Key Concepts in Social Network Analysis 1 – Nodes and Links

A general understanding of the concept of social media has emerged in the past decade, primarily as a result of the popularity of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. However, both the mobilization of social networks to achieve objectives and the study of the structure and function of these social arrangements have been carried out for much longer than the relatively recent and very rapid adoption of communication technologies seems to imply. enabling information and communication. . Social Media Analysis (SRA) is proving to be a powerful tool for understanding collective action. It has its origin in the sociological study of small groups and interpersonal relationships, especially as described in the works of Georg Simmel (1858-1918), and in the representative and analytical techniques developed in the branch of mathematics known as theory of graphs.

The two fundamental concepts at the core of SNA are nodes and links. Nodes are the discrete social objects that make up the network, such as individuals, communities, organizations, or countries. Links or ties identify and describe the relationships between nodes and can differ in at least four ways.

The quality of a link refers to the substantive nature of the relationship between the nodes, be it friendship, romance, teamwork, or membership in the same voluntary association. The amount of a tie refers to the relative strength of the relationship it represents. For example, we consider some of our friends to be better or closer than others, perhaps on the basis of a deeper emotional bond or some shared experience. Multiplexity represents the idea that the relationship between nodes can be based on more than one quality. So, for example, you may have a romantic relationship with someone you work with. Therefore, the tie between the two of you would have a multiplexity of two. Symmetry refers to the amount of reciprocity between nodes, with respect to a particular link. So if one of your friends assesses the strength of your friendship in the same way as you do, then this relationship is very symmetrical. However, if a friend or family member trusts you for moral support more than you trust them, then this is not a symmetrical relationship.

Social media can also differ in size and scale. The number of nodes can be limited to members of an immediate or extended family, or it can expand to the hundreds of thousands of followers that some celebrities have on Facebook. These fan-based links can be extremely asymmetrical, as in the case of fake news icon Stephen Colbert, who has more than four million followers on Twitter and yet doesn’t follow anyone. The size of the network tends to illustrate the phenomenon known as cumulative advantage, or what mathematicians call the power law. What this means is that as the number of your connections increases, you are likely to see a very dramatic increase in the number of connections, as if your initial set of connections is not establishing connections of its own.

The scale of a network is a measure of how geographically distributed the network is, whether it is limited to a neighborhood, for example, or covers a region, nation, or the world. Sticking with celebrities for a moment, authors like Paolo Coelho and Orhan Pamuk, whose novels have sold millions of copies in multiple languages, attract a huge following on social media sites around the world. In this way, individuals who would otherwise probably never know of the existence of others have the potential to interact through the node that represents their common interest in contemporary literature.

Moving away from social media and the type of highly asymmetric networks associated with celebrities, in 1973 Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter published an article called “The Strength of Weak Ties.” In this much-cited work, the author clearly demonstrates the potential of ANS when he can demonstrate that acquaintances are actually more important than close friends when it comes to job hunting.

The next article in the series will take a closer look at some characteristics of network connections.

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