Facebook: A literature review

488061 2013 NMS15610.1177/1461444813488061new media & societyCaers et al. Review article Facebook: A literature review new media & society 15(6) 9...
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488061 2013

NMS15610.1177/1461444813488061new media & societyCaers et al.

Review article

Facebook: A literature review

new media & society 15(6) 982­–1002 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1461444813488061 nms.sagepub.com

Ralf Caers and Tim De Feyter

Human Relations Research Group, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), Brussels, Belgium

Marijke De Couck

Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium.

Talia Stough

Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), Brussels, Belgium

Claudia Vigna

Human Relations Research Group, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), Brussels, Belgium

Cind Du Bois

Royal Military Academy (KMS), Brussels, Belgium

Abstract This article provides a critical review of scientific, peer reviewed, articles on Facebook between 2006 and 2012. The review shows that while there are yet numerous articles on various aspects of the social network site, there are still many gaps to be filled. Also, due to the limited scope of many articles (in sample sizes as well as in the number of countries included in the studies) and frequent changes to Facebook’s design and features, it is not only necessary to revisit many of these articles but also to integrate their research findings. The review ends with a critical discussion and directions for future research. Keywords Facebook, review Corresponding author: Ralf Caers, Professor HR & Social Media, Human Relations Research Group, Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), Warmoesberg 26, 1000, Brussels, Belgium. Email: [email protected]

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Introduction The introduction and rise of the social network site (SNS) Facebook has been one of the most important social trends of the past decade. Although it only opened to the public in 2006, Facebook reports already serving one billion monthly active users at the end of 2012 (Facebook, 2012b). Moreover, 80% of these users reside outside the US and services are available in 70 languages, making Facebook a worldwide platform. While there are concerns about the accuracy and trustworthiness of these numbers (the number of accounts that are frequently used may differ from the real number of individuals using the platform) and neutral information is not available, one should agree the size of this SNS is at least substantial and the growth rate impressive. It is this growth rate that has attracted the attention of scientists from widely different fields of inquiry. In February 2013, using Facebook as a keyword on the ISI Web of Knowledge provided no less than 3068 hits. This article reviews the scientific literature on Facebook in the economic and psychological domain. We therefore focus on the personality of users: why they joined, how they build networks, and how they interact; and on how organizations may act on, and benefit from, Facebook. The review clearly shows that while many interesting topics have been addressed, much of the work done so far has been fragmented and limited to particular settings. It offers insight into the strengths and shortcomings of these studies, integrates research findings, and offers directions for future research.

Methodology The articles presented in this literature review have been obtained using the ISI Web of Knowledge. The search started in July 2010. We found articles by using the keyword “Facebook” in combination with other key phrases such as “motives to join,” “marketing,” “recruitment,” “selection,” “behavior,” etc. All articles between 2006 and 2010 were collected, read, and classified. Reference lists were scanned each time for related work on the subject. Starting from October 2010, the same procedure was repeated every three months to acquire the most recent academic work. Articles presented in this review are either published in peer-reviewed scientific journals or published in conference proceedings that have gone through a peer-review process. Research and data provided by Facebook are used as suggestions for further research, or to present data on user numbers. Works by Aimeur et al. (2010), Cross and Parker (2008), and Ernst (2010) have been included to, respectively, contribute to a list of potential threats, to provide a future research direction, and to offer an example. Beside these, 114 scientific articles were considered valuable for this review.

What is Facebook? We do not assume all readers are familiar with Facebook and the services available to its users. Therefore, we provide a short overview of its features. This overview is based on the Facebook Timeline layout as it was available in October 2012. Individuals can create an account on the website Facebook.com. After providing some personal information (name, date of birth, gender, email address), the new user


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chooses a password and gets account access. Facebook opts for a highly standardized layout of user accounts. Regardless of whose account it is, many features appear on the same place on the screen, making it easy to recognize and find the data one is searching for. There are two important pages on this account: home and profile. The profile page, also often called ‘the wall’, is where users present themselves. A small profile picture adds to a large cover photo at the top of the page, below which the name of the user is presented along with some basic information and a few buttons referring to friends, photos, and “likes.” Below that is the area where “status updates” appear. Users can post anything they want in their status, and friends can respond to this statement by text comments or by liking it (shown directly below the status). On the home page, also often called “news feed,” users are informed on the status updates and other activities (joining groups or becoming fan of something they like) from their friends. It thus automatically and chronologically reflects the highlights of what friends have been doing in the past hours. Once a profile is created, the new user can start looking for friends and send friend requests. When accepted, Facebook connects the two individuals by allowing them to see each other’s profile page and by adding their activities to one another’s news feed. Facebook thus functions as an online application to see and to be seen (Stroud, 2008) or to “prosume”: producing and consuming at the same time (Le and Tarafdar, 2009; Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010).

