SNA stands for Social Network Analysis, and is already mainstream. Also, as is to be expected of anything that becomes fashionable, largely misunderstood and misapplied.

By this I mean, what Social Network Analysis provides is not always what customers think they are paying for.

So here’s an at-a-glance for some of the most common misunderstandings.

  • SNA works on connections, not relationships
  • SNA finds people with an audience, not influencers 
  • SNA is an investigation tool, not a law-enforcement tool
  • SNA is interpretation, not science
  • SNA is circumstantial, not factual
  • SNA provides hints, not evidence

and, last but not least

  • SNA should be used to find questions, not answers.

Of course, if you want to make business out of SNA, you will need to sell it for what is not or, at the very least, to turn a blind eye to your client’s misunderstandings.

I’m old enough to recognise what has already happened (and keeps on happening with each newgeneration of customers) with the Web, with e-commerce, with Usability, with SEO/SEM, with social networks, with followers.

But, wait: SNA is mostly applied mathematics, no? So its results are mathematically guaranteed. So we’re doing science!

Sorry, no. A social network node with high closeness centrality has some interesting mathematical properties. That it represents an influencer (and please, define what an influencer is, will you?) is totally an interpretation. It may be true, or it may be false but it’s nowhere in the math.

What we are witnessing is that some vaguely-defined concepts from the social “sciences” get smuggled for some (robustly-) defined mathematical concepts for which they constitute a simple interpretation. From that moment on, every distinction between mathematical fact and interpretation is dropped, and a whole new department of Adapting The Facts To The Paid Narrative is born. 

You know what is the greatest effort required of those working with the Web? It’s fighting the client delusions about whatever technology you use.

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