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Monday, August 02, 2010

Social Network Analysis: Uncovering Hidden Value in Organizations

Social network analysis (SNA) is a powerful method for collecting and analyzing data about patterns of relationships among people in groups, it allows an organization to become aware of invisible flows of knowledge and turn them into visible flows. SNA allows an organization to assess its relationships' distance, ties, centrality and density.

As the common say goes, "its who you know that makes a difference and not what you know". This is very true, social relationships can cross barriers and formal boundaries that typically would never exist.

A real-life example that I just witnessed this week in our community, which is a beautiful manifestation of trust in a social network is a story of a homeless lady with four children, all four of them lived in a crammed room in a run down house. The lady worked hard to support her four children one of who had medical challenges, she utilized the normal and formal sources of assistance in her society such as food stamps, housing assistance and other state provided services. However none of these services were able to put her into a state of self-sufficiency and independence. One day she was about to lose her belongings that she had to put into a rented public storage facility due to limited space in her room as a result of late rent payments. She pursued the typical and traditional approaches for financial support through her local places of worship, the support she received was minimal and inadequate. It was only when she was able to create a social network with a number of people in her community that a small group of families were able introduce new knowledge and setup an electronic process to support needy people in less than an hour and pool resources and pay off her outstanding payments on her rented storage, instead of the legacy approach used by the typical support centers. This is an example where a social network removed a bottleneck that existed in an organization, and the social network was able to work around the bottleneck to provide value for the whole network.

I have experienced the power of social network as an 18 year college student some 20 years ago. Through a family member I was able to get introduced to the president of a large university, to whom I brought to his attention my interest for a summer job. Because of the trust he had in my family member and in my skills, he connected me with the hiring manager who interviewed me and gave me the job the same day. This is an example of a social network that reduces the number of links between nodes. We have heard in the news about job seekers who communicate directly with CEOs and are able to get an interview. Social networks as a concept is not new, however technology has enabled nodes to be more easily accessible and has brought down barriers of communications.

Social networks that bring value are those that are developed at not only the same social levels but different levels. Imagine creating bridges and networks across different demographics. For example networking an ex-inmate, homeless individual or at-risk youth through a trusted relationship to networks of employment, professional development and economic development. The power of social network analysis is that it will identify new nodes, decision makers and information flow paths that do not necessarily follow the traditional paths.  For example an ex-inmate will typically interface with the society through a parole officer, or an at-risk youth would interface with opportunities through a social worker, however through a social network the ex-inmate transitioning would be able to interact with a multitude of opportunities at different levels of the society through his social coach, and the same applies to the young at-risk person. Social networks can allow groups in a society or enterprise that are usually not highly connected to be closer and less isolated.

Trust is a key element in a successful social network, it is a relationship based not on need, but on mutual social benefit and sense of community.


Ayman Nassar said...

Thanks Salah for sharing: will post below for community to benefit.

I recently read a post talking about social media and its powerful impact.


Good thoughts!

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