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Exploring social media use in small firms: a cultural toolkit perspective

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posted on 19.07.2016, 11:46 by Michelle Richey
Social media platforms have proliferated rapidly, altering societal norms of communication. Whilst a number of studies (Treem & Leonardi, 2012; Leonardi, 2014; Koch, Gonzalez & Leidner, 2013) have shed light on the implications of social media use for firms, there remains a limited understanding of how firms interpret and implement social media. This thesis seeks to address the gap by exploring the psycho-sociological processes underpinning social media use in small firms. Data was collected during a qualitative study of social media use in 31 organizations in the United Kingdom (UK) and interpreted using concepts from Swidlers (1986) cultural toolkit framework. This thesis contributes insights about the wide variety of resources required to participate in the networked society (Harris, Rae & Misner, 2012) using social media platforms. Previous studies have suggested that interpretations play an important role in social media use (i.e. Treem & Leonardi s affordances, 2012) but have failed to explicate how interpretations of social media are formed. This study found that respondents drew on a wide variety of cultural tools (Swidler, 1986) in order to interpret and operate their social media accounts. These included their embodied skills, habits and styles as well as resources that were available through their social networks. The study found that the respondents interpretation of social media as a low risk and highly uncertain endeavour prompted their experimentation with various combinations of cultural tools as attempts were made to overcome the common challenges of social media use (i.e. finding time for social media, knowing what to post on social media). One such challenge related to the marked difference between social media interactions and face-to-face encounters. The findings are used to extend Goffman s notion of situation-like encounters (1979). It is contended that social media provide a rich example of a situation-like context.



  • Loughborough University London


© Michelle Richey

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.