What are Social Networks? - Types & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson you'll learn what social networks are, where they came from, and how they are built. Also, take a quiz to see if you have what it takes to be a good social networker. Updated: 12/29/2020

Introduction to Social Networks

If you're on Facebook, keep in mind that so are 1.15 billion other people throughout the world. In fact, 72% of all Internet users are active on social media today, indulging in social interactions and developing personal relationships. But you don't always have to go online to be exposed to social networks, as they come in a multitude of formats.

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  • 0:00 Introduction to Social…
  • 0:25 Definition/History of…
  • 1:38 Social Network Theory
  • 2:44 Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
  • 3:20 Types of Social Networks
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Definition of Social Networks

Social networks are simply networks of social interactions and personal relationships. Think about your group of friends and how you got to know them. Maybe you met them in elementary school, or maybe you met them through a hobby or through your church. Either way, you were exposed to social networks: meeting other individuals in a social situation, while developing strong personal bonds over time.

History of Social Networks

Social networking isn't just a term for the 21st century. In fact, social networking dates back to 40,000 years ago when cavemen would draw on the walls of caves, depicting animals in order to communicate and 'network' with other cavemen. The Romans also indulged in social networking around approximately 700 B.C.E. Rome was the center of communication and networking for everything that dealt with commerce, religion, politics, and even prostitution, so this makes a lot of sense. Since then, societies in different countries became more modern and pushed for social networks through town criers (in the 15th century), newspapers (in the 17th century), pen pal programs (in 1938), and electronics (in 1979).

Social Network Theory

The Social Network Theory (SNT) examines different networks of relationships between individuals and the common factors that bring them together. In a scientific form, SNT views relationships between objects, which are labeled as 'nodes'. Oftentimes, scientists using SNT will investigate the correlation between the nodes and the relationship that links them together. For example, imagine that you're standing in a room with another person. You and the other person are considered the nodes, and the relationship that links you together is the fact that you're standing in the same room. Of course, social networks can be more complex than this, but they all begin from the principle of objects/nodes and relationship variables.

Although Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tonnies first chartered social network theories in the late 1890s, major developments occurred later in the 1930s, specifically by Jacob Moreno. Moreno investigated social relationships by recording and analyzing the social interaction of small groups in classroom settings.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Social Networks:

Essay Prompt:

Write an essay of about two paragraphs that explains what social networks are and describes the history of social networks.

Example: Ancient Rome was a social networking center.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Make a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that illustrates the Social Network Theory (SNT) and its nodes. Your graphic organizer should also note briefly the history of social networking theories.

Example: Emile Durkheim was one of the pioneers of social networking theories.

Activity Prompt:

Consider the Six Degrees of Separation social networking theory and its more colloquial form, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Come up with your own version of a Six Degrees of Separation game.

Example: You could depict how current lesser known Major League Baseball players are all just six players away from relation to Justin Verlander.

List Prompt:

Make a list of at least six types of social networks. These can be electronic social networks or more conventional ones.

Example: The neighbors that you see and converse with on your daily walks are part of your social network.

Reflection Prompt:

Consider one social network in your life. In at least two to three paragraphs, write a reflection essay that explains this social network, how it functions, and why it is important to you.

Example: You love Jeeps, so you follow fellow Jeep lovers on Instagram. This provides you with a sense of connection.

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