be able to experience greater levels of well-being (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004; Wang, et al., 2015). Consequently, it is hypothesized that:

H1a: Bonding social capital is positively related to an individual’s SWB.

Several studies have also found that interactions with weak ties are just as important in enabling individuals to experience greater levels of SWB (Sandstrom and Dunn, 2014; Wang, et al., 2015). According to Granovetter (1983), weak ties allow the formation of a ‘bridge’ between two heterogeneous groups of individuals. Subsequently, these formed bridges enable individuals to be connected to dissimilar social groups, and simultaneously allow for the acquisition of information that is not available in their own group (Lin, 1999). This information can help enrich one’s understanding and adaptability, leading to improvements in personal well-being (Wang, et al., 2015). Wang, et al. (2015) also speculate that weak ties can function as ladders to social resources, where an influential mentor can help guide, vouch for and highlight opportunities to their mentees. In addition to these functions, interactions with weak ties can improve well-being by making one feel a greater sense of belonging, or by contributing diversity to one’s social network (Sandstrom and Dunn, 2014). Hence, through these various mechanisms, weak tie relationships can help facilitate individuals to enjoy greater levels of well-being. Therefore, it is expected that:

H1b: Bridging social capital is positively related to an individual’s SWB.

Whilst weak ties are a superior source of information acquisition, strong ties are able to offer both informational and emotional support (Krämer, et al., 2014). In contrast to weak ties, information provided by family members and close friends may be more valuable as these relationships are well established, and thus, the information provided by strong ties could more likely be in the best interests of the individual (Krämer, et al., 2014). Coupled with the ability of strong ties to help individuals cope with everyday stressors and stress-inducing occurrences (Albrecht and Goldsmith, 2003), we hypothesize that:

H1c: Bonding social capital will be more positively related to an individual’s SWB compared to bridging social capital.

Purpose of social networking site use

Studies have employed the uses and gratifications theory (UGT) (Katz, et al., 1973) as a framework to explain how and why people actively engage in the use of a particular type of media (e.g., Phua, et al., 2017; Park, et al., 2009). According to this theory, people obtain gratifications through the use of media by fulfilling their social, leisure, and informational needs (Phua, et al., 2017). In particular, gratifications can be categorized into process and content gratifications (Kayahara and Wellman, 2007; Raacke and Bonds-Raacke, 2008). Process gratifications are derived from the execution of an activity, while content gratifications stem from the attainment of information.

Numerous studies have drawn upon the UGT to analyze motives for using SNSs. For example, Park, et al. (2009) revealed four primary needs for participating in Facebook groups: socialising, entertainment, self-status seeking, and information. Xu, et al. (2012) found that utilitarian gratifications of immediate access and coordination, and hedonic gratifications of affection, leisure, and Web site social presence were positive predictors of SNS usage. Quan-Haase and Young (2010) also identified six gratifications derived from Facebook use: passing time, showing affection, following fashion, sharing problems, demonstrating sociability, and improving social knowledge.

In the education context, Facebook has been described as the “social glue” that helps students settle into university life (Madge, et al., 2009). Facebook enables students to maintain connections with others, follow updates about friends, plan social events, or make new friends (Ellison, et al., 2007; Urista, et al., 2009). In doing so, students receive hedonic gratifications, such as affection and leisure (Phua, et al., 2017). Facebook is also a means to support both formal and informal learning (Madge, et al., 2009). For example, students consider Facebook to be a valuable learning resource because it improves the development of academic connections, and promotes academic critiques, discussion and networking (McCarthy, 2012). It also supports students in the areas of communication, collaboration, and material and resource sharing (Arteaga Sánchez, et al., 2014). Therefore, in this study, we posit that students use Facebook because of its hedonic and utilitarian functionalities. The latter involves activities related to learning, while the former involves activities related to the experience of enjoyment from the use of Facebook.

