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Our social networks consist of people we communicate with on a day-to-day basis, on-line and/or off-line.We often take this group of people for granted and doesn’t make the efforts to understand them fully. In the world of on-line-only relationships, such issues are compounded, usually leading to reduced engagement or, worse, miscommunication. In a world which has become full of on-line social connections (thanks to Facebook, Twitter, etc.), these cyber-enabled networks to play a significant role in our lives and pressurize us to redefine our conceptions of communication and engagement. Such reevaluations requires increased insight into the very nature of these networks.

A by-product of psychology, SNA ( Social Network Analysis) provide a mechanism to help organizations to understand these relationships and the power of individuals’ network connections. It offers an effective way to analyze and understand the complicated networks of individuals, groups, detractors and advocates by assessing interactions in terms of strength, frequency and other important factors.

Social Network Analysis

As with each systematic evaluation, conducting an effective social network analysis comprises of four stages :

  • Data visualization.
  • Data gathering.
  • Defining objectives.
  • Results analysis and insights.

Defining Objectives : An analysis needs a meaning until it has a stated objective. We required to clearly define why we seek to understand social networks. Within a business context, few possible objectives include the following:

  • Impact of competition on the network .
  • Identification of brand advocates .
  • Better targeting and messaging .

Though, there is much more that can be done with the analysis. Few applications of the analysis are discussed later in this paper.

Data Gathering : The data required to undertake any analysis is usually bought from third-party vendors, but in case of this analysis there are no vendors that collect social networks data specific to brands or organizations. So, the data has to be extract and the amount of data that can be collected is vast, so it’s important to capture the right data.

There are two ways to capture information about the relationships within a defined social networks.

MR Surveys : A questionnaire is designed with the stated purpose in mind and is then presented to the panel — that should consist of individuals and groups in the network. The questions should focus on determining the relationships and information flows among the network’s elements. Some examples of plausible questions are:

  • Please share the names of four people whom you know who are aware of the brand ABC.
  • How do you discuss the brand?
  • How did they get to know about the brand?
  • How are you connected with them?

However, the biggest disadvantage of going the market research route is that its narrow reach and high associated cost.

Web Crawlers : This is a computer programs that browse the Web in an automated and organized manner. There is a plenty of Web crawlers available that can either be licensed or developed to suit an organization’s requirements. Utilizing Web crawlers remove the need for expensive market research, while extracting a wide swath of informations. In few situations, however, privacy policies and regulations force organization to apply both the methods.

Data Visualization

Now that all the data has been obtained, why do we need to visualize the network? An answer to the question is that visualization will increase our understanding of such a social network. To best connect the elements and aid visualization, organizations must understand the possible types of connections.

CASE STUDY : Applying Social Network Analysis

The following hypothetical scenario is designed to provide a taste of social network analysis.

Situation : A large consumer brand wishes to increase his sales and improve its brand image. With the help of social media the brand wants to use it as a channel in its consumer marketing plan. To successfully implement and manage a social media campaigns, firstly it requires to identify key opinion leaders and quantify network size to estimate reach and impact of the social campaigns. This information will let the brand to engage with leaders and their networks, which will create a positive buzz in the market.

Challenge(s) : With a consumer base that runs in the millions, the brand needs to determine the most efficient way to make sure it has current and accurate customer information. While the company has information linking sales to demographics and a “consumer VIP” program, very little information is known about what drives consumers to purchase or how the brand’s products are perceived in the market.

Approach : To meet these objectives, the company did the following:

It started by gathering information about customers who like the brand and have been engaged on the brand page of its social Web presence (Facebook). Based on its level of engagement, network reach, demographics and product satisfaction, a survey was launched to understand new customer needs, requirements and perceptions. The survey focused on collecting the following informations :

  • How they shop for other brands.
  • Last use of the brand.
  • Time associated with the brand.
  • Main points of satisfaction around products.
  • Primary medium of shopping/contact.
  • Brands and competitive products they have used.

Later a process was developed to divide the networks. This allowed for the addition of several weights to the aforementioned parameters and helps to determine the proximity of the customers to the brand in the network. The presence also governed the advocacy of the customers to the brand. This approach was further used on an on-going basis to evaluate if a key opinion leader had moved down the pecking order.

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