As a sociologist who dabbles in social network analysis, I sometimes get asked questions about social networks from a business perspective (what does Sociology say about how to use social networks?). Though it would take more than a dissertation worth of research to answer these questions fully, the concept of "multiplexity" is a great starting point.
If you think about people in your own social network, you'll have a variety of people. Family, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances from a social club, your doctor, and many other kinds of people make up your social network. Each of these individuals represents one social tie - or does it? What if your work colleague is also a friend? Or if your doctor is your spouse? Or your church friend is also your child's teacher? These kinds of network ties are multiplex, meaning multiple kinds of relationships embedded in one network tie. These "ties" are also real relationships that operate in a real context. Understanding the different contexts in which relationships take place is a critical point in understanding how different types of information are shared in social networks.
What does this mean for business?
Blindly targeting "social networks" and "key opinion leaders" is not a good strategy if you don't understand the type of social network your customer uses to find purchasing information. If you want to leverage social networks in the digital age, just as in traditional marketing, you need to understand your audience. Where do they go for information about your product or service? Do they ask friends? Do they look for anonymous reviews? Do they use Facebook, Twitter, Google?
The chart below, from eMarketer, shows that female Internet users are more likely to use social networks such as Facebook to keep up with friends and family, while they will go to specific niche communities for information on specific products or to make purchasing decisions.
Many internet advertising venues would have you believe that simply targeting certain demographic characteristics will get you to reach your target market. But think of it this way: would you rather capture a woman's attention while she's checking out
pictures of her niece's kindergarten graduation on a social networking website, or while she's on a
niche website looking for information about a product like yours? I know where I'd put my advertising spend!