An Education About Social Networks

When I saw a session on social networks on the program for Wednesday morning, I was expecting to hear about blogs, wikis, systems like MySpace, and so on. This talk was not what I expected (although I did ask the speaker a question about blogs and wikis), but that doesn’t mean it was not interesting or relevant to information professionals in large organizations. In fact, judging by the size and interest of the audience, I would say that it was of considerable interest.

Patti Anklam, an independent consultant affiliated with Hutchinson Associates, spoke on “Net Work: The New Leadership Challenge”, and her talk was about networks of people in large organizations. She noted that we all use networks every day in both our work and personal lives. We ask friends for recommendations of things to buy and places to go on vacation, and with the increasing complexity of work projects today, we increasingly collaborate with colleagues in our organizations. According to Anklam, strong networks help us create “social capital”, which is the medium of creating wealth and knowledge, and people in strong networks tend to be healthier, happier, and better performers.

Network maps are used to visualize relationships. A network is any set of relationships or a collection of nodes linked by a type of relationship. Types of patterns found in networks include silos, isolated clusters, highly central people or functions, marginalized voices, and individuals with external connectivity, distinct roles, and influence. We can relate formal and informal networks and find out who moves information in the organization and who is the most connected—and such people are not necessarily those highest in the organizational hierarchy.

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a management tool for organizational networks, and Anklam listed 10 steps in conducting an ONA program. One example that she cited of research on networks and ONA is a study entitled “e-mail spectroscopy” carried out at Hewlett-Packard (which looked interesting enough to me to download and print the report for future reading). She also noted the professional associations have been fostering networks for many years by their structure of regional chapters, affinity groups, conferences, and educational programs.

Although this session was not what I expected, I found it fascinating, particularly the different types of network maps that Anklam cited. (It just shows that you never know what you will learn when you walk into a session, which is one of the pleasures of attending a conference like SLA.) And oh, yes, in response to my question, Anklam said that as you would expect, blogs, wikis, etc. have had a huge impact on how knowledge flows in networks.

Slides from this presentation are available on Anklam’s website.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

One Response to “An Education About Social Networks”

  1. Jill Hurst-Wahl August 25, 2006 at 5:44 pm #

    Don, I’m finally getting around to reading this post. Thanks SO much for blogging on this session. I wish I had attended. You’re right…you never know what you’ll learn at a conference.