Speaking of social network mapping…

Net map from Eva's siteIf you are interested in social network mapping, subscribe to Eva Schiffer’s blog, the Net-Map Toolbox. I was just reading her recent posts and what I like about Eva’s blog is that she offers thought provoking questions and is always reflecting on her practice. This is very useful to me. Again, another example of a blog not just as an information dissemination tool, but as a vehicle for reflection and learning. Thanks for the great blog, Eva!

Help! Testing a network mapping exercise

Alfredo talking about his network mapI often use a variety of paper networking mapping exercises in my face to face workshops. These have been valuable because the maps help people visualize their work networks in new ways, and the conversation around the maps — especially getting others’ perspectives — helps us see our own maps in new ways and then be more strategic in the use of our networks.

In an upcoming online workshop on knowledge sharing for the CGIAR, we want to do this exercise online — and we want to keep technology low key as this is at the start of the workshop and some participants are not as techy as some of us! 😉 So I’m trying to figure out how to do it. I really like the Net-Map process, but it is more in depth than we want to go for this introductory activity.

Would you help me and try it out? I’ve altered the instructions here so we can do it right in the blog, but it will actually be done inside a Moodle installation.

Activity: Map Your Network

Brief Description:

This activity offers and introduction to social network mapping. Using paper, pens and post-it notes, you can create an informal map for your network and then discuss it with others in and outside of your network. Discussing with your network partners offers their perspective of how they fit into your network, which you may not always easily see. Discussing with workshop participants gives you a chance to see the diagram from another’s point of view. Together, these help inform your strategy for working with and sharing knowledge with those in your network.

Purpose:

  • Understand a simple application of social network mapping
  • Consider how best to utilize your network for your project
  • Use the multiple perspectives of others to improve your understanding of your network

Materials:

  • 2-3 pieces of flip chart paper
  • Small Post-It notes (or pieces of paper and tape)
  • Pencil
  • Marker pens (2-3 colors)
  • Digital camera

Steps:

1. Think of a project that you are working on that requires knowledge sharing. Ideally, this is a real project and one you will be working on throughout the workshop. (For our test, pick one of your networks!)

2. List all the people and organizations involved with your project, putting each one on a small Post-It note. We’ll call these “notes” from now on.

3. Create a note that represents you or your immediate working group or organization.

4. Starting with your note, arrange the notes on the flip chart paper. Place the other notes in relationship to you and your organization. In other words, people or organizations you most frequently do things with should be closer to your note than ones you only interact with infrequently. If your work is all internal, consider other departments, etc.

5. If people or organizations on the notes have relationships or interactions with each other, try and place those notes closer to each other. Move the notes around until you have a general sense of how each person/organization relates to you and to the other notes.

6. Now with a pencil, draw an arrow from you to any of the other people/organizations to whom you regularly share knowledge. The direction of the arrow should be from your note to their note. Then draw lines from other people/organizations who regularly give you information or share knowledge (or you WISH they would!). This time the direction of the arrows should be from them to you. Finally, repeat this process for where other people/organizations share knowledge with any of the other people/organizations. You should now have a set of penciled, directional lines.

7. Now, look at the network again. After thinking about the knowledge flows, do you want to reorganize the notes in any new arrangement? Is there a clumping of some people/organizations? Are some with few or no pencil lines and should be moved further away from your note? Go ahead and move them.

8. With your rearranged notes, draw in the knowledge sharing flow lines in pen. Put the flow from you to others in one color, and from others to you in a second color. Add a third, dotted line between any post its where there are the strongest connections. These identify primary connections in the network.

9. Take a moment to step back and look at your map. What do you notice?

a. With whom do you have the strongest knowledge sharing connections (two way arrows and dotted lines)?
b. With whom do you THINK you should have the strongest connections? If they are not the same as (a) what might you do to strengthen them?
c. Who is an important knowledge intermediary or connector in your network? These would be people/organizations who have lots of connections with other nodes. Which have very few connections and what are the implications for your work?
d. What might you do to strengthen weak connections? To manage where you have too many connections? If you are the only current ‘connector’ who else might help play that role?

10. If you have time, show your map to someone in your network and see what they see when they look at it. Make a note of their observations and any changes they might suggest.

11. Take a digital picture of your network image. Post it on Flickr or some other website and post a link in a comment to this blog post. Share anything you learned in your observations from steps #9 and #10.

12. Look at the maps of others, their observations and give your perspective on at least one other person’s map. A workshop facilitator will also offer their observations, so everyone will get some feedback.

13. After you have received feedback, post a short reflection in your Learning Log on the Moodle site about any insights you had about your network and how you can best use it for your work. (FEEL FREE TO DO THAT HERE IN ANOTHER COMMENT).

