Archives for category: In Praxis

Let me introduce you all to Social Network Analysis.

Whether you are a social scientist in academia or industry, clear data visualization has the power to make or break your presentation. SNA is a great way to identify, quantify and visualize information flow and relationships in a variety of environments including the office space, on Twitter and in the neighborhood.

I have used SNA in my current work to map the hyperlink network of various departments within a larger school at Georgetown to help answer questions about how departments share information, how they differentiate their individual brands and how they work together to create a unified online voice for the school.

Some interesting insights were gained from this visualization which otherwise might have been easily overlooked by the web developer:

  • In addition to connecting directly to each other, each department links visitors to the same 44 general reference pages.
  • Some departments (#4) offer their visitors more variety in information, while some (#1 and #3) offer their visitors comparably minimal information.
  • 2 pages are linked to directly by only two departments: only #2 and #4 are directly linked to “Faculty and Research,” and more importantly only #4 and #5 are directly linked to the application software used by students to apply to the school’s programs.

So there you have it. This is just a peek into the world of SNA, but there really are so many applications of this software to learning more about how we communicate and build relationships. If you’re interested in learning more or would like to teach yourself how to use the software yourself, here are a few resources I found helpful:

Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL: Insights from a Connected World – Great how-to guide to using NodeXL software with a variety of other platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Email.

The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations – Fantastic guide to implementing SNA in organizational management.

NodeXL: Network Overview, Discovery and Exploration for Excel – NodeXL software, a free add-on to Excel.


To follow up on my example analysis of repetition in conversation from last month, I would like to offer a few insights into how we might put this awareness to use:

In developing communications or marketing strategies, repetition of your consumers own language (collected through interviews, surveys, or even online product reviews)  is a simple and effective way of demonstrating solidarity with and an understanding of them. Using language created by the consumers themselves to describe or relate to a product not only provides a springboard from which to write inspiring copy, but an accurate representation of how the average consumer understands your product as well.

We’ve all heard from Dating Tips 101 that when your love interest repeats your name in conversation, that’s definitely a good sign. The same effect of demonstrating interest and solidarity operates on a more subtle level in interaction when we repeat forms and structures already used by our conversation partners. As in the example I discussed last month, the repetition of a simple adjective not only demonstrates agreement, but expresses attention and support between parties.

Repetition is an endlessly fascinating and useful feature of language in terms of growing relationships. Understanding its effects can transform your interpersonal involvement strategies and help sculpt personalized marketing plans for your target audience – all you have to do is listen like a Linguist!

An important question that I feel is often left unanswered in both academic and journalistic writing is “so what?” – the writer may make interesting and important observations, but unless those findings are connected to the real world by way of actionable solutions or suggestions, they may be forgotten before they have a chance to be useful.

I recently wrote a mini analysis of a discourse interaction between my sister and my mother for this blog. I point out that strategies in discourse may be used to achieve power over or solidarity with another person, or they may be used to show power and solidarity simultaneously (as in the example between my sister and mother).

So what?

The crux of this argument is simply that the strategies an individual uses to communicate an intended relationship message to another, may differ from person to person. Communicative style develops from even the most early interactions we encounter as children and no two styles are the same (though they may be similar). Therefore when we interact with someone who seems to clash with us, or whom we perceive as being passive aggressive or confrontational, it may not be that they are trying to be aggressive, it may just be that our own style does not align with theirs. This does not mean that we should attempt to accommodate the different style to assuage the encounter (although that may be a strategic option), instead it is important to be aware of these stylistic differences and their varying meanings. What I mean may not necessarily be what you hear, and what your listeners hear may not necessarily be what you intended.

Take away: In any situation where you aren’t “getting along” with someone, take a step back. Pay attention to how language is being used and think about its various and polysemous meanings. Maybe your meaning is getting lost in translation.

A brand is a pulsing, growing entity that responds to the demands placed upon it, both economic and social. Behind that brand are living, breathing, feeling beings who pour their thoughts and memories and hopes into its form. Don’t you think that brand should tell a story worthy of all that humanity? I propose that brands should tell their Life Story. Not their history filled with past tenses and periods, but their ongoing life story as it’s told and retold through time.

We all have a life story of our own. One that is constantly in flux and which reshapes itself after each experience and in each situation. To my larger life story, I add, delete, and change the stories that tell the world who I am, how I got that way and what you need to know about me to know me. A life story is the means by which we claim and negotiate group membership among our friends, families, colleagues, and clients; and so the same should be for brands.

So what do I need to know about you, the brand, to know you, to want to buy from you, to cultivate a relationship with you? A brand needs a sense of self. It needs to be able to demonstrate that it is worthy of acceptance into our homes and experience. This sense of self stems from the individuals who instill their own stories into their creation. Just as an individual’s stories are not his alone, but are influenced by those who experienced that event with him, by those around him, by what he reads and what he sees, so is the life story of a brand. Its story too is made up of many many smaller more intimate stories, not only of its creators, but of its consumers as well.

As an example of a brand life story that recently caught my eye, I would like to point you in the direction of Rad and Hungry. In addition to being the curators of fascinating, travel-inspired, monthly office supply kits, RAH tells great stories. In fact, their stories are what bring their product to life (and what got me to buy), because besides being a sucker for a quality pencil, I’m also a relationship-driven, community-seeking human. Housed primarily in their blog, RAH’s stories are not necessarily long, but they are always detailed – employing images, quotations, thoughts and memories to cultivate a great life story for their brand. I dare you to read any entry of their blog and tell  me you’re not charmed!

In an age when consumers decide what they want to hear and when they want to hear it, a life story, not a history, matters. Trade that past tense for present progressive and future, those periods for exclamation points and question marks. Allow me to negotiate a relationship with you through narrative and experience. Tell me what I need to know about you to know you.

If you could change one thing, any thing, about yourself what would it be? Maybe your nose is a little too big, or your eyes are a little too small. Maybe you wish your hair were straighter or your legs were a little bit longer. Not me though! If I could change one thing about myself I would wish myself a great storyteller.

From the earliest days of oral tradition, stories have held a power unique to all modes of communication, allowing a narrator to creatively claim authority or ownership, establish stability and reason, or give us the chance to compare our past and present. There is always an inherent purpose to what we tell (and what we do not tell), and while we may not always be aware of the narrative decisions we make as we relate “that one time” to our friends, they are present and evident in our register, vocabulary and voice level. These are the tools of the storyteller. Tools of which awareness will only improve our ability to construct powerful communication and to avoid that dreaded “So what?”

As advertising goes, the spots we create and the brands we grow are types of stories each with their own characters, plots, genres, and messages. Our love for Super Bowl ads does not stem from the products we see, but from the visual narratives we are offered. To be an advertiser or a marketer is to be a storyteller, and to be a good storyteller means to know your tools. In the coming weeks, I will explore these linguistic tools as they are employed within our personal lives and within the world of advertising in hopes to see how others employ narrative, and perhaps to boost my own confidence as a storyteller! Stay tuned!

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