A social network is a social structure that exists between actors—individuals or organizations. A social network indicates the way that people and organizations are connected through various social familiarities, ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds. Social networks are composed of nodes and ties. The person or organization participating in the network is called a node. Ties are the various types of connections between these nodes. Ties are assessed in terms of strength. Loose connections, like mere acquaintances, are called weak ties. Strong ties, like family bonds are called strong ties.
Shape and Size
The shape and size of social networks influence their utility for their nodal participants . Smaller, tighter networks composed of strong ties behave differently than larger, looser networks of weak ties. The looser and larger the network, the more likely nodes are to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members. Participants in smaller networks are more likely to share values and information, increasing efficiency, but decreasing creativity.
Diagram of a Network
Individuals in groups are connected to each other by social relationships.
Small World Phenomenon
The small world phenomenon is the hypothesis that the chain of social acquaintances required to connect one arbitrary person to another arbitrary person anywhere in the world is generally short . The concept gave rise to the famous phrase "six degrees of separation" after a 1967 small world experiment by psychologist Stanley Milgram which found that two random US citizens were connected by an average of six acquaintances.
The study of social networks is called either social network analysis or social network theory. Research has indicated that social networks operate on many levels—from familial to national—and play a critical role in determining the ways that problems are solved, the way organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals. Social network theory argues that individual traits and characteristics usually presumed to have significance actually matter far less than an individual's relationship and ties to other actors in a network. Critics argue that this perspective diminishes the power and agency of the individual. Despite these criticisms, sociologists study social networks because of their influence on individuals. Social networks are seen as the basic tool individuals use to connect to society.