Social capital and the purpose of social networking site use

Prior studies have shown that individuals tend to engage in SNS use to interact with their off-line contacts as opposed to making new friends (Reich, et al., 2012; Subrahmanyam, et al., 2008). Similarly, individuals are more likely to partake in SNS use if their family members or friends use these sites as there will be more like-minded people whom they can associate with (Sledgianowski and Kulviwat, 2009). This would lead to greater meaningful interactions which subsequently heighten the sense of pleasure that one can attain through the use of SNSs (Lin and Lu, 2011). Based on a study conducted by Niland, et al. (2015), Facebook allows individuals to interact with their friends through activities such as posting comments, videos, and photos, which could evoke a sense of enjoyment from its use. In our study, we argue that bonding social capital has a greater influence in predicting the hedonic use of Facebook due to the greater intimacy required to engage in such interactions and behaviours compared to bridging social capital. Therefore, we hypothesize that:

H2: Bonding social capital will be more positively related to the hedonic use of Facebook than bridging social capital.

Besides providing enjoyment to users, SNSs are also widely perceived as an information channel, whereby users engage in information seeking and sharing behaviours (Park, et al., 2010). These behaviours are indispensable components of SNSs. Individuals are more likely to engage in information sharing behaviours if they consider their network of relationships on SNSs to be made up mostly of weak ties (Kim, et al., 2015). Given the wider network of friends and acquaintances on Facebook, students can capitalise on these relationships for utilitarian purposes. As such, Facebook not only provides a platform for acquiring and sharing information, but also to engage in collaborative learning activities with peers in an online setting (Manca and Ranieri, 2013). Consequently, individuals would rely more on weak ties for their ability to offer diverse and unique information, as compared to strong ties which tend to supply redundant information (Burke and Kraut, 2013; Park, et al., 2010). Thus, we hypothesize that:

H3: Bridging social capital will be more positively related to the utilitarian use of Facebook than bonding social capital.

Purpose of social networking site use and subjective well-being

Studies examining the relationship between SNS use and SWB have found that the various types of SNS use affect an individual’s well-being differently (e.g., Burke, et al., 2011; Valkenburg, et al., 2006; Wang, et al., 2014). The influence of the different types of online communication on well-being is said to be dependent on an individual’s goals, the intimacy of relationships, and the nature of the interaction (Burke, et al., 2011; Huang, 2010).

Facebook allows individuals to engage in activities such as posting status updates, and commenting on posts by other friends (Verduyn, et al., 2017; Lee, et al., 2013). These interactions endorse greater self-disclosure among individuals, and thus, they are able to convey their thoughts, feelings, and personal information with their network of friends (Lee, et al., 2011; Lee, et al., 2013). As interactions such as status updates on Facebook represent a “one-to-many” communication style, individuals are able to elicit companionship or social support from their network of friends [2]. The responses that one may acquire from their friends through this interaction, which can be interpreted as a gesture of care, would generate a sense of satisfaction and happiness for the individual (Manago and Vaughn, 2015; Vitak and Ellison, 2013). Additionally, positive comments received from friends could boost self-esteem, and subsequently lead to greater well-being (Valkenburg, et al., 2006). Therefore, we hypothesize that:

H4a: The hedonic use of Facebook has a positive impact on an individual’s SWB.

While Facebook is mainly used for establishing, enhancing, and maintaining relationships, its use as an educational tool is beneficial as it allows students to achieve better learning outcomes (Arteaga Sánchez, et al., 2014). Although students may engage in classroom interactions with their peers, channels such as Facebook not only help the establish friendships that may be hard to attain in off-line contexts, but can also be useful in accessing more information related to their course, which is essential for their overall performance in university (Yu, et al., 2010). Hwang, et al. (2004) also revealed that students who network with their peers and academic staff would benefit from gaining knowledge and information resulting in improved performance. Moreover, the use of Facebook for utilitarian purposes could promote interaction, communication, and collaboration amongst peers, thereby facilitating the improvement of learning outcomes (Arteaga Sánchez, et al., 2014). As a result, the use of Facebook for educational purposes may help improve the well-being of students. Thus, we hypothesize that:

H4b: The utilitarian use of Facebook has a positive impact on an individual’s SWB.