Facebook and the individual Although it is important to consider the basic features of Facebook, it is even more essential to consider how the platform is actually being used, and by whom. In this section, we focus on the psychological literature regarding Facebook, and summarize why individuals want(ed) to join Facebook, what personality users have, how they build a network of friends, how they disclose information, and how they interact. Shortcomings are presented when any are found.

Initial motivations to join Facebook Sledgianowski and Kulviwat (2009) were among the first to investigate why individuals wanted to join Facebook. Their convenience sample of 289 students from one American university indicated that the perceived playfulness and the critical mass of the site were the main drivers of intentions to join, besides normative pressure, trust, usefulness, and ease of use. Later research would confirm the importance of pressure. Cheung and Lee (2010), for example, studied a convenience sample of 389 students and marked the importance of social identity (being aware of group membership and attaching emotional significance to it) and subjective norms (compliance). Kwon and Wen’s (2010) research on a sample of 229 Korean respondents linked these two studies by showing a positive correlation between perceived usefulness and social identity. Pressure appears to remain important also after joining the SNS, as Skageby’s (2009) document analysis showed that users are unhappy with pressure to accept friend requests from coworkers and employers.

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Based on the research available today, it thus appears Facebook was right to focus on facilitating the process by which new users find friends (obtaining critical mass), by for example offering the friend finder application, by allowing newcomers to go through the friends list of new friends (snowball effect), and by offering the option for users to suggest friends to the newcomer. Once the critical mass was installed, group pressure appears to have done the rest. Due to the short time span in which the above studies were performed it is not possible to analyze changes in motives to join. As it is nearly impossible to assess experienced users’ initial motivations to join, future research should focus on the motives to join today (preferably in multiple countries) and compare them with current research. This may offer valuable contributions to our understanding, as the motives from early adopters may differ from those of the early or late majority. Also, the pressure to respond to friend requests from coworkers may, for example, be even stronger today than five years ago, as more individuals use the SNS. It would also be interesting to compare current motives of users to join between countries and between various demographic groups; European users may join for different reasons than, for example, Asian users, and the pressure to join may be more important to youngsters than to adults. This may be especially interesting based on findings from the large-scale Facebook (2012a) research on 721 million Facebook users, showing that users’ friends were most likely of a similar age and resided in the same country. This suggests heterogeneous groups may indeed exist. Finally, accounting for the current brand awareness of the SNS, our understanding would benefit from a study focusing on the motives of individuals not to join Facebook.

Characteristics of Facebook users Past research has focused on differences in Facebook behavior relating to gender, personality, social status, age, and race. Looking at gender, a large study by Hargittai (2007) on a heterogeneous sample of 1060 first-year undergraduate students in the US showed that men were not more likely to use Facebook than women. This finding was confirmed by a smaller study on 116 US students by Raacke and Bonds-Raacke (2008). However, a study by Lewis et al. (2008), on a sample of 1710 US students, showed that women were more likely than men to maintain a private profile. In sum, these studies suggest that research on gender differences should focus on Facebook behavior, rather than on the decision to join Facebook. But this remains, for now, only a suggestion, as these studies are all focused on students and are performed in the US. We should proceed with caution before generalizing any of these research findings to other countries and other demographic groups. Additional international research is required. Some research on Facebook deals directly with personality. For instance, a small study on 97 US students by Ross et al. (2009) indicated that extraversion was positively related to Facebook use, which is in line with more general research by Correa et al. (2010) and Wilson et al. (2010) on the link between extraversion and the use of SNSs. Openness to experiences was also found to relate positively to SNS use, especially for mature individuals (Correa et al., 2010). Conscientiousness (Wilson et al., 2010) and


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emotional stability (Correa et al., 2010), however, related negatively with SNS use. In sum, our understanding of the personality of Facebook users remains partial. As SNSs differ in content, target audiences, and use, it is not evident that general research on different SNSs is easily applicable to Facebook. Our understanding may thus benefit from a more elaborate analysis of personality characteristics of Facebook users and non-users. But besides gender and personality, future research should also look into other demographic differences between users and non-users. Despite the articles mentioned above, it is clear that we require more studies on the link between personal characteristics and Facebook use. At this point, many of the studies are either based on a broader range of SNSs, on small homogeneous sample sizes, or solely in the US. This requires caution in generalizing research findings. Moreover, we should consider the year when the articles were published. This is a comment that will also be found in many other sections of this review. It is, however, not our intention to claim that the conclusions provided by these articles are by definition outdated and should therefore be suppressed. Any comment regarding the year of publication should be considered as an opportunity to revisit these studies and to investigate whether any changes have occurred due to the fast increase in Facebook membership in recent years, the frequent changes in the platform’s features and settings, or consumers’ experience with the platform. This may be particularly relevant when looking at personal characteristics, as early adopters may differ from early or late majority.

