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TechSoup hosted the San Francisco Online Community Meetup which recently featured Marc A. Smith and his talk "Charting Collections of Connections in Social Media: Creating Maps and Measures with NodeXL." Marc is with the Connected Action Group, which uses social methodology to gain insights into patterns of communities.
Along with an international team at the Social Media Research Foundation, they've developed NodeXL, which turns invisible networks and connections into spreadsheets and graphs. Marc's talk was fantastically insightful and full of ways that community managers can use social network analysis to gain greater insights into and grow their communities.
What is social network analysis? Put as simply as you can, it's analyzing the connections between points in a network: links, follows, interactions, shared keywords, and so on. When this data is put into a connected graph, patterns emerge which can show you who the influencers are in your community, as well as show you people who are talking about your community that you may not have known about. The NodeXL software even pulls out the links that are most common in a given network. Marc made graphs of the #OCTribe and #CMGR hashtags right there during the session.
How is this helpful for community managers? By understanding what kind of network you have, you can better pinpoint influencers, as well as outliers (to create more participation in the community). If you're building a community from scratch, it's a great way to find out who's interested in your topic and reach out to them to get them involved.
Crystal Coleman is a community manager and consultant in Silicon Valley as well as a writer for Persephone Magazine. She blogs regularly and tweets at @ThatGirlCrystal.