Mediating effect of the purpose of social networking site use

With enjoyment being an essential motivation for individuals to engage in SNS use (Jung, et al., 2017), SNSs are predominantly used for hedonic instead of utilitarian purposes (Sledgianowski and Kulviwat, 2009; Li, et al., 2015). However, the hedonic use of SNSs can subsequently lead to their utilitarian use. Findings from prior studies have asserted that the hedonic value derived from the usage of a system plays an important role in the acceptance of its utilitarian aspects (van der Heijden, 2004; Xu, et al., 2012; Yu, et al., 2010). During the early stages of use, the novelty of a new system or technology drives the enjoyment and pleasure of its users, captivating them (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982; Magni, et al., 2010). With increased experience of the system over time, users’ sense of novelty decreases, and they would gradually realise the utilitarian potential of the system (Karahanna, et al., 1999; Venkatesh, et al., 2012).

Similarly, findings have shown that university students who initially engage in SNS use for hedonic purposes would eventually use it for learning purposes, which consequently enhances self-esteem, satisfaction with university life, and performance proficiency (Yu, et al., 2010). Therefore, while university students may engage in SNS use for hedonic purposes in the preliminary stages, they are likely to eventually extend their use for utilitarian purposes once they uncover features and functionalities which could potentially enhance their learning (Xu, et al., 2012; Yu, et al., 2010). Subsequently, we argue that the hedonic use of Facebook can provide a mechanism or pathway for individuals to eventually use it for utilitarian purposes, consequently leading to improved SWB through improved academic performance (Junco, et al., 2011; Sivis-Cetinkaya, 2013). Thus, the purpose of use for Facebook acts as a sequential mediator [3] in the relationship between social capital and SWB. We hypothesize that:

H5a & H6a: The hedonic use of Facebook mediates the relationship between the two types of social capital (i.e., bonding and bridging social capital) and SWB.
H5b & H6b: The utilitarian use of Facebook mediates the relationship between the two types of social capital (i.e., bonding and bridging social capital) and SWB.
H5c & H6c: The hedonic and utilitarian use of Facebook sequentially mediates the relationship between the two types of social capital (i.e., bonding and bridging social capital) and SWB.

In summary, Figure 1 below illustrates the research model.

 

Research model

 

 

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Methods

Participants

This study involved primary data collection using a questionnaire survey. Data was collected during the semester in March 2016. A flyer containing the details of the survey was posted on the Facebook page of the university’s student association. Flyers were also posted on prominent noticeboards throughout the university. The digital flyer was also uploaded as a desktop wallpaper on all the computers in the computer labs. Students who were interested in participating in the survey responded to the Google form link provided in the flyer. Participants consisted of undergraduate students across different faculties in a private foreign university in Malaysia. Out of the 312 responses obtained, a total of 307 (98 percent) responses were used for the analysis. The participants ranged from 17 to 29 years of age and comprised of 130 (42 percent) males and 177 (58 percent) females. The majority of respondents were in their third year of study (33 percent), followed by first year (31 percent), and second year (25 percent). Those in their fourth and fifth year of study made up 8 percent and 2 percent respectively. In terms of faculties, the majority of respondents were from the School of Business (46 percent), followed by the School of Engineering (24 percent), Pharmacy (8 percent), Science (11 percent), Arts and Social Sciences (5 percent), Information Technology (4 percent), and Health Sciences (2 percent).

Measures

In this study, we used The Satisfaction With Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, et al., 1985) to measure the SWB of students. The SWLS consists of five items, and is measured using a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Social capital was measured using the Internet Social Capital Scale which Williams (2006) had developed based on Putnam’s (2000) conceptualization of bonding and bridging social capital. A total of eight items (three items for bonding social capital and five items for bridging social capital) were extracted from the 20 original items for both bonding and bridging social capital. A five-point Likert scale was used for each of the measurement items, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

This study categorized the purpose of SNS use into hedonic and utilitarian uses. The items measuring hedonic use were adapted from Lin and Lu (2011). On the other hand, indicators measuring utilitarian use were adapted from Lin and Lu (2011), and Arteaga Sánchez, et al. (2014). In all, we extracted a single item to measure hedonic use, and five items to measure utilitarian use. All items were measured using a five-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Data analysis

To analyze the data, the partial least squares structural equation modelling (PLS-SEM) technique was used with the purpose of maximizing the explained variances of the dependent latent constructs, and to assess the quality of data based on the characteristics of the measurement model (Hair, et al., 2011). This method was chosen due to its “causal-predictive”nature [4]. In other words, the model is expected to yield high predictive accuracy, in addition to being based on causal explanations (Sarstedt, et al., 2017). The analysis was conducted using the SmartPLS 3.2.6 software.