Building and maintaining a Facebook network There is already a significant body of research focusing on how users present themselves on Facebook and how they interact with friends. Many interesting research findings have therefore already been provided. But still, opportunities for further improvement and deepening of our knowledge are noticed. SNSs such as Facebook visualize one’s network (Donath, 2007). A quick search on Facebook reveals that users vary widely in the number of friends they have, ranging from only one to more than a thousand. Facebook reports the average number of friends is 130 (Facebook, 2012b). Therefore, it has been stated that online Facebook friends are not necessarily offline friends and that the use of the word “friend” by Facebook has expanded the meaning of the word (Wang and Wellman, 2010). However, our understanding of this matter is at least partial. Early research by Lewis and West (2009) found that users with a large number of Facebook friends do not necessarily have the same number of close friends in everyday life, which supports the claim mentioned above. It is important to note that this conclusion is based on interviews with 16 students from one university in the UK. Support for the statement could also be drawn from Wang and Wellman’s (2010) study of a sample of 677 US households, indicating that both close and (more) distant friends were among one’s online friends. The downside to this research is that it did not solely focus on Facebook, but rather focused on having online friends in general. Besides these studies, there is also relevant work by Ellison et al. (2007) indicating that many users add old high school friends they once knew but do no longer have contact with. In the same line of research, Wang et al. (2010) found that users are

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willing to accept friend requests from attractive opposite sex users they do not know, and Pempek et al. (2009) and Subrahmanyam et al. (2008) found that users interact most with friends with whom they have an established offline relationship. Unfortunately, however, the former four studies all use relatively small samples of students from one American university. A recent study by Reich et al. (2012) showing that individuals mainly use SNSs to connect with others they know offline is then again based on a sample of 126 US high school students. This makes it difficult to generalize the findings to other settings. We suggest that future research extend these analyses, including demographic data of the users under study. Indeed, research on e-professionalism suggests that, for example, US psychologists are not keen on adding students or patients to their friend list (Taylor et al., 2010) and may therefore show a different behavior when it comes to adding other users. Also the debate concerning whether Facebook is used as a complement or a substitute for face-to-face interaction remains open. Kujath’s (2011) study on 183 US students suggests it may be a complement to some and a supplement to others, but more profound research (for example, including personality dimensions) is still required. For now, we must make do with research showing a link between personality and the number of friends on US students’ profiles. In a small sample of 103 students, Orr et al. (2010) found that shy individuals had less Facebook friends and Buffardi and Campbell’s (2009) analysis of 156 profiles of US students showed narcissists tried to maximize their number of Facebook friends. Future research should investigate the robustness of these results in larger samples from more international and heterogeneous populations. While many studies in this domain are quite recent and the time aspect is therefore less of concern, it would also be interesting to compare new research on friending behavior with the older articles. Having been able to experience the benefits and downsides of disclosing information may have changed friending behavior. Besides the motives for (not) adding people to one’s network, it is also still unclear what impression one gets of a user with many Facebook friends. Research by Tong et al. (2008) on 153 US students suggests that there is a curvilinear inverted U-shape relationship between the number of friends a user has on Facebook and the perceptions of others regarding the social attractiveness of that user. The perceived social attractiveness was highest for users with around 300 friends and lowest for users with either few or many Facebook friends. A Dutch study on 124 Hyves-users by Utz (2010), showing that having numerous (and extraverted) friends makes the user appear more popular, however, indicates more (elaborate) research is still needed. Finally, it is also yet unclear what effect having many Facebook friends has on the users themselves. While Manago et al. (2012) found in their sample of 88 US undergraduate students that having many Facebook friends correlated positively with life satisfaction and perceived social support, Chou and Edge (2012) seem to add a nuance. They concluded from their research on 425 US undergraduate students that students with a higher number of Facebook friends whom they did not know offline were more often in agreement that others had better lives. Future research should elaborate on these findings as well.


