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Social media comprises communication websites that facilitate relationship forming between users from diverse backgrounds, resulting in a rich social structure. User generated content encourages inquiry and decision-making. Given the relevance of social media to various stakeholders, it has received significant attention from researchers of various fields, including information systems. There exists no comprehensive review that integrates and synthesises the findings of literature on social media. This study discusses the findings of 132 papers (in selected IS journals) on social media and social networking published between 1997 and 2017. Most papers reviewed here examine the behavioural side of social media, investigate the aspect of reviews and recommendations, and study its integration for organizational purposes. Furthermore, many studies have investigated the viability of online communities/social media as a marketing medium, while others have explored various aspects of social media, including the risks associated with its use, the value that it creates, and the negative stigma attached to it within workplaces. The use of social media for information sharing during critical events as well as for seeking and/or rendering help has also been investigated in prior research. Other contexts include political and public administration, and the comparison between traditional and social media. Overall, our study identifies multiple emergent themes in the existing corpus, thereby furthering our understanding of advances in social media research. The integrated view of the extant literature that our study presents can help avoid duplication by future researchers, whilst offering fruitful lines of enquiry to help shape research for this emerging field.
When we refer to social media, applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram often come to mind. These applications are driven by user-generated content, and are highly influential in a myriad of settings, from purchasing/selling behaviours, entrepreneurship, political issues, to venture capitalism (Greenwood and Gopal 2015). As of April 2017, Facebook enjoys the exalted position of being the market leader of the social media world, with 1.97 billion monthly users (Statista 2017). In addition to posts, social media sites are bombarded with photo and video uploads, and according to the recent numbers, about 400 million snaps a day have been recorded on Snapchat, with around 9000 photos being shared every second (Lister 2017). While 50 million businesses are active on Facebook business pages, two million businesses are using Facebook advertising. Apparently, 88% businesses use Twitter for marketing purposes (Lister 2017).
Academics and practitioners have explored and examined the many sides of social media over the past years. Organizations engage in social media mostly with the aim of obtaining feedback from stakeholders (Phang et al. 2015). Consumer reviews are another big part of social media, bringing issues of information quality, credibility, and authenticity to the forefront. To a large extent, online communities have been successful in bringing together people with similar interests and goals, making the concept of micro blogging very popular. While most messages exchanged on social media sites are personal statuses or updates on current affairs, some posts are support seeking, where people are looking for assistance and help. Interestingly, these have been recognized as socially exhausting posts that engender social overload, causing other members to experience negative behavioural and psychological consequences, because they feel compelled to respond (Maier et al. 2015a).
Given the relevance of social media to various stakeholders, and the numerous consequences associated with its use, social media has attracted the attention of researchers from various fields, including information systems. This is evidenced by the large number of scholarly articles that have appeared in various outlets. Researchers have to expend an enormous amount of time and effort in collating, analysing, and synthesising findings from existing works before they embark on a new research project. Given the significant number of studies that have already been published, a comprehensive and systematic review can offer valuable assistance to researchers intending to engage in social medi research. Our literature search suggests that there are reviews on social media in the marketing context (see for example, AlAlwan et al. 2017; Dwivedi et al. 2017a; Dwivedi et al. 2015; Ismagilova et al. 2017; Kapoor et al. 2016; Plume et al. 2016). However, there exists no comprehensive review that integrates and synthesises the findings from the articles published in Information Systems journals. Such an endeavour will not only provide a holistic view of the extant research on social media, but will also provide researchers a comprehensive intellectual platform that can be used to pursue fruitful lines of enquiry to help advance research in this rapidly expanding area. To fulfill this goal, this study reviewed relevant articles to elucidate the key thematic areas of research on social media, including its benefits and spill-over effects. The resulting review is expected to serve as a one-stop source, offering insight into what has been accomplished so far in terms of research on social media, what is currently being done, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead. By doing so, this study explores the following aspects of existing research on social media:
The next section of this paper gives a brief overview of the method employed for carrying out the literature search. The succeeding section discusses citation and text analyses of social media publications. Subsequently, we outline the various ways in which scholars have defined social media. This is followed by a section that focuses on the evolution of social media research from an IS perspective. Next, we articulate the major themes emerging from prior research and use them as a backdrop for our review of the literature on social media. The ensuing section discusses our findings, followed by key conclusions and limitations of the study.
The literature search for this analysis was conducted in the following two phases: (1) keyword-based search and analysis to explore the overall evolution of social media literature; and (2) manual search across specific IS journals to understand the emerging IS perspectives on this topic.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of social media, we analyzed relevant abstracts that were downloaded from the Web of Science (WOS) database. Our search termsFootnote 1 yielded a total of 13,177 records, out of which 12,597 unique abstracts were obtained. The analysis of these records was undertaken in two steps. First, we used VOSviewer (Van Eck and Waltman 2011) to perform a co-citation analysis of first authors in the downloaded corpus. VOSviewer allows visualization of similarities in publications and authors through an examination of bibliometric networks. Furthermore, we used VOSviewer to analyze words derived from titles and abstracts. Second, we used Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) (see Blei 2012) to extract key thematic areas latent in the literature on social media. Further details about these analyses and results are presented in section 3.
Relevant articles were then identified and downloaded from each of the target journals by going through their archives. Specifically, all volumes and issues published in these journals between 1997 and 2017 were considered in our analysis. Articles, research notes, introductions, research commentaries, and editorial overviews relevant to social media were downloaded and numbered to prepare an APA style reference list. The first literature search resulted in 181 articles that had some relevance to the social media domain. A closer examination of individual abstracts and full articles led to the elimination of 49 irrelevant articles, thus giving us a total of 132 articles pertinent to the domain of interest (i.e., social media).
Cluster 6: This cluster appears to reflect two broad themes. The first is a range of topics related to medical Internet research, broadly referred to as e-health (Eysenbach) or online health (Duggan). Themes in this category include electronic support groups and health in virtual communities (Eysenbach), and policies and healthcare associated with social media, and professionals among medical students and physicians in the use of social media (Chretien, Greysen). The second main thematic area in this cluster deals with scholarship on social media, scholarly communication, and metrics for evaluating impact of articles on the web (e.g., Weller, Bormann, Priem).
Cluster 7: The dominant theme here is the nature and content of communication. In particular, scholars in this cluster have focused on communication and response in the face of crises (Coombs), including image restoration after a controversy (Benoit), analysis and reliability of content (Krippendorff), and the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by government agencies and non-profit organizations to engage stakeholders (Waters).
VOSviewer identified five clusters here. It is evident from the clusters that research on social media has dealt with a broad range of topics, including but not restricted to diffusion of information and opinions, spread of diseases (e.g., influenza), identification of social and emotional health concerns and attendant interventions to deal with them, social media as an influence, the use of social media for marketing purposes, and the implications of social media as a tool for pedagogy (i.e., teaching and learning) and medical practice. These have been summarized in Table 1.