 

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Empirical results

Measurement model

The measurement model was assessed for reliability and validity of the latent constructs. From Table 1, most of the indicators’ outer loadings are above the threshold value of 0.70 (Hair, et al., 2017). However, Chin (1998) states that indicators with outer loadings of 0.60 are still acceptable. Therefore, indicators with loadings of less than 0.70 but more than 0.60 are retained as they are important in measuring the particular construct.

The composite reliability (CR) score was used to evaluate internal consistency reliability. From Table 1, the CR scores are all above the suggested threshold of 0.70. Following the guidelines proposed by Diamantopoulos, et al. (2012), the hedonic use of Facebook was measured using a single item as the original multi-item scale was semantically redundant with a Cronbach’s alpha value of greater than 0.90.

The average variance extracted (AVE) for each construct are all above 0.50, indicating adequate convergent validity, whereby the constructs are able to account for at least more than 50 percent of the variation in its indicators.

 

Statement of terms, outer loadings, CR, and AVE scores
 
Note: Larger version of Table 1 available here.

 

Henseler, et al. (2015) proposed using the heterotrait-monotrait (HTMT) ratio of the correlations to examine the model’s discriminant validity instead of the Fornell-Larcker [5] criterion due to the latter’s unacceptably low sensitivity. The HTMT ratio compares the heterotrait-heteromethod correlations (i.e., the correlations of indicators across different constructs) with the monotrait-heteromethod correlations (i.e., the correlations of indicators within the same construct) (Henseler, et al., 2015).

The HTMT ratio can be used to assess discriminant validity through two ways. First, by using the HTMT ratio as a criterion, the correlation estimates between the constructs (Table 2) are compared to a predefined upper limit value of 0.85 (or 0.90), with estimates above the limit indicating the absence of discriminant validity between the constructs (Henseler, et al., 2015). Referring to Table 2, each correlation between the constructs is below 0.90. Second, the HTMT ratio can be used as a statistical test (Franke and Sarstedt, 2019). Table 3 presents the statistical test to assess discriminant validity. A bootstrap confidence interval containing the value of 1 will indicate that discriminant validity is not present. From Table 3, the value of 1 lies outside the confidence intervals. Together, the HTMT results from both the correlation estimates and statistical test indicate the presence of discriminant validity between the constructs.

 

HTMT criterion - Correlation estimates

 

 

HTMT criterion - Statistical test

 

Structural model

The results of the structural model are displayed in Figure 2 along with the path coefficients (i.e., standardised beta coefficients), and their significance. Table 4 presents the estimated path coefficients, and their respective t-statistics and p-values. A bootstrap of 5,000 samples were drawn to assess the significance of the path coefficients.

 

Results of the structural model
 
Note: Larger version of Figure 2 available here.

 

 

Estimated path coefficients of the structural model

 

Bonding social capital (β = 0.239, t = 3.044, p-value = 0.002) and bridging social capital (β = 0.103, t = 1.528, p-value = 0.127) are both positively related to SWB. However, while the relationship between bonding social capital and SWB is significantly positive at the 1 percent level of significance, the relationship between bridging social capital and SWB is not significant at conventional levels of significance. Thus, H1a is supported, while H1b is not supported. Moreover, as the path coefficient of bonding social capital is more positive than that of bridging social capital, H1c is supported.

Bonding social capital (β = 0.133, t = 2.002, p-value = 0.045) and bridging social capital (β = 0.185, t = 2.801, p-value = 0.005) are both positively related to the hedonic use of Facebook at the 5 percent and 1 percent levels of significance respectively. However, bridging social capital is more positively related to the hedonic use of Facebook instead of bonding social capital. Therefore, H2 is not supported.