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Motives for disclosing information on Facebook Facebook is often depicted as a platform to see and to be seen (Pempek et al., 2009), to express an identity (Lee, 2012), and to help highlight otherwise obscure and seemingly mundane aspects of one’s life (Yau and Schneider, 2009). As everything is so visible, and users know that they may be seen, it is logical to wonder: to what extent do we see memarketing (the act of carefully presenting oneself in accordance to how one wants to be seen by others) or actual disclosure on Facebook profiles? Are all users prone to memarketing, are none or only some? At this point, there is not yet sufficient research to draw conclusions for all types of users. Two studies appear to indicate that there may be at least some me-marketing involved. Firstly, Zywica and Danowski’s (2008) study on 614 US students suggests that individuals who are introverted, not popular offline and have low levels of self-esteem (SE) tried to look popular on Facebook and thus misrepresented themselves. Secondly, the previously mentioned research by Buffardi and Campbell (2008) also suggests that there may sometimes be me-marketing involved, as narcissists were found to more often upload portfolio pictures as their profile picture. This is furthermore strengthened by a recent study by Carpenter (2012) on a convenience sample of 292 US Facebook users (74% of which were college students), providing empirical support on the link between narcissism and self-promotion behaviors on Facebook. The study by Back et al. (2010) on 236 American students and German Facebook users, on the other hand, indicates that also truthful representation and disclosure may arise. The study showed that ratings of the user’s characteristics by strangers looking at the subject’s Facebook page indeed matched with ratings by the user himself and with ratings by his friends. This can be supported using suggestions from Walther et al.’s (2009) research on 115 US students that statements made by friends are considered more trustworthy by users and can override statements of the owner. Users trying to present themselves in a too positive (or negative) way would thus be counteracted by their friends, leading to realistic Facebook profiles. Weisbuch et al.’s (2009) finding that users who disclose a great deal of personal information on Facebook also did so during faceto-face interviews also appears to support the second hypothesis, but was unfortunately only conducted on 37 US students. Then there is research on disclosure that provides suggestions, but no firm conclusions, on the frequency of me-marketing behavior. In a small-scale study on 67 US Facebook users, Alter and Oppenheimer (2009) found that the level of disclosure was linked with the size and spacing of a SNS’s font. This font can increase or decrease disclosure, but whether that leads to more or less inaccurate information being posted on the Facebook page is unclear. This is also the case with other research on the level of disclosure, such as Karl et al.’s (2010) analysis of SNS communication among 346 US and 290 German students. They found users high on conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability to be less likely to report problematic behavior such as substance abuse and sexual content on their Facebook profile. There also appears to be a cultural effect, with American students being more inclined to report such behavior than their German peers. However, whether this represents reality (more substance abuse by American students) or if this is only a mask yet remains unclear. Similarly, Nosko et al. (2010) analyzed 400 accessible

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US Facebook profiles and found that disclosure was negatively correlated with age, but the content of the disclosure was not sufficiently accounted for. Christofides et al.’s (2009) study on 343 US students found that those in need for popularity also disclosed more and Moreno et al. (2011) analyzed 200 user profiles to find that users who referenced depression, and had received responses from their friends on it, were reinforced in that behavior and more likely to disclose depressive symptoms again. Based on this review, it is clear that our understanding about whether, and to what extent, me-marketing is involved with Facebook profiles could benefit from integrating the insights from disclosure content and disclosure level studies. In doing so, future research may also be able to refine research findings by accounting for Ross et al.’s (2009) critique that the Big-5 dimensions may be too broad for studying Facebook behavior and that more specific personality characteristics, such as narcissism and shyness, should be studied. It is also advised to consider other demographic groups than only US students when disclosure level and content are studied. Research by Grasmuck et al. (2009) on 83 Facebook profiles suggests that African Americans, Latinos, and Indian ancestry students more frequently and intensively displayed a cultural self then did white students, thereby conveying a stronger sense of group belonging and color consciousness. Age and gender differences should be studied as well. However, there are two other future research directions that can be drawn from this review. Firstly, it is striking that the demographic characteristics of the users and propositions on who is or is not added as a friend are insufficiently dealt with. This may, however, be crucial when trying to correctly explain disclosing behavior by Facebook users. The importance of this is clear from Peluchette and Karl (2010) and Mattingly et al. (2010). On a sample of 346 US students, Peluchette and Karl (2010) show that users actively think about the image they are portraying of themselves on Facebook and that those believing to portray a hardworking image were less likely to post inappropriate information than users who portrayed an image of being sexually appealing, wild, or offensive. These respondents also differed in how comfortable they were with others viewing their profiles. What we see of others thus appears to affect our disclosure intentions. When revisiting this literature, future researchers may take a suggestion from the Gonzales and Hancock (2011) research into account. On a sample of 63 US students, they showed that SE increased when students viewed their own profiles. This may be linked with the user’s perceptions of the image he or she is creating. More indications on the link between friends and disclosure are provided by Mattingly et al. (2010), who show that pharmacists are, shortly after their graduation, confronted with enhanced expectations to act professionally, which demands e-professionalism and may alter their SNS behavior. Cain et al. (2009) do, however, stress incoming US pharmacy students still require e-professionalism training. Research on 695 American psychology students and psychologists by Taylor et al. (2010) shows they agree in general on the importance of refusing friend requests from students and patients to avoid disclosure. Foulger et al. (2009) provide guidelines for educators and Ferdig et al. (2008), Guseh et al. (2009), and Hawn (2009) provide guidelines for clinicians. A study by West et al. (2009) indicates that, in using Facebook, what is private and what is public is considered to be rather fuzzy and non-dichotomous by the study’s respondents, but only 16


