Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social network taxonomy and social networking strategy

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on September 21, 2009

A well considered evaluation of how social networks form and of their taxonomy can go a long way towards helping you develop a strategy and approach for tapping into those networks to create and share value, and to market. There are two terms that come up in this type of discussion that I think I should comment on first: demographic group (or demographic for short) and community. There are circumstances where I use these terms interchangeably but to be completely clear I should indicate something as to how they overlap and differ.

Demographic group is a more static “what” term, and such groups are defined in large part by a set of defining inclusionary criteria that we do not frequently update by act of conscious choice or action. They are basic categorical distinctions by which certain people are deemed members and everyone else is not. Community is a more dynamic “how” term and focuses on more immediate and ongoing activities and beliefs shared, and on ongoing action and activity. There is overlap between these terms insofar as not all of the criteria that go into specifying a demographic group are immutable and the ones that can change do not always do so passively as far as we are concerned, like age. Community or at least actively living community on the other hand, is an ongoing shared conversation and a flow of ongoing activity and change. Living community is change. This distinction becomes important for what follows insofar as effective networking involves identifying and connecting to relevant demographics, but it just starts with that and goes on to engaging with members of those groups as an active member of specific target communities. It means identifying and joining in on what makes an active community active and alive and in participating in that life.

At the risk of seeming to simply brush aside an important topic, I will set aside at least for now, the issues of identifying the right demographic groups to seek out and network in. I will simply note for now that this is basic to standard marketing analysis, and I will leave that part of this more general discussion to a later posting. I have already shared some thoughts about acting as an effective member of an online community with effective networking and communications strategies per se and cite my earlier posting of September 16, 2009 (where I outline some laws of effective social networking among other things) in that context. Here, I want to focus on what networks are at a taxonomic, structural level and how to use an understanding of that to engage with members of your key demographics as a matter of joining active communities. That means bridging the gap between the more static “what” of a demographic and the more dynamic and mutable “how” of a community, and that is all about strategically making use of the rules and restrictions of the social networking sites that you use, to bridge that gap. This posting is all about how to more effectively join communities and their living ongoing dialogs as an accepted and valued member.

Network structure and taxonomy: who networks how within a community
Any real community is a complex mix of people with differing agendas and approaches. That definitely applies to online social networks and I have found one particular way of classifying roles and approaches to be of particular value. My approach here is to divide group membership according to a set of networking strategies and comfort levels with a focus on identifying the most important types of networkers to focus on a prioritize. These are the people of greatest value in initially setting up a personal online social network, and here that can be a business-oriented social network or one set up and maintained for most any other reason. These are the people who will be most influential and helpful for building an online community for an organization too, in for example building out a membership through viral marketing.

A natural place to start is in dividing people according to whether they are:
• Active networkers – people who are seeking to expand their connections reach and really connect with their contacts to exchange value.
• Passive networkers – people who may or may not be looking to expand their networkers and who primarily wait for others to reach out to connect with them.
• Selective networkers – people who are resistant to networking online with anyone who they are not already actively connected with and networking with by other means.
• Inactive networks – people who may very well lean towards selective networking as defined above or tend to be passive networkers when working on their networks but who are not doing so, at least now.

Active networkers are essentially always open networkers where that means having a willingness to meet new people and connect with them in a networking context as an initial point of contact. Selective networkers and inactive networkers tend to be closed and will not in general accept or even appreciate invitations to connect. Passive networkers are somewhere in the middle and fit into a spectrum from wide open to fully closed.

Networking strategy
The most important people to include in a social network definitely vary from individual to individual and according to individual needs and priorities. So the most important people for any given person to network with will probably include some really selective networkers they already know or seek to know, and even some people who are pretty much inactive, at least online. You have to reach out to them off-line to connect with them online and you have to be both selective and persuasive in doing this.