Although bonding social capital (β = 0.096, t = 1.552, p-value = 0.121) is positively related to the utilitarian use of Facebook, it is not statistically significant. On the other hand, bridging social capital (β = 0.206, t = 3.101, p-value = 0.002) has a statistically positive impact on the utilitarian use of Facebook. Since the path coefficients show that bridging social capital is more positively related to the utilitarian use of Facebook than bonding social capital, H3 is supported.

There is no significant relationship observed from the hedonic use (β = 0.060, t = 0.806, p-value = 0.420) of Facebook to SWB. However, the positive relationship between the utilitarian use (β = 0.123, t = 1.729, p-value = 0.084) of Facebook and SWB is significant at the 5 percent level of significance. Thus, H4a is not supported, while H4b is supported.

Mediation analysis

To identify the presence of mediation, we followed the approach presented by Zhao, et al. (2010). First, the statistical significance of the indirect effects (IE) has to be assessed. In a multiple mediator model, the specific indirect effects [6] have to be calculated for each bootstrapping subsample (Nitzl, et al., 2016). Subsequently, the standard error of each specific indirect effect is computed. Using the computed standard error, a pseudo t-test statistic, and the p-value for each specific indirect effect can be calculated to test whether the specific indirect effects are significantly different from 0 (Nitzl, et al., 2016). Table 5 presents the specific indirect effects, and the bias-corrected 95 percent confidence intervals. If 0 is not included in the confidence interval, it can be assumed that the specific indirect effect is significant (Nitzl, et al., 2016). Therefore, we can conclude from Table 5 that all the specific indirect effects for each path is significant.

 

Specific indirect effects

 

Following the assessment of the IE, we determine the type of mediating effect (Zhao, et al., 2010). A mediating effect exists when the indirect effect of an independent variable on the dependent variable is significant. Mediation can be classified as either full or partial mediation, with the latter further divided again into complementary and competitive partial mediation (Nitzl, et al., 2016). In the case of the relationship between bonding social capital and SWB, both the direct and indirect effects of bonding social capital on SWB are significant, and point in the same positive direction. This represents complementary partial mediation, whereby part of the effect of bonding social capital on SWB is mediated by the utilitarian and hedonic uses of Facebook, thereby supporting H5a and H5b. Both the hedonic and utilitarian uses of Facebook were also found to sequentially mediate the relationship between bonding social capital and SWB. Thus, H5c is supported. The path leading from bonding social capital to SWB via the utilitarian use of Facebook (IE = 0.0118) was revealed to be the strongest compared to via the hedonic use of Facebook (IE = 0.008), and the sequential path (IE = 0.0061).

In the case whereby the direct effect is not significant but the indirect effects are, this indicates full mediation (Nitzl, et al., 2016). Therefore, the hedonic and utilitarian uses of Facebook fully mediate the relationship between bridging social capital and SWB, supporting H6a and H6b. The sequential mediator is also significant, thus supporting H6c. The path from bridging social capital to SWB via the utilitarian use of Facebook (IE = 0.0254) is stronger than via the hedonic use of Facebook (IE = 0.0111), and the sequential mediation path (IE = 0.0084).

 

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Discussion

This study posited social capital to be an antecedent to SNS use, in contrast to existing literature that largely treats social capital to be an outcome of SNS use. Additionally, we examined the purpose of SNS use as a mediating mechanism in the relationship between social capital and SWB.

The empirical results provide evidence that bonding social capital is important in influencing one’s SWB. While we also postulated that bridging social capital would have a positive relationship with SWB due to the ability of weak ties to provide informational support, the results revealed that it was not significant in determining SWB. Nevertheless, our results are similar to that of Yoon (2014), who suggested that individuals with a substantial network of strong ties would be happier as strong ties are predominantly built on trust, reciprocity, and emotional support. Although individuals can also form relationships effortlessly through their network of weak ties, they lack the ability to provide emotional support. Given that this study operationalised bonding social capital to consist of family members and close friends, it is therefore proven that good relationships with strong ties would lead to greater well-being as these ties are able to facilitate greater well-being by enhancing social trust, reducing stress, improving health, and increasing the social support obtained (van der Horst and Coffé, 2012).