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US students participated in the research. Future research should focus on extending this line of research to other users in different professions, in different countries. Secondly, the content and level of disclosure may also be affected by variances in privacy beliefs. Until now, we have focused on the voluntary disclosure of personal information on Facebook. However, information may also be exposed to others without the consent of the user. Starting from the middle of the years 2000, privacy concerns on SNSs became a popular research topic (boyd and Ellison, 2007). Hunter (2008), and later MansfieldDevine (2008) and Aimeur et al. (2010), summarized all potential privacy threats on Facebook and argued that users risk being stalked, online as well as offline, harassed (Ybarra and Mitchell, 2008), hacked (Greiner, 2009), and falling victim to online identity theft (Laursen, 2009). Also, the mobile transfer of personal information to Facebook is marked as a security risk (Zorkadis and Karras, 2009), and Surendra and Peace (2009) argued that information disseminated about a group that the user once joined can harm the user’s privacy. Research on how users act upon this suffers from similar deficiencies as mentioned before. In a relatively small sample of 205 US students, Fogel and Nehmad (2009) reported women to use privacy controls and to restrict personal information more often than men. We do note that data were collected in May 2007 and that Facebook’s standard privacy settings have been changed a few times since. Similar findings stem from Hoy and Milne’s (2011) research on 589 respondents, showing that while both men and women are concerned with third-party use of personal information, women are even more concerned. Moreover, women are found to be more proactively involved with privacy protection than a decade ago. However, it should be noted that this research used a snowball technique starting from US students inviting their Facebook friends to join. More research in other settings is still required. How well users are aware of and dealing with these security issues is not yet clear. Fuchs’ (2010) study on 674 Austrian students concluded that users’ critical information behavior could change based on public information and discussion, but the study was not limited to Facebook only. Debatin et al.’s (2009) study on 119 US students did focus on Facebook and found that Facebook users changed their privacy settings after privacy invasions, but not after hearing about others’ privacy invasions. Finally, Hoadley et al. (2010) stress community outcry when privacy settings appear to be altered, highlighting perceived loss of control as the prime responsible reason. But even besides the effect of having experienced privacy violations on disclosure intentions, it is important to account for the level of awareness about one’s own privacy settings. Here, again, literature is not yet clear on how common that awareness truly is. On the one hand, a recent study by Butler et al. (2011) on 102 UK students showed that, given the constant changes to Facebook’s privacy policy, users who did not educate themselves on these changes were more likely to have different privacy settings than they thought they had. However, on the other hand, only slightly older research by boyd and Hargittai (2010) on 1115 US students around the age of 18 indicates that only 10% of users did not educate themselves on their privacy settings in 2009. This suggests that the problem reported by Butler et al. (2011) is not that significant. Unfortunately, the authors did not match the stated privacy settings with

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actual settings and the research only focused on a very narrow age category, in one country and for one year. In sum, research on disclosure appears to be highly fragmented. Our understanding could benefit significantly from research combining the level of disclosure with the content of the posts and by accounting for users’ perceptions on friending behavior and their beliefs about privacy violations. Due to the frequent changes in Facebook’s privacy settings, it is also valuable to revisit older studies on privacy matters to realign with the latest privacy policy. A good starting point may be the article by Stutzman et al. (2012). Most of the article investigates the effects of various aspects of Facebook use on bridging and bonding social capital, but they also present a basic model that suggests a relationship between privacy behavior (having a public profile, friend-only privacy settings, or segmented privacy settings) and disclosure, and between privacy beliefs (including risks such as cyberstalking and hacking and concerns about private information being revealed publicly) and disclosure. Although this article addresses the concerns made above, it is clear that causality cannot be determined—the model tests only the basic relationship and has not been carefully controlled—and the model has low explanatory power. Moreover, disclosure is measured using only a four-item scale, stated privacy settings have not been matched with actual settings, and although the ratio of real friends to total friends is calculated and used for different purposes, it is not sufficiently used to explain disclosure intentions and behaviors.

