Social Network Analysis

Overview

Social network analysis is a method that is used to collect, analyze, and graphically represent data that describe the relationships within and between groups of people or organizations. It can also be used to represent how people interact with specific resources.

A typical social network map includes nodes, which represent individuals, organizations, or resources. These nodes are connected with flow indicators, which may represent the flow of information, energy, or money. The strength or importance of particular relationships is often depicted by varying thickness of lines and arrows. 

Application

Social network analysis can be used at many different levels. In small groups it can be used to determine who people consult if they have questions or concerns, thus identifying those individuals in leadership roles. Knowing this information can help managers target education and outreach messages. 

Social network analysis can also be used to examine the role of organizations in resource-related issues. It can help determine which organizations are involved in resource use, whom the key individuals are, which organizations are the most influential, and which organizations are the most likely to work together. This knowledge may help managers in securing assistance to implement regulations or to identify where relationships could be improved. 

Strengths

  • Can help target public outreach resources to key individuals

  • Helps visualize flows of individuals, energy, materials, nutrients, information, and money through the established groups

  • Provides an image of community dynamics

  • May reveal otherwise unobservable connections

  • May alleviate disparities between managers, and stakeholders by illustrating perceived relationships

Limitations

  • May require large amounts of time and money to perform the analysis, depending on the problem, the type of information desired, and the level of expertise needed

  • Often requires a computer, specialized software, and trained users

  • May be highly sensitive to missing data

  • Requires a basic understanding of social network mapping theory

Expertise Needed

This technique requires assistance from skilled experts. Specialized software may also be required.

Related Partners

NOAA is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. It plays several distinct roles within the Department of Commerce.

Resources: Books and Publications

  • Hanneman, R.A. 2001. An Introduction to Social Network Methods. Department of Sociology. University of California, Riverside.

  • Scott, J. 1991. Social Network Analysis: A Handbook. London; Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publications. 

  • Wasserman, S. 1994. Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Resources: Websites