In this paper, we develop a social group utility maximization (SGUM) framework for cooperative networking that takes into account both social relationships and physical coupling among users. Specifically, instead of maximizing its individual utility or the overall network utility, each user aims to maximize its social group utility that hinges heavily on its social ties with other users. We show that this framework provides rich modeling flexibility and spans the continuum space between non-cooperative game and network utility maximization (NUM) - two traditionally disjoint paradigms for network optimization. Based on this framework, we study an important application in database assisted spectrum access. We formulate the distributed spectrum access problem among white-space users with social ties as a SGUM game. We show that the game is a potential game and always admits a social-aware Nash equilibrium. We also design a distributed spectrum access algorithm that can achieve the social-aware Nash equilibrium of the game and quantify its performance gap. We evaluate the performance of the SGUM solution using real social data traces. Numerical results demonstrate that the performance gap between the SGUM solution and the NUM (social welfare optimal) solution is at most 15%.