Wednesday, 28 November 2007

SOCIAL NETWORKING & EQUITY THEORY

I recently started thinking about the dynamics of the individual micro transactions that happen within each relationship within a network.

We know there are some individuals that have a disproportionate impact within a network: hubs, connectors, influencers, sneezers, mavens, innovators, they are all key in a network. The diagram above is the spread of SARS and if you were unlucky enough to come into contact with person 1, 6, 3, 130, or 127 you were one of the many who fell ill due to their disproportionate influence. With SARS you don't have much of a choice whether you take on what the connector is passing, but with most cultural ideas, communications, and brands there is choice. How should we think about these situations?

One of the ways to think about this is to use equity theory, which looks at relationships in networks. We have evolved to seek equity in our relationships. We feel cheated if we invest in the relationship but our partner does not give back, and guilty if we only receive from the relationship. We are most satisfied when their is an equitable balance in the relationship. This sharing of equity links to the way ideas, and brands pass through society. Those with the ideas and information invest this social capital with those they think might benefit, and in return gain a credit from the receiver of that information. These credits come in many forms, and are explained differently in different schools of psychology.

One school of thought situates these credits purely within the context of that relationship, but a broader view also sees this as a mechanism for establishing status, group inclusion, and tribal belonging. Moving from the single relationship to the group's relationships perhaps starts to explain why the individual goes about collecting these credits of social capital, which can be intra-psychologically, and inter-psychologically be used to increase self esteem, and social status.

Football fans are a great example of where knowledge can be used to establish sub-cultural status. The more you know about the game, your team's history, the players, the games, and your attendance of the games, all go to put you further up in the pecking order. The highest status Connectors get to have jobs as media pundits, which further reinforces their status and gives them more capital to play with, and more access, creating a virtuous circle of capital replenishment for them. Further down the pecking order we might pay for newspapers that include their opinions, with real money, for that conversational capital we can then trade with in our day-to-day exchange relationships.

Nick Hornby's Fever pitch explores the levels of knowledge commitment a fan might invest to be a part of something big, to share the passion, and to get enjoyment from their fanship - it takes a lot of investment at the expense of other types of enjoyment. Thank God following Arsenal even at our worse of times is a joy. Come on Arsenal!