Social Network Mapping is a method used to determine and understand the nature of social interactions between individuals as well as groups. This method helps in figuring out which individuals hold what level of influence over another individual or group. In order to understand Social Network Mapping, we must first understand social networks. A social network is a platform in the physical or digital world where individuals are connected to each other as friends, family, colleagues, people who share common interests or dislikes, belief, faith, social status, or any other such interdependencies. These individuals or actors are termed as nodes and the connections or relationships between the actors are termed as ties. A social network comprises of several nodes and ties. The network can also be used to gauge the value that an individual gets from the social network. In a social network diagram, nodes are represented as dots or points and ties as lines.
A social network with its many links is complex, just like the nature of human relationships. As already stated, a social network map helps in identifying the actors that enjoy the most influence over the other actors in the network. Along with that, it also helps researchers to spot patterns in different interactions within the network. The influential actors or groups can help facilitate product adoption, information dissemination, information collection, and can provide other valuable support during the lifecycle of a design project. This is possible because social networks operate in a certain way. Whether we zoom in on a household or zoom out to observe the world, social network maps can give a great deal of an idea of how conflicts are resolved, decisions are made, and objectives are achieved in the area of focus. The shape, size, number of nodes and ties in the social network map can give an idea of how connections are structured within the network. For example, an actor within a small network with fewer nodes and ties is less influential than the one in a larger network. Similarly, a closed network doesn’t facilitate dissemination of information as well as an open network does. Essentially, the influence that an individual node enjoys depends on how well connected the node is within one network or multiple networks. Another aspect that has come to be used widely in Social Network Mapping is the accurate representation of the nature of relationships or connections between the nodes. For example, a positive relationship can be shown as a plus sign whereas a negative one with a minus. Additionally, if the product of all the ties in a network is positive, then the network is termed balanced and where the product is negative then it is termed as unbalanced. This is because where the product of relationships is positive, it means that the actors are connected to each other through positive ties and are highly unlikely to change the nature of relationship among each other. Whereas, in case of an unbalanced network, one negative the relationship can influence another relatively weaker tie, and the relationship of different nodes within the network could vary over time.
In 1967, a psychologist by the name of Stanley Milgram conducted a ‘small world’ experiment. In this experiment, a sample group of individuals was asked to pass a message through acquaintances to someone specific. When the results of the experiments were evaluated, it was discovered that the average number of nodes or acquaintances through which the message reached the target, didn’t exceed six. And, thus, was born the phrase ‘Six Degrees of Separation’.
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 to the Internet.
Advantages of Social Network Mapping
01 Gather Information
Social Network Mapping is used by organizations to gather information about different organizations or even from competitors to make a more informed decision in business.
Social Network Mapping can help organizations, individuals and even countries in gathering information, gauging competition, launching successful campaigns, product launches, enabling user acceptance within an organization as well as online through influencers, and many other applications.
The success of a strategy or a campaign can be gauged from the balanced or unbalanced nature of social networks. Similarly, a more suitable route to enable success can also be determined to improve the chances of success for a strategy by evaluating the sign of the ties between different nodes on the route.
Disadvantages of Social Network Mapping
01 The authenticity of actors/ nodes in unbalanced networks
The information gathered from actors in unbalanced nodes can be questionable and it could get difficult for a researcher to separate gossip from authentic data. A psychologist may also be required sometimes in these kinds of research depending on the area of study.
Social Network Mapping is complex to study and map and requires an experienced researcher.
Think Design recommendation
Social Network Mapping is similar to personal inventory where as it is specific to social network behavior of users. By mapping social network of users, a designer/ researcher would be able to understand how a particular user interacts with his social circle and how it can influence future product or service proposition. Let’s say, we want to re-look at an e-commerce portal and we want to cater to users’ social behavior in a way our new design is going to work. In this case, a designer/ researcher would come up with a character profile of the kind of users to study and then gain access to the nearest representative users’ social network. Studying their behavior on online social networks would give a deep understanding of users’ social behavior and can provide potential opportunities that influence e-commerce product design.
On the other hand, Social network mapping is also used in the areas of law enforcement to identify a particular person’s or a group of people’s social behavior that might provide leads to the identification of anomalous behavior, threats or targets. In recent times, law enforcement agencies have been in the eye of the storm for identifying and targeting certain individuals. Interestingly, this method is being used even by law-breakers to identify their targets.
Looking at the scenarios above, we believe that it is a very powerful tool with wide areas of application.