Social Network Formation and Impacts

Reading an article published on science daily about University of Pennsylvania research by Professor Damon Centrola, I was fascinated to learn so much on how characteristics contribute to the formation of social networks, whilst challenging existing theories from 1984.

  • In 1984 Peter Blau and Joseph Schwartz argued that by eliminating all group affiliations, societies would enjoy greater social integration.
  • However studies carried out by Damon Centrola revisited those theories to understand the significance of group affiliations and understand how social networks form and in turn grow a greater sharing of common experiences and ideas.
  • The study concluded that knowledge sharing and idea generation is more likely to occur when a degree of group boundaries are maintained
  • As an online facilitator or community manager, a good approach would be to post problem solving questions group wide and allow sub groups to form naturally through discussion
  • Matching up equality and professional characteristics demonstrate there are implications on how social networks emerge, including connectedness among the group
  • Close-knit groups are less likely to be aware of and/or engage with other groups. Loose-knit groups are likely to be more open to external groups/people and their ideas, enabling an organic expansion of group participation among a common subject
  • Boundaries eliminated entirely result in no common ground to enable people to come together, therefore impossible to spread an idea or culture
  • The Internet enables and nurtures opportunity for widespread and diverse communities to form around a common subject/issue; while ensuring interconnectedness across membership

I imagine that community engagement frameworks build on these theories as part of the planning and mapping preparation required ahead of engagement activity – identify the common subject, establish existing audiences, work with those existing groups to build on wider interested audience and proactively encourage participation.

As an online facilitator, I found this research useful to assist how to identify common subjects, where to promote those discussions to encourage participation, and how to improve my management skills for those conversations and sub groups to organically develop without having to force them. If you have to force the creation of a social network then you have failed before you started.

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