The groups do not merely serve to define other elements of the social structure, such as roles and statuses; they also link the individual with the larger society. We all belong to a number of different groups, and through our acquaintances make connections with people in different social circles. These connections are known as a social network—a series of social relationships that links a person directly to others, and through them indirectly to still more people. Social networks are one of the six basic elements of social structure.
Social networks can center on virtually any activity, from sharing job information to exchanging news and gossip. Involvement in social networks commonly known as networking is especially valuable in finding employment. During the recent economic downturn, electronic social net- works have served a new purpose, encouraging the jobless. Websites and chat rooms that cannot locate jobs for those who have or the unemployed, online conversations with friends or even strangers in the same predicament can be an invaluable morale booster.
Research indicates, however, that both in person and online, not everyone participates equally in social networks. Women and racial and ethnic minorities are at a disadvantage when seeking new and better job opportunities or social contacts.