I think one original idea behind social networking was the vision that as we connect to each other we discover more. I know that, for me, being connected with and exposed to many diverse interests and perspectives is fascinating and enriching. But isn’t in our nature as humans (being the ‘social animals’ that we are) to seek out and associate with those with whom we feel kindred connection? I wonder.

This brings me to the question of the motivation for our social (media) connections, and also to question how we benefit most from building and nurturing our social relationships. I think these questions apply equally to our person (individually) and to larger organizations like businesses, non-profits, governments that, being composed of humans, collectively act as one. So brands and businesses, take note!

As it turns out, I am not the only one who thinks of such things. Research released this summer by MIT Sloan Management Review studying employee social networks shows it is those individuals that seek out diverse one-to-one connections that generate innovative and creative ideas for their business. Business leaders: You think employee participation on social media is a waste of time? The data says otherwise. And some on social media networks are voicing it outright:

The SMR study  used Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) and interviews to ‘analyze employees’ Twitter network structures, calculating measures for both network diversity (for example, compactness) and size (for instance, number of followers).’ In a nutshell, the investigators used sophisticated statistical analysis to assess individuals’ Twitter network structures in relation to various measures of innovative performance.

 

Source: How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas  MIT SLoan Management Review June 1, 2015

In addition to drawing conclusions from the structure of two types of Twitter networks,  shown above, two themes emerged from the investigator’s interviews with 205 Twitter users from 10 groups in their study sample:

  1. Twitter user as an ‘Idea Scout.’ This theme is evidenced by people who use their Twitter networks to ‘obtain different perspectives and to challenge one’s current thinking.’
  2. Twitter user as an ‘Idea Connector.’ This theme is evidenced by people concerned with using Twitter as a strategic tool in sharing relevant content with stakeholders.

On the theme of the idea scout, the result is ‘quality over quantity’, pursuing a diverse collection of Twitter users. One interviewee put it like this:

“I don’t necessarily want to follow more people. I just want to follow people whose opinions don’t always align with my own, which is kind of an ongoing battle because after a year or so of following the same people, you find that your opinions shift and morph a little, and suddenly you are with a homogenous group of people again.”

The idea connector curates and shares information relevant to topics of interest as a starting point to productive discussion:

“I try to sift through all the Twitter content from my network and look for trends and relationships between topics. I then put my analysis and interpretation on it. I feel that’s where my value-add is. I’m not just sending out a bunch of links. I think through what might be valuable to particular groups such as marketing or engineering. This leads to engaging discussion.”

For me, the interesting aspect of this study is that, as social networks expand and mature, we are gaining greater understanding into how we accumulate and accrue knowledge from various sources that support our needs and growth.

Q1) What benefits/risks does an interconnected network structure (many people connected among each other) have?

Q2) What benefits/risks does a random/independent network structure entail?

Q3) Of the random/independent networks, which do you think affords greater ‘influence’? Why?

Q4) As brands, does randomness in our networks run contrary to the popular notion of ‘community’?

Q5) Is how our social networks grow random? How can we do better in adding diversity?

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