The effects of disclosing information on Facebook What individuals post on their Facebook pages appears to matter in many different ways. Muise et al. (2009) showed in a sample of 308 US and German students that the Facebook behavior of one’s partner can stimulate Facebook-related jealousy, stemming from exposure to ambiguous information about the partner that they might never have encountered if Facebook had not existed. It was also found that this kind of new information incites further Facebook use, thereby creating a kind of loop of Facebook-related activity (Muise et al., 2009). This phenomenon may be most easily apparent for narcissists (more frequently checking and responding to others’ status; Buffardi and Campbell, 2008) and extroverted users (more likely to show addictive tendencies; Wilson et al., 2010). Steinfield et al. (2008) focused on a different matter and showed that students with lower SE benefited from Facebook in terms of bridging social capital (i.e., loose connections that may provide useful information but not emotional support) more than did students with higher levels of SE. An interesting nuance, to be taken into account in any new research on the topic, has however been provided by Burke et al. (2011). Their research on 415 English-speaking adult Facebook users showed that also the way in which the platform is used should be considered: directed person-to-person communication (messages, wall posts, synchronous chat, inline comments, etc.) also increases in bridging social capital, while there was no main effect for passive consumption of social news (reading others’ updates) and broadcasting (untargeted status updates). Moreover, the mere reading of status updates made by friends was found to aid users with weaker social communication skills and to have no effect on users with higher than average social skills (Burke et al., 2011). Earlier research by Burke et al. (2010)


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already showed that observing people’s interactions was positively linked to feelings of loneliness. Both studies again highlight the importance of not only accounting for heterogeneous Facebook users (age, location, number of friends, etc.), but to also differentiate uses and users in Facebook studies. The early study by Joinson (2008), providing an oversight of Facebook uses and gratifications using an exploratory factor analysis may serve as a good starting point, as is the more recent study by Stutzman et al. (2012). The latter is interesting, as it indicates that users who have both a Facebook profile that is only visible to friends and a high ratio of actual friends to total Facebook friends report higher levels of perceived bonding social capital. The downside of this research is that the authors again did not match the stated privacy settings with actual settings and measured segmented privacy settings with a binary variable instead of a multifaceted one. The sample size is also quite small, with 230 US undergraduate students from one university. Research on the effects of Facebook use has, however, not been narrowed down to only social capital. Zhang et al. (2010) showed that SNS reliance and interpersonal communication had a positive effect on civic participation. Research on 2603 US students by Valenzuela et al. (2009), and related research by Park et al. (2009), revealed indications that Facebook group use may even predict political participation. However, not everything is related to Facebook use. Pasek et al. (2009), for example, found that although Facebook use was more common among students with high grades, it did not predict academic achievement.

Facebook and organizations Although Facebook started as a platform connecting individuals, today’s organizations also have the opportunity to create fan pages for the organization itself or for its products. The SNS may thus become an additional instrument to communicate with stakeholders.

Reaching out to customers A growing number of organizations believe that having their brand or organization on Facebook may help increase or maintain sales records. Having users post information about the brand in their status updates may allow the brand to be seen by thousands of potential buyers, through the Facebook news feed. Also widgets (buttons that, by clicking on them, allow users to share content found on the internet on their Facebook profile page) appear to have a strong potential effect on this matter. Funny videos, references to products, etc., can easily be posted on an individual’s profile page on Facebook. When it relates to a product, the product is quickly broadcast via SNSs. An obvious downside may be that this also works in a negative sense. Although research on Facebook is not yet available, Jansen et al. (2009) found this kind of electronic word of mouth (eWOM) to exist on Twitter. The authors analyzed 150,000 tweets and found that 20% of those tweets concerned a company or a brand. In nearly half of these tweets the statement was positive, while 30% of the statements were negative. However, this does not imply consumers always trust the opinions of others on SNSs. They can still be critical, wondering

