19 januari 2022
By Fernando N van der Vlist en Anne Helmond
How partners mediate platform power: Mapping business and data partnerships in the social media ecosystem

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 plat- forms 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 includ- ing 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.
Auteurs: Fernando N van der Vlist en Anne Helmond