I've been in Washington, DC for the Network Effectiveness and Social Media Strategy Map working session for Packard Foundation Grantees convened by Monitor Institute. This is a post to help me identify what I don't know about social network analysis and mapping tools with the hope that you'll fill in the gaps in the comments.
I flew back from DC last night on Virgin America. Unfortunately, the weather in DC kept us on the ground and in the airplane on the runway for a couple of hours. They permitted the use of cell phones, so I tweeted that even if you are delayed, it's a pleasant experience on Virgin America. A minute later I noticed Pistachio's tweet about flying Virgin America from Boston and Glenn Stratchan direct messaged me asking what seat I was in because he thought we might be on the same Virgin America flight.
Since I couldn't use my computer to get on the wifi, I took out my session workbook to review my notes on the module about "Understanding Your Network" which included the basics of social network analysis and mapping.
Source: Monitor Institute
The visual above is a social network. Each dot represents a person or in network jargon, a node. A connection between people is called link. The definition of links or how you're connected is defined however you want. Some examples:
- A follower on Twitter or someone you're following
- Someone on your mailing list or rolodex
- Someone you know well enough to call
- Family members
- Organizational reporting
- Communications flows
- Information flows
Basically, connections can describe anything you want to gather data about to make decisions to improve your network or reach your goals. I've summarized some suggested processes below which simply good research/decision-making frameworks.
Connections can have directions flows, one-way or two-way. For example, a one-way connection on Twitter is someone who follows you, but you don't follow back. A two-way connection is someone you follow on Twitter and follows you back. (BTW, there's an interesting discussion about this on David Armano's blog). Connections also be strong or loose. For example, on Twitter, a strong tie could be two nodes or people that engage consistently in two-way conversation. (See this map from Malina). David Armano likes to talk about how Twitter can strengthen loose ties (two people who are connected on social networks, but don't know each other in real life or very well)
A Hub is a person who has a lot of connections to other people who may not be connected or know one another. Hubs look like starbursts on the visualization. A cluster is a bounded group of people who are connected, but have few connections to other nodes. (Think of a Tower-like organization where staff aren't encouraged to network or within siloed departments.) The Core are people who do most of the work (think wikipedia editors.) The periphery is edge, people who may more connected in other networks and are lurking in your network or dip in. The nodes on the edge can infuse the network with new ideas or energy if they brought into the fold. (Read Power to the Edges)
How would you describe Virgin America in social networking analysis and mapping terminology?
That's not a real question, just the idle thoughts of a slightly exhausted airline passenger stuck on a runaway on a Virgin America flight who can't use the wifi to get back to the clouds to summarize the rest of the of learnings/advice about social network analysis that came from Twitter while I was live tweeting.
(Interesting, one of the back channel comments was the definition of an expert. My definition is that your knowledge lives in the clouds. Dave Witzel tweeted it. At that moment, I realized the limitation of knowledge in the clouds and the definition.)
Draw your network
After the presentation on Network Basics (materials here), there were two exercises. The first was to look at the different social network analysis maps posted on the walls and figure out what was going on. The next exercise participants worked in small groups using a low-tech method to "doodle out" their networks (magic markers and flip chart paper.) This exercise reminded me of an exercise I used to do in workshops 12 years ago with nonprofits to introduce the Internet, "Draw A Picture of the Internet"
Some of the maps in the workshop were created with social analysis mapping software. This is an area of tools and techniques that I have wanted to explore in further depth, but haven't.
One of the questions that also came up in my mind was: What's the difference between a community of practice and a network? I tweeted this and Valdis Krebs had a great answer:
The network is the "structure" upon which the community dances and self-organizes... builds network as it needs it.
I used the tag #packnet and asked for the "Poor Man Dummies Guide to Social Network Analysis and Mapping Tools." Va;dis Krebs and other Twitter users pointed to some great resources which are listed below along with others that I discovered.
