Change Happens at the Edges…How to Get There

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Blog

Social network analysis (SNA) is a term that was relatively new to us when Sheri Jacobs with the Avenue M Group mentioned it in our discussion on 6 Degrees of Associations but now that we know it, we can’t get it out of our heads.  What does SNA have to do with diversifying business models?

What is social network analysis?

As defined by Wikipedia, “social network analysis (SNA) is the process of investigating social structures through the use of networks and graph theory. It characterizes networked structures in terms of nodes (individual actors, people, or things within the network) and the ties, edges, or links (relationships or interactions) that connect them.”

Our first reaction…every association is on board with doing this analysis, right?! But seriously, what is a trade organization or association, if not a network of people working together towards similar goals.  Now more than ever, every association should be laser focused on understanding exactly who (the nodes) is connected to the organization and in what way are they sticky with the industry or common cause.

As Sheri explained in our show, change and action happens on the edges and if you aren’t aware of who is on the edges of your organization and how they are connected to your network, as well as understanding what other networks they are connected to, then how will you truly diversify your audience, your thinking, and your business model.  Utilizing SNA is critical to understanding social influences, cultural issues, and how to make changes to the dynamics of any organization. 

How should you use SNA to diversify your business model?

Imagine if you worked with a group like Avenue M to look at your membership retention through the lens of SNA and you learned through this process that a solid number of your members were more junior members of the teams at your member companies. Now think about what the links might look like in how those members are connecting with other members versus perhaps more experienced or older generations of members. 

Perhaps you have only ever had a membership model based on the size of the member company and all your connection points for members are only in-person events or virtual webinars and conferences.  Now a company comes along and realizes that a significant portion of the individuals from their company that would normally be highly engaged with your association really connect better online and through chat rooms and meet ups.  Immediately the value proposition of a tiered membership model based on size and in person events seems misaligned with the needs of your members on the edges.

Understanding this about the make-up of your membership could really help you realign your business model with one that is more flexible and gives tiered services rather than tiered pricing based on an arbitrary measure such as size of the company.  All the sudden a subscription service made available to members might be a lot more appealing…and a lot more engaging, a more natural way to interact with your product.

New model equals more diversity, equity, and inclusion.

When you pay attention to the real diversity within your membership and map back to where they carry influence you may be surprised to find that your diversity is rather limited.  Sheri says this may be because within the diversification you may only have a few variances and those may mean those nodes still only focus on like-people in their groups.  

Diversifying your membership model to allow for more access and action to happen on the edges will automatically create new opportunities for different voices and influence to be in play.  And lest we forget, changing the membership model does not mean ignore retention.  As Matthew Cavers and Emily Thomas with Avenue M said in their recent blog, retention deserves focus. 

If you are successful enough to change a business model which brings a more diverse set of people into your organization, focusing on retaining and engaging these members is critical to credible DE&I advancement.  Having an SNA done for your company by experienced researchers and analysts could help you bring on, retain, and engage more members than ever before.