Abstract

Social network analysis (SNA) is a broad family of methods and theories for studying relations between social entities, such as individuals. The rapid growth of online communication, new forms of social interaction on social media and other platforms, and information dissemination on the internet make SNA methods and theories a natural approach to online research. This How-to Guide provides a brief overview of the fundamentals of social networks, common research questions in the field, and a discussion of data sources and the challenges of data collection. SNA methods involve a variety of tools, from relatively simple data visualization to sophisticated statistical models. Research questions often focus on (1) the positions occupied by particular nodes; (2) the relations between all pairs of nodes; (3) groups or “communities” within the network; and (4) the structure of networks as a whole. While the internet makes many new data sources available, collecting these data in a manner accessible for SNA methods remains challenging, particularly at large scales. The feasibility of systematic network analysis using social media data varies widely across popular platforms; some social media platforms enable large-scale data access, while research on others is extremely difficult due to data access limitations.

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