Social Networking and Institutions

One of the many topics that I have been exploring of late are the various social networks of our many cultural institutions. This topic piqued my interest following a recent discussion with a colleague regarding whether or not it was worth the time to engage in social media as an institution–particularly if the individual charged with maintaining it is a paid employee trained in another unrelated discipline, and charged with working in that field (i.e., an archaeologist managing a Twitter feed). I left Facebook and Twitter some time ago, but many folks seem to be in for the long haul, and the media certainly pays a significant amount of attention to social media–making it very attractive for those that enjoy life in the spotlight.


Twitter network for the Texas Historical Commission (@TxHistComm).

The Texas Historical Commission has been near and dear to me; I spent a semester there as an undergrad assembling State Archeological Landmark nominations and doing a bit of GIS work. They are the permitting agency for archaeological projects on public lands in Texas, and are well-connected with most State-level agencies and archaeological firms, so it surprised me that their network was as small as it was.


Twitter network for Stephen F. Austin State University (@SFASU).

The network for SFASU was quite a bit larger. In terms of content, SFASU is similar to most universities, where sports and social institutions (sororities, fraternities, etc) are the principal discussants.


Twitter network for Science Magazine (@sciencemagazine).

Like most folks, I love to get my hands on the newest edition of Science. Among those networks constructed for this effort, this was the one with the highest level of engagement, which made me curious what degree of modularity existed among the discussants. In this case, purple represents US Gov’t agencies (NSF, NIH, etc), blue represents US educational institutions, and green represents EU educational institutions.


Twitter network for Donald Trump (@realdonaldtrump).

Whether or not you agree with his politics, Donald Trump knows how to use social media, and has used it to his considerable advantage during this election cycle. While I did not dig into this one, it is impressive that one person–albeit a Presidential candidate–can command such a large personal network.


Twitter network for NASA (@NASA).

I still have my rejection letter from the NASA astronaut program hanging on my wall. Apparently, archaeologists are not really a priority for space exploration, but it’s something that I have wanted to do since I was young–so when the open call for applicants came up right when I graduated with my PhD, I jumped. Like the @sciencemagazine network, @NASA is one of the more engaged Twitter networks that I looked at.

Facebook Networks

Facebook networks are a bit different than those of Twitter, and are generally much larger in comparison. All of the networks below are user networks (you can also build these as post networks to identify which posts are most engaging), and all occurred during the same span of time (Jan 1, 2016 – June 29, 2016). The featured image for this post is the Facebook user network for the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.


Facebook network for the Texas Archeological Society.


Facebook network for the Society for American Archaeology.

All of these networks can be built to be interactive, meaning that each hidden corner of the network can be fully explored. This has worked well for my own work with citation networks, but this is the first time that I have used that method to dig further into social networks. There is an a lot of rich information here that could be included in quarterly reports to stakeholders, or used to illustrate whether the predicted broader impact of a certain line of research lives up to the hype (ahem, NSF). This could be seen not only on Facebook and Twitter, but also across platforms like Almetric (see a nice breakdown of this on the Center for a Public Anthropology‘s website) after the work is published.

The degree of “success” in social media is highly subjective in terms of whether or not it is worth the time and money to engage (unless you happen to be Donald Trump). It is true that these mediums work well for broadcasting your work and ideas, but there is a big difference between networks that are broadcasting and networks that are engaging. To be sure, there is plenty left to explore in each of these networks. In the end, it really just depends on what your goals are; however, unless you build the networks and take a closer look, it is difficult to conceptualize and demonstrate what kind of social network you have at your disposal. The way that those networks are constructed will also depend largely on the question that we ask, and each one can tell a very different story using the same data.



Written by zselden

Selden (PhD, Texas A&M University, 2013) is a US Marine Corps veteran, cyclist, kayaker, backpacker, hiker, climber, fisherman and general all-around outdoor enthusiast. His research is focused at the confluence of archaeological methods and digital technology, and he is particularly interested in the application of 3D technologies to archaeological problems, geometric morphometrics, network analyses, predictive modeling, archaeological theory, and archaeological science.


  1. Dr. Selden, you continue to amaze. It would be useful information to have an article on a couple of topics: how to interpret the tree information; and how does one gather and process the raw data?


    1. Hi Steve, That’s actually the topic of a few forthcoming articles–didn’t want to give everything away in a blog post! Best, Z


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