DEEP appreciation and thanks in advance for playing along.

Edited later: I have made a few tweaks, fixed some typos, all with the help of my friends. Photos of Twitter friends’ feedback via Flickr here. See also some early thoughts here.

Edited even later: Here is a Short Podcast with Patti Anklam on “Why Map our Networks?”

Chris Brogan on Enabling Peer Collaboration Using Social Networks

Chris offers another succinct and useful “how-to” on using a social network for peer collaboration. Then his readers chime in with even more goodies. If you are asking the question “should I start a social network for my group, team, network, etc?” take a look at Enabling Peer Collaboration Using Social Networks .

Forrester’s Online Community Best Practices

Last week I wrote briefly about the recent Forrester report on building online communities for marketing. Jeremiah Owyang followed up with me and gave me a copy of the report to read. House painting derailed my intent to read it last week and and post my thoughts, but a few quiet hours before Northern Voice in my room up here in Vancouver BC finally gives me the opportunity to reflect on the report.

First, it is a very nice compilation of solid, basic advice on building commercially oriented communities. There isn’t anything particularly unique about the content. It is common sense you can find by combing through what is offered on the net. As usual, the value is in the compilation. But here is where I have to confess. I have read VERY few analyst reports. I work in the non profit world where such products are rarely affordable. I think I had this fantasy idea of what they would be like. I expected some secret sauce. Maybe I know online communities so well that I forget that this stuff is NOT basic knowledge. So I have to wonder about the market for analysts reports. Clearly I am naive!

That said, here are the things that struck me as highs and lows of the report.

Highs:

  • It is succinct. Something I am terrible at! 🙂
  • It focuses on the community members and their needs – be in service to your community
  • It offers sound advice for both resourcing a community and being clear on the goals and how they might be tracked. (I’d suggest linking to Beth Kanter’s great stuff on ROI. I need to find the links)
  • Solid advice on community management (very happy to see this validated)
  • A good attempt to frame community planning in terms of community activity needs rather than from a technology position.
  • I was THRILLED to see the advice to make sure you don’t get your community data locked into a platform. This is really important and a lot of people miss this one.

Some of my critiques:

  • As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the image about community growth does not give an accurate picture of community life cycle. Communities ebb and flow. Membership turns over. Communities do not grow out and out. It is more like a recursive spiral. Networks, however, can bring life into communities and nurture the emergence of new communities. They are far more scalable than communities, but harder to both measure and “manage.” Which leads me to my next point.
  • The report doesn’t fully address or distinguish this very interesting intersection of communities and networks. There is one mention of “a group within an existing social networking site” but this is a huge sweet spot. I suspect most commercial endeavors really want to foster both a network and the communities that form within it. (I define communities as a bounded set of people interacting with each other – not just with content – around some shared purpose over time. So one time use does not a community member make! ) If I were exploring an “online community” strategy for my company, I would not do it without a network strategy as well. I could prattle on about this forever, but I can’t miss the party tonight…
  • This raises the issue of identity, which wasn’t present in the report. Identity is a tough topic for an intro piece, but in the end, people define themselves by their identity as an individual (how they show up in a community) and as a member of a community (I am a member of the X community.) There is mention of profile tools, which help manifest identity, but not about how community hosts can nurture a sense of individual and group identity in a community. Identity is a core aspect of brand loyalty. So some attention to how identity shows up and can be nutured is a key strategy.
  • From a design standpoint, I think this point is made, but I also think it could be stronger. You need to work with your developers to develop both the technical AND social architecture. Some tools for example, while they look like “conversation” tools, in practice they aren’t and thus don’t support a social conversational architecture, even if the vendor claims they do. There are some great developers who really understand social architecture and there are a bunch who think they do. This is a slippery slope/trap.
  • Visual design is not mentioned. I used to dismiss this as secondary. Boy, was I wrong. Visual design that is appropriate to the target audience in critical. I learned this with http://www.shareyourstory.org. Visuals tie to identity, to navigation, and distinguish your community from the hundreds of others out there.
  • How to work with “the competition.” Like I said, there are hundreds of other communities out there. Is your strategy to work with or fight against that dynamic? Do you make it easy for your members to move across their communities or do you want to be their central community? The latter is getting harder and harder to do. That’s why (and the report mentions this) thinking about working with a FaceBook strategy might make sense. Having multiple ways for your members to interact in your community that make it easy, while still maintaining enough distinct identity that they IDENTIFY with you.

All in all, it is very cool to be able to read and publicly critique the report. Jeremiah walks the talk of transparency and participating and listening to his network and communities. It is only a pity that the readers of the report may not see this practice in action. It could inform their community strategy as much, if not more, than reading the report. Because supporting online communities is not a formula. It is a practice. And practices have to be… well… practiced!