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whether a company may be trying to convince them about their product. Still, it would be interesting to know what the effects are of Facebook groups such as “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Heineken” (Casteleyn et al., 2009). More empirical research on the effectiveness of eWOM is therefore required, especially on Facebook (Trusov et al., 2009). Interestingly, a cross-cultural study by Fan et al. (2009), comparing Korean and American online consumers accessing SNSs, indicated service quality variables have a different effect on both groups’ WOM intention. Cultural effects should thus be taken into account. Users may also search for brands, products, and services on Facebook themselves. A Facebook page may thus be beneficial for organizations. Casteleyn et al. (2009) in this respect present a system to analyze the nature and marketing potential of Facebook groups, and Agnew and Sindhav (2009) look at Facebook’s marketing opportunities from a business model perspective. Recent research by Vorvoreanu (2009) investigates the perceptions of corporations on Facebook of 35 US students using focus groups. The sample size is small and only US students took part in the research, but the research suggests that while users want to become fans of brands and products on Facebook as to express their identity, they are less interested in the organizations behind them, let alone communicating with these organizations on Facebook. Future research should test these suggestions in larger and more diverse samples. Research has focused on the advantages of Facebook for organizations in many different settings. Bryson et al. (2010), for example, investigate what the union movement, facing precipitous membership decline, can learn from Facebook’s capability to attract millions of active members in a short period of time. Other scholars see opportunities to disseminate results of scientific research (Singer, 2009; TorresSalinas and Delgado-Lopez-Cozar, 2009), to connect academic researchers (Schleyer et al., 2008), to increase student participation and facilitate reflection (Idris and Wang, 2009), to narrow the gap between learner and application (Derven, 2009), or to aid governments during crises and disaster response (Carey, 2009). Many studies investigate how libraries may benefit from SNSs. Benefits under study include enhanced communication with users (Steiner, 2009), reaching different users (Shippert, 2009), library promotion (Steiner, 2009), and higher information literacy (Branch, 2009; Steiner, 2009). However, these benefits in most cases may not be easily obtained. Fernandez (2009) and Connell (2009), for example, caution libraries not to disregard privacy concerns, and Xia (2009), Bortree and Seltzer (2009), and Jo and Kim (2003) show the importance of active groups and frequent discussion in developing relationships with stakeholders. Graham et al. (2009) found that Facebook could facilitate the development of professional relationships, but Epperson and Leffler (2009) did not find much enthusiasm with users about the link between SNSs and libraries. But while the for-profit sector is becoming more familiar with the SNS, the non-profit sector appears to be lagging behind. Waters et al. (2009) show Facebook opportunities are still not sufficiently used by non-profit organizations. Curtis et al. (2010) found female non-profit public relations practitioners considered Facebook more beneficial than men, but the latter were more confident in actively using it. Facebook also appeared more often used by non-profit organizations with formal public relations departments.


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Besides eWOM, future research should thus focus on how users view advertisements of organizations on Facebook, how their attention can be grasped and retained, and why users want to join groups or become fan of products and organizations. To date, research on this matter is, despite its obvious value, still rather scant. In addition, future research may also address questions on how Facebook users would like to communicate to organizations and what organizations are willing to allow. Recent research by McAllister (2012) on 100 universities in 18 countries indicating that users could neither post content on their universities’ Facebook pages nor participate in discussions (and claiming this decision silenced stakeholders) could be used to trigger inspiration.

Reaching out to future staff The trend of millions of people putting personal information online in a standardized format naturally has attracted attention from the industry, curious about whether SNSs may facilitate or even improve applicant recruitment and selection efforts (Roberts and Roach, 2009). It is striking how few articles have yet addressed the role of Facebook in recruitment and selection procedures. With simply creating a fan page dedicated to the organization and posting vacancies on the profile, all fans of the organization could be automatically informed about job offers. According to our knowledge, however, there is no academic research on how organizations should attempt to create critical mass, or on the impressions applicants may draw from these Facebook pages. We are also left with hypotheses on how users would react when their employers would ask them to post vacancies on their profiles, for example as Deloitte did in an Australian test case (Ernst, 2010). Early research by Calvó-Armengol and Jackson (2004) indicates that US employees were indeed starting to pass on information regarding vacancies they were not interested in using SNSs, but the particular use of Facebook has not yet been researched. It also remains unclear to what extent organizations use Facebook to actively search for new staff. For now, we are left with Cross and Parker’s (2008) statement that e-recruitment through SNSs has become popular both among American job seekers and employers. More elaborated research is required. Research on the selection of staff is also rather sparse. Two important exceptions are Brown and Vaughn (2011) and Caers and Castelyns (2011). Brown and Vaughn (2011) describe the use of SNSs to screen applicants from a theoretical point of view. They argue that using information on SNSs may create an imbalance in the level of information available on every applicant and risks that interviewers already form preferential considerations early in the hiring process. They also warn against the fact that an applicant’s profile picture, or pictures of his friends, may become part of an interviewer’s selection decision. Caers and Castelyns (2011) provide empirical research on this matter, focusing on Facebook. In a sample of 398 Belgian employees responsible for the recruitment and selection of staff, 44% of decision makers look at the applicants’ Facebook profiles and also believe that profile pictures are providing accurate signals on the applicants’ level of extraversion and maturity (Caers and Castelyns, 2011). With the earlier comment in mind on whether Facebook profiles do

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or do not contain me-marketing objectives, future research should investigate whether these correlations actually exist and extend the analysis to other countries. Indeed, research by Kluemper and Rosen (2009) shows that accurate assessments may be possible, as 63 raters were able to distinguish high from low performers after viewing their SNS and were consistent in their ratings. Intelligent and emotionally stable raters performed best.