Contrary to our hypothesis, the relationship between bridging social capital and the hedonic use of Facebook was found to be stronger than that of bonding social capital. In explaining this result, we reason that the online community that students reside in is one which consists largely of weak ties where the sense of enjoyment is reflected in online recreational activities with them. For example, in their sample of university students, Manago, et al. (2012) found that only 21 percent of friends on Facebook were considered as close friends. Therefore, given the prevalence of weak ties on one’s Facebook account, students’ hedonic use of Facebook will invariably and hugely involve interactions with their weak ties. For example, when one logs onto their Facebook account, they enter the “News Feed” site which shows the list of updates from all their friends, consisting of both strong and weak ties. Subsequently, students can engage in activities such as the sharing and viewing of photos or videos, posting status updates, liking posts by friends, and getting updates from a diverse circle of friends. Engaging in these interactions will not only bring fun, but also stimulate greater interest in the events happening amongst their network of friends, and allow them to be part of a wider community (Ellison, et al., 2014), which could evoke a sense of enjoyment while using the site.

The results showed that both bridging and bonding social capital are positively related to the utilitarian use of Facebook. However, only the relationship between bridging social capital and the utilitarian use of Facebook was significant. The acquisition of information is best obtained through public disclosures on SNSs since a single wall post, for example, is able to reach one’s whole network, and consequently, increase the chances of acquiring beneficial information or responses (Vitak and Ellison, 2013). Therefore, individuals with weak tie relationships are more likely to engage in the utilitarian use of Facebook due to the ability of their weak ties to provide informational support (Trepte, et al., 2015), consistent with Kim, et al.’s (2015) finding.

The results did not support the hypothesized relationship between the hedonic use of Facebook and SWB. However, this is consistent with past studies which showed that the enjoyment derived from the use of SNS does not lead to significantly higher SWB (Huang, 2010; Wang, et al., 2014). It is likely that the enjoyment experienced through hedonic Facebook use is only momentary, and does not translate into greater happiness. In contrast, the utilitarian use of Facebook was significant in determining SWB. This finding is consistent with previous studies on the pedagogical uses of Facebook (Arteaga Sánchez, et al., 2014; Yu, et al., 2010). By using Facebook for utilitarian purposes, students would be able to achieve better learning outcomes, which may subsequently improve their SWB.

The relationship between bridging social capital and SWB was found to be fully mediated by the hedonic and utilitarian uses of Facebook, and via the sequential mediator. Interestingly, the results revealed that, out of the three hypothesized mediation paths, the strongest path was via the utilitarian use of Facebook. This indicates that bridging social capital can be leveraged via the utilitarian use of Facebook to enhance one’s SWB.

Similarly, the hedonic and utilitarian uses of Facebook, and the sequential mediator was found to partially mediate the relationship between bonding social capital and SWB. It is worth noting that the strongest mediation path was also through the utilitarian use of Facebook. While the literature has shown that informational support would be better acquired from weak ties, our empirical results show that students who use Facebook for utilitarian purposes, in which information is obtained from their network of strong ties, experience greater levels of SWB. This result supports Krämer, et al.’s (2014) view that information acquired through bonding relationships are valuable as well. Overall, it is evident that the utilitarian use of Facebook plays an important mediating role in the relationship between social capital and SWB.

 

++++++++++

Implications and limitations

The theoretical contribution of this study offers an insight regarding the indirect effect model of how the purpose of SNS use serves as a mediating mechanism to enhance the relationship between social capital and SWB. Past empirical findings regarding the role of SNSs in the relationship between social capital and SWB are scarce. Thus, this study provides empirical support that SNSs present students with an array of opportunities to use their network of ties to engage in hedonic and/or utilitarian purposes, which could ultimately lead to an improvement in SWB.

The findings from this study also contributes to literature on SNS use in the higher education context. The empirical results suggest the importance of the utilitarian use of Facebook for university students. According to van der Heijden (2004), the hedonic value derived from the usage of an information system would eventually lead to the acceptance of the utilitarian aspects of the system. By extending this view to Facebook, students would eventually gravitate from using Facebook for enjoyment purposes towards utilitarian purposes once they realise the benefits that it may bring towards their course of study.