The best resource I discovered that answers this questions was "Building Smart Communities Through Network Weaving" by Valdis Krebs and June Holley. The maps are used to improve the results of your network. The network map is a snapshot of where your network is "as is." Network maps are "talking documents" or prompts for reflection and strategy brainstorms. Network maps support "what if conversations."
The paper goes on to describe five general patterns:
- Birds of a feather flock together: nodes link together because of common attributes, goals or governance
- Diversity is important. Though clusters form around common attributes and goals, vibrant networks maintain connections to diverse nodes and clusters.
- Robust networks have several paths between any two nodes.
- Some nodes are more prominent than others. These are critical to network health
- Most nodes are connected by an indirect link in the network.
The paper also describes how networks evolve over time - and you can observe this visual patterns. The paper discusses network weaving techniques to help evolve a more effective network - one that is more woven.
Some questions related to the network analysis tools that I don't have the answers to, but have started scanning and asking for answers.
- What is a good framework for designing a social network analysis mapping project so you get the most out of it?
- What is a good step-by-step approach for analyzing your map and making decisions?
- Why map your network with a marker and paper? Why map your network with a software tool?
- What information can a social network analysis software tool provide that simple low tech method cannot?
- What are the different tools available? What are the features? How technical? How expensive? Are there low cost techology tools for less technical people that provide a resulting map that is useful?
One important lesson is that you should really spend the time framing the problem or your goal. Also, social network analysis mapping may not be your only source of research - so if you are looking at a complex network and multiple research sources think about staging and phasing.
Angus Parker over at WiserEarth suggests the following process for using simple network mapping tools - these steps could be used with low tech, low cost or more complex technology tools. This is adapted from a framework developed by Roberto Cremonini from the Barr Foundation illustrated in the diagram below:
Some Off the Wall Ideas To Synthesize into the Process
I've been intrigued by social data exploration and wonder what offline processes might be adapted to working this with a software tool?
Also, I wonder how you can integrate some of the thinking for external communication that uses social networks/social media?
I was not able to find a taxonomy for social network analysis tools. So, I'm roughly dividing these into two categories: Low-Tech and High-Tech
These use tools like crayons and paper and process exercises.
- Marty Kearns has a diagnostic tool over in his Advocacy 2.0 wiki that gives you a good set of questions to ask after you've created a descriptive drawing.
- Net-Map Tool Kit is an interview-based low-tech mapping tool that helps people understand, visualize, discuss, and improve situations in which many different actors influence outcomes in a community or network. It includes a step-by-step guided approach.
High Tech Approaches
KeyHub: Angus Parker from Wiser Earth has written a review for KeyHubs. It looks like a social network mapping software that can analyze informal networks within an organization. There is a tour on the site, free trial, and some case studies.
- Valdis Krebs - Orgnet Software
- June Holley's Smart Network Analyzer: Sarah Carr from EBM a demo from a webinar (here is the demo). Software designed by Valdis Krebs and colleagues.
Visual Mapping and Diagnostics for Scaling Change: From Steve Waddell, Iscale - this paper has done the impossible! It has explained social network analysis and techniques in a way that is easy to understand for those who are not experts. With the onslaught of information and greater complexity in our work, visual diagnostics are more and more important. There's also a paper that Steve co-authored about a methodology for social network analysis.
Stephen Baker, BusinessWeek - How Much Is A Friend Worth?
Valdis Krebs, Managing Core Competencies of the Corporation: Organizational Network Mapping
Valdis Krebs, Social Network Analysis: A Brief Introduction
Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, Network Power for Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Bruce Hoppe and Claire Reinelt, Social Network Analysis and Leadership Development
Bruce Hoppe Blog - Visualization Category
Vladis Krebs, Building Sustainable Communities Through Network Weaving
Mark Surman, Hybrid Organizations
Peter Morville's Social Network Analysis Synthesis
John Kleinberg's Course on Networks
How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer
CD3: Community Impact