Social Networks in Organizations

Cite this article as:"Social Networks in Organizations," in The Business Professor, updated April 25, 2020, last accessed October 29, 2020,

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What is a Social Network within an Organization?

Social networks are visual maps of relationships between individuals. It can be a pattern of relationships between two or more actors. Generally, the actors share a common interest. This may be a personal interest (e.g. Sports) or professional interest (common employer). Actors include individuals, groups, and organizations themselves.

Social Networking is the process or activity directed toward becoming acquainted with or learning about other actors. These may be personal attributes (attitude, opinion) or professional attributes (skills, talents, knowledge, or preferences).

Social networks are crucial to fostering company culture, productivity, collaboration, and information flow.

What is Social Network Analysis?

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a method of identifying and mapping the social structure within an organization. While formal relationships are more obvious, social connections identify the information relationship structure. More specifically, Social Network Analysis is the evaluation, measuring, and mapping the relationships among actors in a social network.

Each actor in a social network is also referred to as a “node”. A network tie is a connection or relationship (“link”) between actors or nodes.

There are three key roles in a network.

  • Central connectors – These are individuals at the center of the network who are connected with a large number of individuals.
  • Boundary spanners – These are individuals who connect social groups together. That is, they are members of both groups and create a bridge of communication between the two.
  • Peripheral specialists – These are outsiders who are independent of the group but are connected in some way – generally for specialty projects.

Network ties can be grouped into:

  • Direct Ties – There is a single or personal link between two actors
  • Indirect Ties – An actor is tied to another actor only by a third actor.

A Tie can also be defined as:

  • Direction – A direct flow of information.
  • Bi-Directional – The backward and forward flow of information.

The number of links between two actors is known as “degrees of separation”.

The network size is the number of actors.

Centrality is the extent to which an actor is in the middle of a network.

Density concerns how many people are connected within a network.

Social capital concerns the resources (ideas, information, money, trust, etc.) within personal and business networks.

The analysis can be performed via two methods:

  • Indirect Analysis – This method looks at secondary information to determine whether a social network exists. For example, you may be able to monitor work collaboration for communications.
  • Direct Analysis – This means taking a direct survey of individuals to identify with whom they identify or associate.

The information collected allows the organization to create a social map.

Strong and Weak Ties

There are several methods for analyzing what is a strong or a weak network tie:

  • Number or frequency of ties between individuals.
  • Number of interactions.
  • Type of Support (Emotional vs Informational)
  • Are the ties reciprocal or one-way?

Individuals with more and stronger ties generally have more influence and power in the organization.

Type of Social Network

Some common types of social network include:

  • communication network
  • information network
  • problem-solving network
  • knowledge network
  • access network

Dimensions of Network Quality

There are several dimensions that determine the effectiveness of a social network.

  • Activity – This concerns how active a person is in a network.
  • Control – This concerns a person’s influence over the flow of information – generally arising from centrality, intelligence, personality, or skill set.
  • Access – This concerns whether a person can access the resources necessary for success.
  • Influence – What is the extent of influence a person possesses in the network.
  • Power – How capable is a person of directing activity or completing tasks.

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