The empirical findings suggest important practical implications. As university students are heavy users of Facebook, universities could encourage the use of Facebook in teaching and learning, such as the inclusion of collaborative projects amongst students on the online platform. Facebook is suitable as it provides an avenue for students to interact in an informal environment outside the classroom (Mazman and Usluel, 2010). Furthermore, academics could create a Facebook group or page for students to engage in discussions as well as to share and acquire information from peers. Whilst Facebook is seen as a channel for informal learning, academics could formalise this form of learning by setting out specific learning objectives for students, and conduct assessments via SNSs (Greenhow and Lewin, 2016). In doing so, students would be encouraged to engage in discussions and interaction with their peers and lecturers.

It is important to note that this study is not without limitations. This study focuses on a sample of undergraduate university students from a private university in the Klang Valley in Malaysia. As such, the findings may limit generalisability to students from public universities due to the differences in socio-economic status of students, and course structures.

Future research could consider applying the research model of this study to examine the moderating role of the different types of universities (i.e., public universities, local private universities, and local foreign universities), and students from other regions and states. Additionally, future research could explore the differences of students’ SWB across various faculties. Some courses may require students to devote more time to classes compared to others. Therefore, a comparison across faculties would be of considerable interest.

Additionally, due to the cross-sectional design of this study, the causal relationship between social capital and SWB cannot be determined. Future research could consider employing a longitudinal design to examine this relationship by obtaining responses from students at different points in time over the course of a semester.

Notwithstanding the limitations of this study, the findings were able to provide support for SNS use as a behavioural outcome of social capital, contrary to the conventional view that SNSs act as a tool to generate social capital. The findings also provide valuable insights to universities as well as academics to endorse the use of SNSs in formal and informal learning. This initiative could enhance the social and learning experience of students, and subsequently, lead to an improvement in their well-being. End of article

 

About the authors

Li-Ann Hwang is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Business at Monash University Malaysia. Her research interest revolves around technology adoption and subjective well-being.
Direct comments to: hwang [dot] li [dot] ann [at] monash [dot] edu

Jason Wei Jian Ng is Senior Lecturer with the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics in the School of Business at Monash University Malaysia. His research interests include the areas of subjective well-being, subjective poverty, Malaysian housing affordability and Malaysian political science. He is also involved in translational research projects that involve connecting children in marginalized communities to the global knowledge networks. In recent years, he has been moving towards the area of data science, undertaking data analysis using machine learning and data visualization tools.
E-mail: jason [dot] ng [dot] wj [at] monash [dot] edu

Santha Vaithilingam is Associate Professor at Monash University Malaysia and is head of the Econometrics and Business Statistics Department in the School of Business. Her research interests are in computable general equilibrium (CGE), financial econometrics, and behavioral economics. More recently, her work has been focused on modeling human behavior pertaining to technology adoption using advanced econometric techniques.
E-mail: santha [dot] vaithilingam [at] monash [dot] edu

 

Notes

1. Putnam, 2000, p. 19.

2. Manago and Vaughn, 2015, p. 197.

3. A sequential mediator is where two mediators are connected to each other. In this study, the sequential mediator is represented by the pathway from the hedonic use to the utilitarian use.

4. Jöreskog and Wold, 1982, p. 270.

5. The Fornell-Larcker criterion draws a comparison between the square roots of the AVE values, and the correlations between the latent constructs.

6. A specific indirect effect can be explained as the indirect effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable through a particular mediator, controlling for all other mediators in the model (Hair, et al., 2017).

 

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Editorial history

Received 15 June 2019; revised 2 September 2019; revised 3 September 2019; accepted 4 September 2019.


Copyright © 2019, Li-Ann Hwang, Jason Wei Jian Ng, and Santha Vaithilingam. All Rights Reserved.

Social capital and subjective well-being: The mediating role of social networking sites
by Li-Ann Hwang, Jason Wei Jian Ng, and Santha Vaithilingam.
First Monday, Volume 24, Number 10 - 7 October 2019
https://ojphi.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/10130/8137
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i10.10130





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