Data Collection

Most commonly, data for social network analysis is collected with web-based surveys as this method best allows the manager to conduct customized studies.

This type of survey is different from other employee surveys: each respondent rates his or her interaction with the colleagues for the question at hand (e.g. “How often do you meet this person face-to-face in regard to work related issues?”). The answer options can either be binary – a connection or no connection – or scaled. Typically, the researcher will take the opportunity to gather as detailed information as possible and opt for the scaled answer options. Scaled answer options make it possible to distinguish between, say, daily and monthly interaction.

The key benefit of surveys is the ability to gather detailed data by asking specific questions and providing customized answer options. With web-based surveys respondents can even indicate connections they would like to have but do not currently have.

While surveys have many benefits there are downsides too. They are sensitive to low answer rates, they can be time-consuming during data collection and they are unsuited for studying very large networks. Therefore, some consultants occasionally use secondary data sources such as email servers or collaboration platforms in addition to surveys.

Emails contain information such as sender and receiver, which are used for the analysis, and emails are immediately available. Both frequencies and direction (mutual or non-mutual) can be deducted from studies based on emails, however, such studies tell little about the relationships' nature.

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all online social networking platforms. Facebook and LinkedIn profiles including their connections are generally not accessible to an organization. Twitter profiles and their connections are open to the public, so they can be crawled but outside marketing it is of little interest to organizations.

Observation is only a viable solution for smaller networks and is fairly time-consuming. It can be useful for improving workflows though.

A final data collection method is physical tracking. Physical tracking is still very new to social network analysis and there are some obvious ethical problems related to tracking people in this way. It does seem like a good way to gather objective information about face-to-face meetings between people, but cannot stand alone as all other communication forms are not covered.

Socilyzer allows you to collect data with web-based surveys and Podio (an online collaboration platform) and to enter data. The module for entering or importing data is used for all other data sources.


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