Social networks are collections of people who are acquainted or connected as friends, business contacts, or colleagues and communicate, collaborate, or help one another as needed.
People establish relationships with other people for friendship, social activities, business development, and career advancement. Another important reason is to share knowledge and learn from each other in order to work more effectively. In this context, networks allow people to ask questions, offer advice and expertise, get a different perspective, act as a sounding board and sanity check, share trusted information, connect to other people and other networks, give support, receive coaching and counseling, and assist in career development through references, referrals, and hiring.
A knowledge management program should make it easy for people to discover others to add to their personal networks, offer processes for analyzing social networks, and provide tools to facilitate finding, communicating, and collaborating with others. A related process component is social network analysis, and related technology components are Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), social software, and social media.
There are internal and external versions of three different types of social networks that people form, join, and expand.
- Internal work-related networks include peers in the same formal work teams, virtual teams, project teams, task forces, committees, and communities. These are the people with whom you regularly work in order to accomplish assigned objectives. For example, employees involved in contract administration.
- External work-related networks include counterparts in different organizations who have regular business dealings. These are business partners, suppliers, subcontractors, customers, vendors, governing bodies, associations, and other entities who depend on one another. For example, sales account managers and the purchasing agents in their customer accounts.
- Internal interest-related networks include colleagues throughout the organization who share an interest in a topic and touch base periodically or through involvement in internal communities. The topic may not relate directly to the current job assignment. For example, Green Belts, Black Belts, or Master Black Belts in Six Sigma methods.
- External interest-related networks include colleagues in different organizations who share an interest in a topic and touch base periodically or through involvement in external communities. These networks are often built through attendance at conferences, reading and publishing in periodicals, participation in threaded discussions, and commenting on each other’s blog posts. For example, those who attend a knowledge management conference and participate in a birds-of-a-feather lunch discussion.
- Internal personal networks include those who have worked together in the past, reside in the same office, or who have met at meetings or training classes and developed friendships. These people stay in touch primarily for social reasons, but they help each other whenever possible. For example, members of different groups who spent three weeks together attending the same new-hire training class.
- External personal networks include those who know each other socially, have worked together in the past, or who have met while traveling. These people may exchange business cards, add each other to their contact lists, and connect using social software such as LinkedIn. For example, neighbors who all work in different industries.
Examples of social networks include:
- Friends of friends
- Professional colleagues
Fellow members of an Enterprise Social Network or a public social media platform such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. form social networks with the following characteristics:
- Friends or contacts: two-way; mutually accepted
- Followers: one-way; not mutually accepted
- Members who replied to, liked, or shared your posts, or mentioned you
- Fellow commenters on the same post or thread
- Other members not in one of these categories; not individually connected