Chapter 6. The Value of Social Networking in Community Engagement

Ann Dozier, PhD (Chair), Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, Mina Silberberg, PhD, Linda Ziegahn, PhD


Communities are not made up of unrelated individuals or groups; rather, they include “social networks” that comprise community groups or organizations, individuals, and the relations or “linkages” among them. Social networks are crucial to every aspect of community engagement, from understanding the community and its health issues to mobilizing the community for health improvement. A growing literature is highlighting the role that individuals’ social networks play in conditioning their health, and the emergence of electronic social media provides new ways to form and engage networks. For these reasons, we devote an entire chapter to the role of social networks in community engagement, beginning with an overview of the topic and then moving to a focused look at the new social media.

What Are Social Networks?

As defined by Wasserman et al. (1994), “A social network consists of a finite set of actors and the relation or relations defined on them”. Any one individual can be part of multiple social networks, and the nature of these networks and the individual’s connection to the networks can vary greatly. For example, social networks are not necessarily rooted in traditional relationships, such as kinship or clan, but can develop out of geographic proximity, work relationships, or recreational activities. Moreover, social networks can be described and analyzed in terms of their diverse characteristics (e.g., how many people or organizations belong to a network, how well the members of the network know each other, and how equal their relationships are).

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Page last reviewed: June 25, 2015