Future research directions It is striking how many articles are based on samples of US students, often with low numbers of respondents. With millions of users worldwide, research on Facebook should be taken one step further, expanding research to multiple countries and settings and integrating research findings. It is also apparent how many convenience samples have been used, often taken from students in the same year of a particular university, and how gathering respondents through random walk models could strengthen the generalization of research findings. Besides this, there are seven important directions for future research to take. Firstly, it is necessary to understand why non-users still prefer not to open an account and why former users decided to abandon their accounts. This may provide insight into the (perceived) shortcomings of Facebook, its image, and on how SNSs may evolve. Secondly, it is valuable to investigate how behavior on Facebook is linked to differences in personality, SE, happiness, intended purpose (me-marketing/reality), (not) having professional, more distant contacts and relatives as Facebook friends, and how it complements the offline communication among users and between users and non-users. Thirdly, it may be interesting to investigate how bullying on Facebook is perceived by friends of the victim, whether and how they respond to it, and how both the bullying and the responses affect offline and online relationships and levels of individual well-being and SE. Fourthly, literature can benefit from studies investigating how users deal with privacy on the network in its current form, how privacy concerns vary between demographic groups and nationalities, and to what extent stated privacy settings indeed correlate with actual settings. This is highly relevant when initiating the fifth research direction, namely on how organizations use Facebook to gather information for recruitment purposes and to what extent information disclosed by the user reflects actual personality traits, motivation, and competences. These findings may then benefit literature on biases in selection procedures. Sixthly, it is valuable to investigate how the applicants’ image of the organization in terms of employer branding is affected by using Facebook for recruitment purposes and how organizations can successfully recruit and communicate with applicants in both the short and the long term. This should be linked to research on employer branding and psychological contracts. Finally, future research should focus on the extent to which customers perceive user and organization-driven communication on organizational Facebook pages as objective information, how advertisements on the SNS can grasp and retain user attention, what effect Facebook pages with negative remarks on the products of an organization have on sales, how effective eWOM is, and how, and to what extent, individuals prefer to communicate with organizations via Facebook. These findings may provide


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valuable information to organizations and also safeguard Facebook users from suboptimal or even unwanted contact with organizations.

Conclusion This review shows that many interesting topics have been addressed by previous research on Facebook and that our knowledge is expanding fast. However, the review also reveals that our understanding is still quite fragmented and may lack nuances that characterize different settings, countries, and demographic variables. Now is the time to take scientific research on Facebook one step further and integrate items and control variables from previous studies into new and even stronger research designs and to expand these designs to multiple countries and demographic groups. This review has highlighted these variables and has presented directions for future research, with regard to both scope and research topics. We hope it may serve scholars well. Acknowledgements The authors thank the reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments on earlier versions of this manuscript and for being so thorough in their work. Gratitude is also expressed for the exceptional work done by the editor, David Park.

Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Author biographies Ralf Caers is Professor in Human Resource Management and social media at the HogeschoolUniversiteit Brussel (HUB). He has specialized in the recruitment and selection of staff for (non) profit organizations and obtained a PhD in Applied Economics from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in 2007. He is involved in social media research since 2009 and is a frequent guest lecturer on the topic at various Belgian universities, colleges and business schools. Tim De Feyter works at Center for Business Management Research (CBMR) of the Faculty of Economics and Business at the Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB). His research interest focuses on manpower planning and strategic Human Resource Management in general.


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Marijke De Couck graduated as a Master in Environment, Health and Safety management at the Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB). She is currently working as a PhD student at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), investigating the effects of the autonomic nervous system, and more specifically of the vagus nerve, on cancer. Talia Stough is the Sustainability Coordinator at the Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel (HUB), where she works to integrate sustainability into education, research, outreach, and operational processes. Claudia Vigna obtained her degree of Doctor in Applied Economics from the University of Antwerp (UA) in 2012. Her research topic was about the link between HRM practices and processes and employee outcomes such as work engagement, affective commitment, satisfaction and voluntary employee turnover. During her PhD project, she has been working as an assistant at HogeschoolUniversiteit Brussel (HUB). Cind Du Bois is associate professor in economics at the Royal Military Academy.