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The International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) awarded
its first annual Visible Path Graduate Student Award for new research
on social networks and professional performance today.
The winner, Nathaniel Bulkley, a doctoral student working with
Assistant Professor Marshall Van Alstyne at the University of
Michigan School of Information, conducted surveys and studied six
months of email data and accounting records from an executive
recruiting firm representative of professional services firms
organized around client practices. An interesting finding was that
characteristics of the recruiter’s internal networks were
statistically significant predictors of performance, but the size of
their private rolodexes were not.
Bulkley's winning paper, “An Empirical Analysis of Strategies and
Efficiencies in Social Networks” can be downloaded from http://www-
The abstract of his paper is:
This research examines hypotheses about the efficient and strategic
uses of social networks by a specific group of white collar workers.
We examine existing theory that relates network structure to
performance and put forward two new hypotheses. The first addition
merges explore/exploit theory with social networks, proposing that
optimal network characteristics evolve over the course of a career
from those favoring exploration to those favoring exploitation of
knowledge and relationships. The second concerns efficient movement
of information through a network, proposing that frequent short
communication outperforms infrequent lengthy communication. Using a
unique data set containing email patterns and accounting records for
several dozen executive recruiters, we find statistically significant
differences related to network (1) structure (2) flow and (3) age.
Consistent with existing theory, more central position is associated
with higher output. Consistent with the two proposed theories,
exploration strategies among early career recruiters and exploitation
strategies among senior recruiters are both positively associated
with performance, while more frequent shorter messages are associated
with higher output. Results of this research have the potential to
create a more complete understanding of different types of efficiency
associated with social networks.
In brief, Bulkley’s email analysis found relationships between
centrality and performance, while also showing how aspects of how
social networks are used relate to performance. Shorter, more
frequent responses were associated with higher performance and
professional’s network use evolved over the course of a career from
an emphasis on accumulating to exercising social capital.
Bulkley’s findings suggest professional service firms may be able to
develop more efficient and effective communications strategies
through the use of relational measures derived from electronic data
sources. A recent BusinessWeek story (Feb. 13) highlighted the
growing popularity of dashboards that incorporate real-time data.
Will future dashboards emphasize real-time relational measures?
Bulkley reseach will be featured at at INSNA's upcoming http://
www.insna.org/2006/sunbelt2006.html Sunbelt conference in Vancouver.
The Visible Path Graduate Student award is sponsored by http://
www.visiblepath.com Visible Path.
Details for the 2007 Visible Path Graduate Student award will be
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