12 March 2021

Organizations need to exploit Social Capital in HRM


Human capital, conceived as a set of attributes related to individuals (KSAO, BIG-5 Personality traits, etc. ) are undoubtfully essential for predicting performance and are crucial factors in distributing individuals to positions within organizations. Traditional labour market specialists argue that individual labourers who invest in skills and abilities that meed the needs of specific jobs have better opportunities to get those positions. There is more than a grain of truth in that.

However, Human Capital is not the only type of significant capital in the labour market. Social Capital is also a vital asset for organizations and certain positions in organizations.

Unfortunately, HR professionals barely use Social Capital as a driver for HR selection or internal assessment.

The purpose of this article is to shed light on Social Capital, the opportunities it can offer to HR professionals, together with some introductory insights on how to measure it and how to represent it.

How to exploit Social Capital in HR management

What is social capital?

Coleman (1920) introduced the concept of social capital, as lying "in the structure of relations between persons and among persons" (Coleman, 1990: 302ff.). Social Capital refers to the resources embedded in social networks and, similarly to Human Capital, require investment and effort to be developed (Nan, 2009).

Why is Social Capital essential?

According to Nan (2009), an organization is a node in a web of linked actors: the marketplace. The organizational performance and survival are profoundly affected by how its internal members interact, negotiate and collaborate internally and with external actors. Tactics and stratagems that are undertaken in the marketplace rely on the social skills and resources of the organizational members: their Social Capitals. Nan (2009) provides empirical support to the hypothesis that Social Capital is strategic when it comes to fit a candidate in some position. Furthermore, the strategic utility of Social capital Gains significance for organizations in a highly competitive market environment.

Hollenbeck & Jamieson (2015) advocate that HRM should go beyond the classical Human Capital analysis and consider internal Social Capital as essential to improving organizational performances and well-being.

HR professionals do not exploit Social Capital potentiality

For what concern the selection process, even though Social Networks offer a significant source of information about the Social Capital of candidates, HR professionals perceive those platforms as a source of Human Capital, rather than Social Capital, knowledge. According to Caers & Castelyns (2011), nearly 80% of their HR panel admits that Linked In can be a good source of information for collecting skills and professional experiences, similarly as it was a structured CV. Furthermore, more than 40% of the HR professionals reveals that they use Facebook to look at the picture of candidates, believing that the profile picture can provide a signal on the applicant's level of extraversion and maturity.

For what concern the internal processes, Hollenbeck & Jamieson (2015) argue that Social Capital measures are overlooked by HRM that prefer to gather their knowledge from more traditional organizational information (e.g. Formal Hierarchy) and individual metrics (e.g. KSAO, Personality, etc.).

How can HR measure Social Capital?

First, Social Networks may be used to reveal the Social Capital of candidates (rather than Human Capital) during the selection process. 

Second, the internal appraisal processes provide a possible source of data to measure Social Capital within the organization. For example, an appraisal process can be enhanced by adding questions on the relationship between individuals.

Third, the Social Network Analysis / Sociometry discipline (the mathematical study of the psychological properties of organizations) provides the theoretical background to carry out such analysis. Social network analysis can trace its roots to seminal work of Jacob Levy Moreno book "Who Shall Survive?" (Moreno, 1934). More recently, the systematic and thorough opera of Wasserman and Faust (1994) explore this topic.

Fourth, software applications allow representing social organizations and social metrics. For example, Pajek, Keyhubs or InFlow are commercial tools for the analysis of groups and their structure. There is other free software available.

Finally, Neural Network technologies provide the computational framework to carry out a big simulation analysis (Tan & Hu, 2019). But this is a topic that requires a further, dedicated article.


In conclusion, Social Capital is a vital asset for organizations and is fundamental in HR management. 

Social Capital assessment can be deployed combining the information provided by the Social Network platforms, internal appraisal process and Social Network Analysis (Sociometry) discipline. Tools are currently freely available to plot visual representations of social networks. 

Besides, Neural network technologies will offer the opportunity to simulate the behaviour of complex organizations.

Roberto Bonanomi

Senior Trainer and Coach HURACT


Caers, R., & Castelyns, V., 2011. LinkedIn and Facebook in Belgium. Social Science Computer Review, 29(4), 437–448.

Coleman, J. S., 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Hollenbeck, J. R., & Jamieson, B. B., 2015. Human capital, social capital, and social network analysis: implications for strategic human resource management. Academy of management perspectives29(3), 370–385.

Moreno, J. L., 1934. Who shall survive? Washington, DC.

Nan, L., 2009. Recruiting and Deploying Social Capital in Organizations: Theory and Evidence. In Z. Yanlong & L. Keister (Eds.), Research in the Sociology of Work (Vol. 19, pp. 225–251). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Tan, Q., Liu, N., & Hu, X., 2019. Deep Representation Learning for Social Network Analysis. Frontiers in Big Data2, 626–10.

Wasserman, S., & Faust, K., 1994. Social network analysis: Methods and applications. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

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