Social Network Analysis with Marc Smith

On 19 November 2014 Marc Smith gave a public lecture on Social Network Analysis (SNA) at UCT. Afterwards he lead a workshop featuring short presentations by UCT NodeXL users working in social network analysis and visualisation. He came to visit us all the way from Silicon Valley, California, where he works as an adjunct lecturer and is also the director of the Social Media Research Foundation. As a sociologist specializing in the social organization of online communities and computer mediated interaction, Marc helped develop NodeXL. For more info on Marc, read this interview. My notes from the lecture can be viewed here. I really enjoyed the range of examples and applications of SNA and NodeXL that he discussed. I think there is a lot of scope for marketers to use NodeXL as part of social media strategies and to better evaluate the status of brands on social media platforms such as Twitter. But there’s so much more to it, as the rest of this post explains.

Marc Smith

In this video clip, Marc demonstrates how to import tweets into NodeXL using the Table Mountain and mayor of Cape Town examples and applies the three network phases of social media success. The sense of community that emerges from dense relationships is key. In this video clip Marc talks about the different kinds of Twitter social media networks and some more examples where SNA has been applied to a variety of scenarios and research. I enjoyed the stories about Katy Pearce (how the government in Azerbaijan used fake accounts to denounce protesters, check out her blog) and Diane Cline (six degrees of Alexander the Great, paper here). Marc clearly shows that all data applies (even ancient Greek texts!) and NodeXL can be used for mapping a range of social relationships, not just those that happen on social media.

Some of my CILT colleagues doing work in the area presented at the workshop (programme here). Tony Carr talked about how he is using SNA to map networks and different networked discussion spaces within the e/merge Africa community (the discussion space on the community portal and its Facebook page). Sarah Goodier looked at authorship connections in science publications and online visibility. These connections help us to understand the dissemination and discoverability of science research in the Global South and beyond.

Media Honours student Inez Patel gave an insightful presentation on how she used SNA to contrast social media around The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes and Ron Irwin’s Flatwater Tuesday. She honed in on Facebook newsfeed algorithms and participation on author fan pages. Ron lectures in the Centre for Film and Media Studies and Inez used the findings from her thesis to inform the design of Ron’s website for his novel.

Kyle Findlay from TNS Global Brand Equity Centre presented on lessons learnt from mapping the South African Twittersphere. He analysed tweets three months prior to the national election (ahem… A million tweets – what a hairball of connections!), which was also SA’s first election where social media was used in a significant way.

My PhD supervisor Associate Professor Marion Walton did a cross-platform social media content analysis based on images, Facebook posts and tweets emerging from riots in Sasolberg, better known as the Zamdela protests. Marion asks us to question the implications of inequality and how these influence our public sphere and how discourse is disproportionately affected by who has access. She asks whose pictures of the riot did we see? Who gets heard or seen? She noticed the dominance of online and print media and found that pictures online came from traditional channels and very little citizen media – protesters did not tweet pictures, possibly due to data costs. She argues that while people have access, this does not translate into visibility. Her presentation also has implications for local journalism and a better understanding of citizen media and participation which is still rare, despite increased access to smartphones.

While I love social media and am intrigued by social connections online, I presented on the use of SNA to map offline relationships. I used NodeXL as part of my PhD thesis to contrast children’s play patterns with digital games in after-school settings. Of course this involved a lot of manual data entry. Learning about SNA and getting my sociograms right took about 6 months of my PhD. I presented on this work, reflecting on some of the ways that SNA can enhance traditional research as well as some of the limitations people need to be aware of when using it. Marc shared some interesting thoughts on how I could apply this kind of work to settings in education which is highly relevant to my current work. My presentation below and description is available here. My thesis with the chapter on this work is available here.

A huge thanks again to Marion Walton for arranging such a fabulous event! I am excited to be part of a fascinating and growing research community and plan to use SNA and NodeXL in some of my research work going forwards.


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