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📄Research Article │ 🔍Refereed🔓Open Access

How Partners Mediate Platform Power:
Mapping Business and Data Partnerships in the Social Media Ecosystem

🗂The Business Partner Ecosystems of Social Media Social media platforms’ digital advertising revenues depend considerably on partnerships. Business partnerships are endemic and essential to the business of platforms, yet their role remains relatively underexplored in the literature on platformisation and platform power. This article considers the significance of partnerships in the social media ecosystem to better understand how industry platforms, and the infrastructure they build, mediate and shape platform power and governance. We argue that partners contribute to ‘platformisation’ through their collective development of business-to-business platform infrastructures. Specifically, we examine how partners have integrated social media platforms with what we call the audience economy – an exceptionally complex global and interconnected marketplace of intermediaries involved in the creation, commodification, analysis, and circulation of data audiences for purposes including but not limited to digital advertising and marketing. We determined which relationships are involved, which are exclusive or shared, and identified key ecosystem partners. Further, we found that partners build and integrate extensive infrastructures for data-sourcing and media distribution, surfacing infrastructural and strategic sources and locations, or ‘nodes’, of power in this ecosystem. The empirical findings thus highlight the significance of partnerships and partner integrations and draw attention to the powerful industry players and intermediaries that remain largely invisible.

💡 📝Note: A blog post about this article is published on, the blog of Big Data & Society.


📋Cite (APA) van der Vlist, F. N. & Helmond, A. (2021). How Partners Mediate Platform Power: Mapping Business and Data Partnerships in the Social Media Ecosystem. Big Data & Society, 8(2), 1–16. SAGE Publications. DOI: 10.1177/20539517211025061.
🔗Link (DOI)

Kind Research Article
Author F. N. van der Vlist; A. Helmond
Publication Date 2021, June 14 [first published online]
Journal Big Data & Society (BD&S)
Volume 8
Issue 1
Pages 1–16 (16)
Publisher SAGE Publications (London, United Kingdom)
Identifier 10.1177/20539517211025061 [self]; 2053-9517 [part of]; 262513311 [funded by]; 275-45-009 [funded by]
License CC BY 4.0
Data Availability The data that support the findings of this study are openly available in the Open Science Framework (OSF) at

🖇Attached 🕓Date Modified ↧ Name Kind Access
2021-06-16 Mapping Business and Data Partnerships in the Social Media Ecosystem 📝Blog Post 🌍Public
2021-05-22 Business and Data Partnerships of the 20 Most-Used Social Media Platforms 🗄Research Data 🔓Open
2019-11-06 Social Media and Platform Historiography 📄 🔍Research Article 🔓Open
2019-05-01 Facebook’s Evolution 📄 🔍Research Article 🔓Open
2019-03-20 Historical Facebook Platform ‘Boundary Resources’, 2006–2018 🗄Research Data 🔓Open
2017-07-28 The Political Economy of Social Data 📄 🔍Conference Proceeding 🔒Closed
2016-09 Big Data Advertising Infrastructures 📄 🔍Conference Proceeding 🌍Public