How to Map Social Networks

Experience the growth of online social networking.

When you learn how to map social networks, you can open the door to a greater understanding of humanity's interconnected nature and how that creates countless opportunities.

Social Network Theory

Social network mapping starts with the larger concept of social network theory. Under this theory, you map social networks through the use of nodes and ties. A node is a single point on the network, either an individual or a group, such as a business. The ties are the connections between the nodes. Visually, a map will usually take the form of a number of circles connected by lines. Lines may vary in length and thickness to represent the various connection types between the members of the network. Social network analysis software can help with creating these maps.

Researchers use social network theory to examine families, social groups, companies, organizations, and even countries. In the online world, it is possible to take a broader view of the many ways people meet and connect on the Internet.

Why Learn How to Map Social Networks

At first sight, mapping a social network may seem like nothing more than an amusing exercise. On the surface, it's similar to the theory of six degrees of separation, made popular by "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", the game that challenges fans to connect the prolific actor to other figures in six steps or less. The larger theory posits that any two people on the planet are within six connections of each other. You may find yourself thinking, "I work with Karen, who went to Penn State with Tom, who opened a marketing firm with Tiffany," and so on. However, what if you moved your line of thinking from a random connect-the-dots game to an analysis of the potentially beneficial associations that exist just a few degrees away? For instance, if you are considering a new job at a local company, a little bit of information about what's it's really like to work there would be extremely helpful. Turning to your social networking map, you might realize that one of your friends has a cousin who works for the company. Send a quick email to your friend, and you're well on the way to an inside scoop.

Using Maps of Social Networks

Once you understand the many beneficial reasons behind knowing how to map social networks, you should keep a few things in mind in order to make the most of these tools:

  • Learn the interface. Whatever online social network you join, learn how to find out the most information possible about your connections. Where can they name their employer? How do you view others' lists of friends? Are there groups you can join for additional networking possibilities?
  • Seek out those with influence. A map can help you see who is most connected, helping you understand those with the most potential influence.
  • Don't be pushy. If someone doesn't want to pass along a friend's email address, let it go. If you handle the situation with grace and continue to impress the person, you may get your wish in the future.
  • Be willing to share your own connections. If you want to take advantage of all social networks have to offer, you must also be willing to help others gain those same benefits.
  • Work to build your network. Your map should be a constant work-in-progress as you try to expand your list of social connections.

Networking can be an important tool to help you advance in your career, your education, or even your social life. Taking advantage of these maps and other available resources can make online social networking much more efficient and effective. .

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How to Map Social Networks