If your goal is to organically grow a large network, reaching out to those you do not already know, either in your personal networking or in building an involved community for a business or other organization, you have to focus a lot on the open networkers too. There are three types of open networker crucial here:

• Hub networkers – people who are well known and connected at the hub of a specific community with its demographics and its ongoing voice and activities.
• Boundary networkers or demographic connectors – people who may or may not be hub networkers but who are actively involved in two or more distinct communities and who can help people connect across the boundaries to join new communities.
• Boundaryless networkers (sometimes called promiscuous networkers) – people who network far and wide, and without regard to community boundaries. These are the people who can seemingly always help you find and connect with someone who has unusual or unique skills, knowledge, experience or perspective and even on the most obscure issues and in the most arcane areas.

All three of these networking types can help create an effective viral marketing campaign and they can be crucial to its success. It should be added that connecting to a mix of these networkers, and certainly the hub and Boundaryless networkers can be invaluable in making effective use of specific social networking sites with their guidelines and their institutionalized definitions for valid social networking, as implemented in the functioning of their web sites.

That needs explanation with a specific example. LinkedIn lets you search its membership by a wide range of query criteria including geographic, industry, job function, current job or job history employer, schools attended and more. If your search query includes a specific name you will see search results listing matches to your query by and with name and regardless of whether you are in any way connected to them through the site. If, on the other hand you leave the name fields blank you can only see names of site members in the search results if you are at least a third degree connection to them. Here, first degree connections are your direct contacts you have shared links with through the site, second degree contacts are people one of your direct contacts are directly connected with but who you are not. Third degree connections are one more degree removed from being direct contacts of yours through the site. Here, this refers entirely to degree of connection through the LinkedIn site as they have no way of knowing who you know outside of the site. If you directly connect with 100 very selective networkers through LinkedIn who are all pretty exclusively networking with the same single small group your third degree connections could very possibly be limited to just a few hundred, or even just that 100 members. If you leaven this with even just a few hub and boundaryless networkers your third degree connections will probably expand to a million or more and suddenly the search tool on the site takes on real value, both for networking and for mining business intelligence from the site and its member-shared, publically visible data.

This is enough for one posting but this is an issue that I have only scratched the surface for so I will be coming back to it in later postings too. I will just add that different people take different approaches to defining both effective and valid online social networking with concerns of spam and information security entering into the discussion for many. I will simply suggest that what you post is at least as important as how you strategically decide who to network with and how you reach out to them. That is material for future postings too.

8 Responses

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  1. […] I wrote a bit about these people as I analyzed something of the structure of a social network in Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy. Hub networkers, demographic connectors or connectors, and boundaryless networkers, also referred […]

  2. […] real traction in building community and active support within it can be built by tapping into an understanding of your community’s basic structure and taxonomy. It is vitally important to know and to actively involve the hub networkers and connectors, and […]

  3. […] Here, open innovation does not so much flow into the organization for it to act upon (or not) in developing products and services, and market share. Open innovation becomes a commonly accessible resource that any business in that marketplace can tap into, that resides in key measure outside of the businesses themselves and in the crowd. And tapping into this sea of options and opportunities depends on effective collaboration with members of that crowd as peers, and this certainly applies to the hub networkers and other key social networking members of these crowd sourcing communities (see Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy). […]

  4. […] online communities to define and address specific issues. And I will start with the basics in the taxonomy of a network and on how online social networking groups work and can be enabled to work […]

  5. […] and action. And I continue from that point by going to the basics of social networking and the taxonomy of a social network. That is where you want to go when you initially start […]

  6. […] very well be among your best possible choices for hub networkers for building your community (see Social Networking and the Taxonomy of a Social Network for definitions and further details as to what hub networkers are.) • If you do not have database […]

  7. […] 1. Your supervisor is busy and you need to show you respect and appreciate that, but it is important that you meet with them on a regular basis. 2. Focus on getting off to a fast, effective start and on their highest priority issues they hired you for. 3. Focus on learning from them who you should meet with and both as your internal clients and as resources who can help you too. 4. Identify and meet at least one of the people who best knows your new company, and who is who there and the history of the place. These are generally people who have worked there long term and they can in effect be living repositories of the company culture and all its past issues that you may need to know about. And they can be crucial hub networkers for helping you find your way around. (See Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy). […]

  8. […] have already discussed at least one portion of this set of issues in an earlier posting: Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy, where I outlined some of the major strategy types that individual networkers can and do follow. I […]

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