The Affordances of Social Media Platforms

Taina Bucher and I would like to circulate our chapter on “The Affordances of Social Media Platforms,” our contribution to the SAGE Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burgess, Thomas Poell, and Alice Marwick, forthcoming in 2017.


In this chapter we want to reflect on the concept of affordance as a key term for understanding and analysing social media interfaces and the relations between technology and its users. We first describe five different–but related–ways in which affordance has been conceptualized and subsequently address how it has been employed to analyse social media in particular. We then outline a platform-sensitive approach to affordance as an analytical tool for examining social media based on recent examples of changes to the Twitter platform. Our approach is sensitive to the medium-specificity of platforms, as technological intermediaries and entities that can be built upon, and which draw different stakeholders together and orchestrate their relationships to each other (Gillespie, 2010; Helmond, 2015). Such a perspective requires taking into account how affordances relate not only to end-users and their activities but also to third-parties such as developers who extend the affordances offered by the platform, and advertisers who monetize platform activities. Affordances, we argue, manifest in relations between platforms and their different types of users—end-users, advertisers, developers, and researchers. We extend previous conceptualizations of affordances understood as the action possibilities made available to users by means of technology, not only by expanding the notion of the user, but also by considering the question of what users do to the technology.

Download the pre-publication print PDF, June 2016.

Bucher, Taina, and Anne Helmond. 2017. “The Affordances of Social Media Platforms.” In The SAGE Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burgess, Thomas Poell, and Alice Marwick. London and New York: SAGE Publications Ltd.

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