Generating ideas, connections, and action

LLC Partner Spotlight: Marc Smith, Connected Action


We are pleased to have Marc Smith as August's featured partner.  Marc specializes in social network analysis applied to social media. He leads the Connected Action consulting group, and is a co-founder of the Social Media Research Foundation.  We met Marc earlier this year when we attended a workshop on mapping social networks with NodeXL sponsored by the Community Foundation for Monterey County.  We were impressed by the power of the NodeXL tool, and also by Marc’s ability to explain network analysis concepts and make the information relevant and compelling.  When we had the opportunity to work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on a social network analysis project, we immediately thought of partnering with Marc to leverage NodeXL and his expertise in the area to help analyze Twitter networks.  We are thankful for Marc’s valuable contribution to the project and look forward to working with him in the future.

In talking about patterns of connections, Marc says it best:

Almost everyone is connected to someone else, but not everyone is connected equally.  The study of patterns of connections, called network analysis, is a way of understanding the dense webs of links, ties, and relationships that surround each of us.  In a world of social networking services, mobile devices, and persistent connections to data networks, we now live connected to one another in a way that is historically unique.  Network analysis is a method for measuring and visualizing these patterns to find the key people and groups within them.  


Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a group of researchers exploring the patterns of connections that form when people discuss a range of health and wellness topics online.  Along with Claire Reinelt, Bruce Hoppe and Natalia Castaneda, we applied a social network analysis tool called NodeXL (the free and open network overview, discovery and exploration add-in for Excel available from to the collections of connections that form among people who used Twitter to talk about a range of words related to health and wellness.  The NodeXL tool is a product of the Social Media Research Foundation (, a not-for-profit dedicated to the creation of open tools, open data and open scholarship related to social media.  


Using NodeXL, we collected data from Twitter and mapped the ways people connected to one another while tweeting about "Food desert", "SmartGrowth", "RWJF", and related topics like "Healthrankings".  The resulting maps were like aerial photos of crowds that had gathered for a rally.  The size and shape of the crowd, along with the key people within it became visible when we applied this technique.  We mapped these topics daily for weeks to learn more about the key people and sub-groups that formed around these topics over time.

Maps are useful for many things, from finding a distant location to planning a route to travel there.  With these maps in hand we were able to plan a journey to connect with key people, identify core ideas and topics, and measure the influence of certain events.  The release of the County Health Rankings report, for example, allowed us to map these crowds before, during and after the event to see the impact of the publication.  Vivid network visualization images led our group to gain better insights into the structure and rhythm of these topic communities.

We have been enriched by the experience of having Marc Smith in our network!