Understanding the effects of WeChat on perceived social capital and psychological well-being among Chinese international college students in Germany

Published date21 May 2018
Pages288-304
Date21 May 2018
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/AJIM-01-2018-0003
AuthorHua Pang
Understanding the effects of
WeChat on perceived social
capital and psychological
well-being among Chinese
international college students
in Germany
Hua Pang
Institute of Media and Communication, Dresden University of Technology,
Dresden, Germany
Abstract
Purpose The purposeof this paper is to explore how the intensityuse of WeChat is associated withperceived
social capital andpsychological well-being factorsamong Chinese international students in Germany.
Design/methodology/approach Based on an online survey data collected from 212 Chinese international
college students in Germany, correlation analysis and structural equation modeling were sequentially
implemented to deal with the research questions.
Findings The correlation analysis results indicate that the intensity of WeChat use is positively correlated
with bridging, bonding, and maintained social capital. Additionally, a path model demonstrates that bonding
social capital is positively related to life satisfaction and negatively related to the sense of loneliness.
Furthermore, both bonding and maintained social capital mediate the relationship between WeChat use and
these two well-being outcomes.
Research limitations/implications Theoretically, the research is an initial study contributing to the
existing social media literature on evaluating the effects of WeChat use on social capital and well-being.
Practically, these obtained results can be beneficial to the understanding the dynamics of how social media
may potentially impact studentssocial connectedness and life quality.
Originality/value Although WeChat has become the most prevalent social networking site in Mainland
China, the social and psychological implications of the emerging technology are not completely understood.
The paper offers evidence that WeChat has functioned as an efficient platform for sojourners to develop
diverse types of social capital and promote well-being in an intercultural setting.
Keywords Germany, Social capital, Social networking sites, WeChat, Psychological well-being,
Chinese international students
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Over the past few decades, the worldwide explosion of social networking websites (SNSs)
has dramatically transformed individuals social behaviors and networking practices across
diverse cultures, nations, and regions. Due to the advantages of convenience of access and
the low cost, these communication technologies serve as an alternative and innovative
avenue for users to interact with others, and to maintain and strengthen networked
interpersonal relations (Chang and Hsu, 2016; Mao and Qian, 2015; Pang, 2018). A recent
media investigation shows that the utilization of SNSs is currently the most prevalent online
activity around the world, particularly among digital-savvy younger generation (Tsai and
Men, 2017). Moreover, prior research has indicated that college studentssocial media
adoption and their engagement in various online activities through the site are related to a
range of social and psychological consequences including perceived social capital, civic and
political engagement, and satisfaction with life (Burke and Kraut, 2016; Lin and Wang, 2017;
Aslib Journal of Information
Management
Vol. 70 No. 3, 2018
pp. 288-304
© Emerald PublishingLimited
2050-3806
DOI 10.1108/AJIM-01-2018-0003
Received 4 January 2018
Revised 19 March 2018
Accepted 9 April 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/2050-3806.htm
288
AJIM
70,3
Raza et al., 2017). Consequently, the unprecedented popularity and exponential growth of
social media make it imperative to comprehend the nature of this newly emerging media and
its potential implications for userssocial connectedness and well-being in the digital era.
A plethora of scientific literature has consistently confirmed that using SNSs may foster
college studentssocial interaction and network establishment, and subsequently
contributing positively to their personal connections and psychological development
(Burke and Kraut, 2016; Nardon et al., 2015; Sandel, 2014). However, surprisingly, the
majority of the previous studies in this area have concentrated mainly on Facebook use in
western society (Basilisco and Cha, 2015; Lambert, 2016; Sandel, 2014). Comparatively, only
a few reports have empirically unearthed the possible effects of indigenous SNS use,
especially WeChat on individualssocial capital and well-being consequences (Wen et al.,
2016). Actually, among various domestic SNSs available in Mainland China, WeChat has
been the most widely utilized social networking service with approximately 846 million
active users as of April 2017 (Tencent, 2017).
WeChat (or Weixin in Chinese), is a worldwide free, all-in-onemobile-based instant text
and voice messaging communication application launched by the Chinese internet giant
Tencent in January2011 (Wen et al., 2016). WeChat has variousgeneral and special functions
and features. For instance, similar to WhatsApp, WeChat permits users to instantly release
short messages in multiple formats (e.g. texts, photos, and real-time voice) to a single
individual or a specificgroup of persons (Chen, 2017). Moreover,unlike WhatsApp, users can
post text messages, pictures, stickers, videos, and even web pages in their friend space, and
leave comments or simply click the likebutton on other usersposts. In addition to
conventional instant messaging services, WeChat serves as an innovative platform for
recreation, shopping, payment, aswell as transactions (Wen et al., 2016).WeChat offers users
a private platformindicating that only person you have admittedto the friend list could read
your postsand give comments on them (Gan, 2017).Furthermore, WeChat alsoallows users to
communicate with strangers through shaketo search of nearby strangers or drift bottle
to send information to random strangers (Zhang, 2016).
Currently, the SNS is heavily used by Chinese college students and has become an
integral component in their daily lives (Pang, 2016; Ye and Lin, 2015). Their online activities
in the new technology range from socializing with trusted friends and entertaining to
sharing personal information and experiencing a certain service or function (Guo et al.,
2017). Yet despite this, researchers still have limited knowledge of the possible benefits of
WeChat use. Furthermore, there is a striking lack of empirical research on the causal
relationships between international studentsSNS use and the improvements in their social
capital and well-being in a host country. According to the latest report, Germany has
become the third most popular destination among international students after the USA and
UK in the world (Li, 2017). In particular, Chinese international students constitute the largest
population group of total overseas tertiary-level students in Germany with more than
28 percent (Luyken, 2015). Regarding Chinese international students, they coming from
cultural or linguistic minorities may encounter cultural and psychological changes that
involve building and maintaining of social ties, as well as psychological adaptation during
their time in Germany (Lim and Pham, 2016). In such situations, these newcomers tend to
rely on WeChat to acquire social support networks as well as adapt to the new life.
Additionally, Chinese international students spend considerable time and energy on
social media, primarily for relationship maintenance and social interaction (Cao et al., 2018).
As Li and Chen (2014) suggested, both Facebook and Renren use are closely related to
Chinese international studentsratings of bridging social capital in the USA. Building on
prior work by Li and Chen (2014), the objective of this exploratory research focuses on
international students studying abroad in Germany to comprehend how Chinese sojourners
use of WeChat communication would influence their social relationships and perception of
289
Effects of
WeChat on
perceived
social capital

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