Social network analysis often involves the interpretation of social network diagrams. Many people are familiar with the diagrams individuals post on their own social networks that can be created by using apps such as InMaps for LinkedIn which can provide a visual representation of your social network. LinkedIn was chosen for this example since it is one of the personal social networks where an individual may be purposefully curating their network. Whether it is connecting with customers or potential employers, there are many reasons to study and identify where to expand your professional social network.
Not Just a Pretty Picture
These network diagram apps create visually stunning representations of your social network, but they can also be a useful tool to identify gaps or structural holes in your personal network. Are there areas in your professional past which are missing connections? Searching former coworkers or classmates as well as their connections can help fill areas where you are lacking connections.
Too Much of the Same
If your social network diagram is made up of one colour and looks like a tight ball (like the purple one on the right in the above diagram), this is an indication that your network is all from the same organization. Perhaps you are a student without any other work experience and all your connections are fellow students and instructors. Maybe you’ve only worked for one company in your career. Either way you have too much homophily. Forming a tight network with individuals you share strong ties with seems like an intelligent choice. If you are staying in the same area of work, you want to know others in the same industry. Unfortunately this reasoning may not help you when you search for a new job. If you and your connections all work for the same company, they may not be useful when trying to find new employment. It has been shown that your weak ties, those that you may have no strong social connection to, may be more useful when job searching.
Not just for LinkedIn…
A personal Facebook network can be visually mapped as well, and is certainly interesting particularly to identify small world connections and how interconnected your friends really are. If you work in an area where personal recommendations and references are important, curating your personal social networks may make sense. Another option may be to connect with your friends though your professional social network as well. This not only creates greater diffusion of your professional network but also adds multiplexity to your network. Kadushin mentions in Chapter 12 of Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings, “networks can be ‘stacked’ by creating matrixes of more than one relationship” (p.203). You may have friends who are also coworkers, clients or classmates.
The Tool is only as Good as the User
The use of LinkedIn and social network diagrams are only as useful as they are accurate representations of your profile and professional network. Not everyone you are connected to professionally is on LinkedIn. Getting in the habit of searching and then connecting with new connections you’ve made professionally is a good step towards accurately portraying your network. Making sure your profile is accurate and up to date is also useful for individuals looking to connect with you.
Taking time to analyse your network and where it can be improved can help increase your social capital as well as increase your ability to be a connector for your friends, clients and colleagues.
A shout out to Leo Urrutia for sharing the InMaps social network diagram app.
Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding Social Networks: Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press.