Nowadays, when people think about Social Networks (SN), they often refer to Web applications like Facebook, Hi5 or LinkedIn even though family, friends, classmates, or network of work colleagues remain the most common SN. SN refer to relationships that exist between network of people.
The original concept of social circles was introduced by Georg Simmel, at the beginning of the 20th century. Since this first theory the discipline has matured to be used for instance by modern computer technologies to empower social science to do massive surveys on all kinds of social networks. The main idea is to map social relations and to look for
parameters which will eventually lead to a better understanding of how relations work, information flows and organizations collaborate. Currently, such tool could be used to map and understand how the H1N1 influenza is spreading over a network of people. Many types of relationships (ties) can be revealed by Social Network Analyzes (SNA) in organizational settings; Knowledge transfer, trust relationships, who act as information or knowledge brokers? Where are the information bottlenecks? (just to name a few ideas).
“The Hidden Powers of Social Networks” by Robb Cross and Andrew Parker is about using this latest social networking theories to improve the networks of organizations. Both authors worked with IBM on the Knowledge and Organization Forum. Dr. Cross is well recognized within the Social Networking Community, publishing lots of publications about the topic in several well known journals. To put their approach in one sentence: Try to find out the underlying, informal structure in organizations! They then put the scientific theories about how to
improve the information flows, relationship building etc. into practice.
It appears very clearly that most of the work is not done through the formal organizational structure but through informal social networks.