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What is a Social Map?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A social map is a visual representation of a social network. Social mapping has been utilized by anthropologists historically for mapping out the connections in the populations they study. On the Internet, it has become a powerful tool for marketing, establishing connections, and studying the way in which online populations interact with each other. There are numerous applications that are designed to generate social maps for a variety of purposes. People who are interested in plotting themselves on a social map can take advantage of free services, many of which are connected with social networking sites.

In some cases, a social map is a literal map that fixes people geographically. Others are more abstract, representing relationships and connections without regard to geography. The map is usually centered around a subject such as a person, brand, company, or community. Connections are represented visually with lines, bubbles, and other elements that provide information about how objects on the map relate to each other and to the central element.

For marketing purposes, social mapping is used to explore digital identities and digital reputation. The explosions of social networking, blogs, and other online tools have forced companies to engage with the Internet in a variety of ways. Social mapping is used by companies to see how they are linked to other elements online and how this impacts their reputation. The social map has become a critical tool for companies that want to know how they are perceived by Internet users and where their sphere of influence reaches.

A social map centered around a brand, for example, might reveal a new market by showing a community that is engaging with the brand online, but is not currently receiving attention from the company. It can also provide revealing information about consumer attitudes; for example, some areas of the social map may reveal negative feelings about the brand. These areas will show where the feelings originate and how they spread, allowing the company to intervene to improve its reputation.

Social networking sites that allow people to connect with friends, colleagues, and people with similar interests use social mapping extensively. Each user has a social map that the site can use to deliver customized content. The site can tailor advertising, event announcements, and other materials to the preferences and inclinations of individual users. This is a service that is much in demand among advertisers. The ability to create targeted campaigns w are highly like to elicit a response from consumers at relatively low cost is an extremely useful and valuable marketing tool.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By browncoat — On Jul 03, 2012

@indigomoth - My problem with that and with social behavior maps in general is that they tend to be far too simple and don't go deep enough into the issue they are supposed to be investigating.

I know people like to have bite sized chunks of information, but maps that show, for example, the spread of McDonalds across the world, only tell part of the story. They give people a creepy feel, like this is a kind of plague but they don't emphasize the fact that that spread could also be echoing the spread of democracy or the spread of economical development.

I'm not trying to be pro-Mcdonalds here, but I do think that these maps are just used as another way to shock people without really informing them on problems or solutions.

By indigomoth — On Jul 02, 2012

@Mor - I've actually seen people try to make the internet itself into a map, making Facebook a country the size of the States for example and larger land masses for Google and smaller ones for other popular websites. It's just a fun way to process the data of which websites are visited the most.

I actually think the rise of this kind of info-graphic is a wonderful thing, as we are visual people and we can take much more out of a very well made graph than a page worth of statistics. And it seems like more and more people are realizing the power of that kind of media.

By Mor — On Jul 02, 2012

There are some amazing looking social maps online. I've seen some that show all the connections the internet has created between countries and across states. You can find programs that will show on a small scale how you are connected to people on Facebook and how they are connected to people, so that you realize how very many people you are indirectly connected to through your friends list.

Then there are the maps that show you where all the people who look at your blog come from. I love that kind of map because it really makes you marvel that there are people in Japan and Russia and Indonesia who are having a look around at what you're writing.

Social maps really do build a sense of wonder that the internet has made the world such a small and close knit community.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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