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Social Network Analysis

The process of mapping or measuring links and relationships, which exist between organisations and individuals, who are engaged in various networking or collaborative activities is known as Social Network Analysis. This visual and mathematical analysis seeks to explore specific expertise or influences, which exist in groups. It aids in the computation of indices, which measure characteristics of the network, such as, measures of centrality. It also seeks to determine the structural importance of a “node” (example, people) in graphs.

The term, 'social network analysis' was coined by Professor J A Barnes in the 1950’s. He studied social ties in a Norwegian fishing village and concluded that social life is ‘a set of points, some of which are joined by lines’, and it forms a ‘total network’ of relations.

Valdis Krebs, Founder, and Chief Scientist, at states that "organization charts prescribe that work and information flow in a hierarchy, but network mapping reveals [they] actually flow through a vast web of informal channels."

The interest in social network analysis has grown immensely in recent years, aided by an increasing number of technical tools available. With old structures, such as, hierarchical organizations no longer ideal for complex challenges, social network analysis is gaining paramount importance.

Applications of Social Network Analysis in Organizations

The main functions of social network analysis in organizations are to drive a performance-driven culture, promote efficiency and flexibility, assessment and intervention at critical points in informal networks, and promote transparency too. For example, identification of individuals, who are ‘central’ in networks and impact groups through information control or decision making, can help managers reallocate rights for effective group performance.

Upon leveraging influence of opinion leaders, organizations can seek the target customers with advertising campaigns and enhance viral marketing campaigns.

According to Gartner Inc., lack of social network analysis leaves interaction patterns among individuals and teams unseen. To help organization realize a ‘Pattern-Based Strategy’, Gartner has identified the three variations of social network analysis listed below:

  1. Organizational Network Analysis to help learn which employees are untapped sources, critical to business and unimportant employees too.
  2. Value Network Analysis to understand business partners, who meet performance commitments and have a clearly defined role in the value network.
  3. Influence Analysis helps identify individual or associations, who influence customers and future prospects.

Simply put, social networks are the invisible structures in any organization and social network analysis helps determines the information flow. They have been instrumental in determining how organizations interact with each other, business services, and job performance too. With an effective analysis of social networks, organizations can deter competition and arrive at a consensus on a variety of issues, such as, prices and policies.

Virtual Communities - Understanding and Benefits for Social Network Analysis

Social networking websites, such as, Facebook, Linkedin, MySpace, Orkut, etc. have altered the way people interact, network and promote business and services drastically. Unlike the World Wide Web, which is organized through content, social networks are organized by individuals who use them. Social networks on these sites are composed of accounts and links exchanged between users. The links can connect ‘nodes’ based on shared interests.

Sociologists and scientists are beginning to investigate the properties of online social networks too. Adamic et al. studied an online social network at Stanford University. They found that the network exhibits small-world behavior, and significant local clustering. Liben-Nowell et al. found a strong correlation between friendship and geographic location in social networks.

Social Network Analysis Software

Representations of the social network are vital to effectively understand network data. It helps express the results of the analysis too. With the help of social network analysis software, an organization can analyze, identify, represent and stimulate agents or information from various inputs and save the output on external files too.

Analysts of social networks believe that an individual’s life depends on the larger web of social connections surrounding him/her. Success or failure of organizations and societies, they are a part of depend largely on the structure of social networks too. Hence, it is an international effort to understand social networks and there are a number of books, software and research centers to facilitate the analysis of social networks.


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