Three Common Pitfalls

It is easy to be fooled into believing that social network analysis is easy: you have (frequently) easily interpreted visualizations and basic graph statistics to support your findings.

However, the biggest challenge is knowing how much you can deduce from a study; therefore, you should take your time to learn about the three most common pitfalls in social network analysis and how to avoid them. The three pitfalls are:

1. Too Comprehensive Study

It is tempting to make generic studies to sum up all activities and relationships within the company and just send out a single questionnaire to all employees at once. The problem is such studies cannot be used to describe individual processes and specific business challenges and therefore are less easy to act upon.

2. Being Unaware of Scope

While conducting the analysis it is vital that the researcher is aware of the study’s scope: what is being studied and who is being asked? An individual, who seems isolated, with only a few ties to the network or none at all, might have numerous other relationships outside the study’s scope. Note that the study can be very specific. Ask isolated individuals about their position within the social network in a follow-up interview.

3. Over-Interpretation

It is also important to be aware of the study’s sensitivity. Questions about personal relationships can be threatening to respondents – especially if they fear negative consequences of the study – and respondents might therefore report more relationships than they really have. Due to this concern, the researcher should not be overly confident in his study, but rather take a critical approach to the data. Socilyzer has features built in that can exclude non-mutual ties and remove nodes for this reason. Additionally, vague wording of questions and their answer options is another source of error.

Finally, if relevant people are left out of the study, others might take more central positions than they really have. Do not rely on social network analysis alone; instead, use SNA as a way to focus follow-up studies and to identify key players among the respondents. Always inform respondents about the purpose and use of the study.


Graph Interpretation


Step 1: Planning the Study