Valuing online networks – location vs connections


A recent research paper suggests we may have got too focused on valuing networks in terms of who is the best connected. In fact the most influential person in the network comes down to location, rather than connections, as outlined in this blog extract:

The importance of hubs may have been overstated, say Kitsak and pals. “In contrast to common belief, the most influential spreaders in a social network do not correspond to the best connected people or to the most central people,” they say.

At first glance this seems somewhat counter-intuitive but on reflection it makes perfect sense. Kitsak and co point out that there are various scenarios in which well connected hubs have little influence over the spread of information. “For example, if a hub exists at the end of a branch at the periphery of a network, it will have a minimal impact in the spreading process through the core of the network.”

By contrast, “a less connected person who is strategically placed in the core of the network will have a significant effect that leads to dissemination through a large fraction of the population.”

In some ways though this sounds little like the maxim about being in the ‘right place, at the right time’. Certainly from my own experience this seems a worthwhile approach, rather than growing the number of connections in my social network. I suspect it may help if you (to use another saying) ‘keep your eyes and ears open’ to achieve this too!

Download: Identifying Influential Spreaders in Complex Networks (PDF; 3mb). Ref:

3 thoughts on “Valuing online networks – location vs connections

  1. Stuart – I missed that report. Thanks for sharing some thoughts on it.
    To me, it all speaks to the fact that different people are after different things, and that it’s important to take a step back to gain some understanding of social network dynamics (not to the Ph.D. level, but to some degree of fluency) and come up with a strategy to get where you want to go. I’m seeing that there’s a rush to do things, and that organizations aren’t taking the time to do some analysis and data-based strategic planning. Is that your sense as well?

  2. Hi Matthew, thanks for your points about the need for social network strategy based on thorough data-based analysis & planning.

    My experience of organization’s approach to social media strategy is that they want something that, like software, works out of the box. Just ‘plugin and play’ if you like.

    Problem is that each organization is different, audiences are different, and so you need to undertake the initial work you outline. So often this essential preparatory work, even at the most basic level, comes after the event.

    My latest hunch to creatively help in this respect would to come up with some social networking ‘heuristics’ – rule of thumbs that you can use to sense check the results of the analysis and strategy. I created a heuristic for community management which focused on the ratio between readers and contributors, and how they might help guide online development. I’m wondering if there’s a set of heuristics for social networking which provide similar tools for organizations to help them engage successfully with social networks.

  3. Pingback: @stuartgh - Social networking ability & field sense

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