Last week, my SMM class experimented with a tool called NodeXL, an Excel template that maps social networks.  The assignment was intended to be just a cool, see-what-I-can-do exercise that illustrated the way networks form and the roles individual people play in those networks.

But that’s not how it worked.

Between software issues and plugin problems and such, we had such problems that I offered an alternative assignment.  But the project wasn’t a total wash. Students now know that this software is one of many mapping tools that are available to them. More importantly, they know that it’s possible to uncover the structure of a social network–that the term “social network” doesn’t just mean Facebook or Twitter, but refers to people and the relationships that link them. To me, this is the key point that future social media marketers have to get before they can be successful. Until one recognizes the complexity of networks, it’s difficult to shift away from the types of marketing we have been used to seeing to one that requires more personal investment–even intimacy–with other members of an online community.

Seeing a diagram of one’s own personal network of influence and relationship is humbling. It can be tempting to consider oneself independent and self-reliant, but the diagram says otherwise. I hope my students’ network maps help them feel a healthy burden of responsibility for what they say on their blogs and in all their communications. I’ve felt it myself when people outside of my class have subscribed to this blog (thank you!). For some reason I can’t fathom, they are willing to consider letting my thoughts influence theirs. I hope I can live up to their trust.


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