11.4.3 How to implement

Implementation procedure

According to Patti Anklam 1 a social network analysis project includes the following elements:

1) Determination of group The first step in conducting a social network analysis is to determine the group under study. For example, in management consulting, the group may be all of the consultants in a particular practice. A group can be composed of people 2 who are dedicated to a particular task, such as a software development team or it can be a collection of people such as a community, upper management across different business units, or members of a temporary task force. The individual units in a group are commonly referred to as actors or nodes 3. For an SME, it would be feasible to conduct SNA including in the group all staff members.

2) Context setting
Interviews are used to determine the business context, opportunities and the enrolment of senior management commitment to the project. Interviews conducted with managers prior 4 to the survey design phase can help to ensure that the questions will be positioned in the context of the organisation and will not be misinterpreted. This phase will also encourage managers to express their opinion about past business problems associated with knowledge management activities (e.g. lack of collaboration, high employee turnover as well as other quality problems, etc). Context setting will help the SNA team or expert to secure strong feedback, which will help them prioritise problems, better focus their actions and design more suitable questions 5.
SNA teams are affordable by organisations. An SME could hire an expert on Knowledge management or an SNA expert/ analyst in order to implement Social Network Analysis.

3) Survey design
At this stage, decisions like whom to survey and which dimensions of their relationships to survey should be answered. Other dimensions to survey can include the frequency of information sought by individuals, the quality of communication, the decision-making process, etc.


  • Some typical questions for a SNA-KM project:
  • Who, in your department / organisation, do you trust most when seeking advice on technical issues?
  • With whom do you talk most frequently during informal breaks?
  • To whom do you go in order to discuss corporate / company issues?
  • How often do you ask colleagues for general advice?
  • When there are no subject experts in your company, whom would you call or visit to in order to obtain information in relation to external experts/knowledge?
  • Who are the top three people you would contact on each of the following: general business advice, IT issues, marketing & sales issues?
  • When you are looking for other European partners for an Innovation project (while building a project team) who do you contact? 6  

Now why don’t you try to answer the questions above for your working network? What is the conclusion about interactions with your colleagues?

4) Survey communication and distribution
The aim here for the SNA team or SNA expert, is to clearly communicate the purpose and value of the survey to the people who will be receiving the survey, as well as addressing their concerns and questions. Support from top management is crucial at this stage and will help to ensure the commitment of all survey participants 7.

5) Data collection
Interactions : An SNA looks at the relationships we are involved in and will vary according to our reason for conducting the study. In the case of the management consulting company, we might be interested in analyzing communication patterns by looking at which consultants interact with each other for the purpose of obtaining client-related information. Interactions are referred to as the links or ties between people. The pattern of interactions in a group is called a social network 8.

For the purpose of Social Network Analysis, information is usually gathered through interviews, questionnaires and observations (Garton, Haythornthwaite & Wellman 1999). There are three main data collection approaches in SNA.

Full network method
This method requires data collection about each actor’s ties with all other actors in the organisation. Although this method can be costly and the response rate achieved might not be as high as expected, it is considered as the method that yields maximum information 9.

Snowball method
The data collection begins with a focal actor or set of actors (key person(s)) who are then asked to provide information on all their ties to other actors. Each of these actors is then recursively asked to also provide information on all of their ties. Data collection stops when no new actors are identified or when sufficient sample size is reached. Limitations of this method are that it is not possible to locate isolated actors and it is difficult to determine the proper initial focal actor (person) 10.

Ego-centric networks
Data collection begins with a list of predefined focal actors. Similar to the snowball method, each of these focal actors (ego) is asked to name all their ties to other actors (alter). Then the ties of the “alters” may or may not be identified, depending on the sampling requirements 11.

6) Preliminary analysis and interpretation
Attributes : Attribute data can help determine whether there are systematic factors that influence interactions between people. For example, we often find that people in one business unit don’t routinely share information with people in another unit. The factors that might influence these interactions range from incentive programs that motivate people to spend their time with people in their own business unit to “cultural” differences, such as language or work ethos, that make it difficult for people to spend their time with people and to communicate easily with one another.
In the management consulting case, for example, attributes that might influence interactions might include where someone works (e.g. country, geographic region), which business unit they are in (e.g. sales, marketing, development), personality traits, their level of seniority and how long they have been with the company. Only attributes that are believed to influence interactions are included in an SNA 12.
SNA tools provide many alternative ways to analyse data and produce visual maps (network profiles) as well as quantitative views of the data. Interviews with project sponsors to interpret and validate the preliminary results, as well as interviews with selected individuals to determine the actual content and context of interactions should be included in this step.

7) Communication of results
The SNA project is concluded with consultation and interpretation including executive and employee presentations or facilitated workshops with the findings and final recommendations for interventions 13.

Are you interested in conducting an SNA for your personal or business network? For further information you could look at the annex where you can find an indicative list of software applications and online SNA portals.

Success factors 14


  • One of the important things to keep in mind about Social Network Analysis is that it is a means to an end (in our case Knowledge Management) and not an end in itself. In addition and because SNA is costly, SMEs, managers or organisations in general shouldn’t use it without having considered it as an important component of an overall KM strategy.
  • In undertaking SNA’s, several companies and organisations have reported problems in terms of resistance from employees who may not want their networks mapped. This reasonable resistance can be overcome by promising confidentiality on the data supplied and by offering them versions of their “personal networks”. Another solution would be to provide all actors with personal networks of all the other actors (reciprocity)
  • SNA alone can’t always provide crucial information about why people behave as they do. SNA as a Knowledge Management tool is basically a one-dimensional analysis that still needs to be supplemented by demographics and most importantly attitudinal feedback.

1 http://www.byeday.net

3 Kristina Groth, ‘Using Social Networks for knowledge Management’
Kristina Groth, ‘Using Social Networks for knowledge Management’
11 Ibid
Kristina Groth, ‘Using Social Networks for knowledge Management’
14 Ibid