According to The Pew Research Center, most Americans “networks contain a range of social ties that consist of friends, family, coworkers, and other acquaintances. This includes a handful of very close social ties and a much larger number of weaker ties.” In fact, the average Internet user has 669 social ties.
That’s important research for generating word-of-mouth referrals.
So how does my personal network operate? Maybe not like you think. Whether I’m online or offline, I don’t quibble about whether I’m rewarded for sharing my knowledge, experience and passion. I learn a great deal by engaging with different people, disciplines and cultures. I assume that the people I encounter know more than me and can teach me something. Even the friction of reconciling conflicting perspectives and opinions is invigorating. Having a reciprocal listening style creates connection and social currency and from that comes greater visibility online. That’s how I cultivate a relevant and robust network. My mindset assumes abundance not scarcity.
Worry not that no one knows you, seek to be worth knowing. —Confucius
…Most of us aren’t very strategic when it comes to the best way to take advantage of the enormous potential of our own social networks.
- Job hunting. In a 1973 landmark study called, The Strength of Weak Ties, Mark Granovetter of John Hopkins University, found that the best leads for job opportunities are more likely to come from your more distant acquaintances (weak ties) rather than your close friends (strong ties). Why? As explained by Cornell professors, David Easley and Jon Kleinberg in Networks, Crowds, and Markets, “The closely-knit groups that you belong to, though they are filled with people eager to help, are also filled with people who know roughly the same things that you do.” The point: our distant acquaintances have the ability to expose you to job openings that you and your friends just can’t know about.
- Deal flow. Venture capital firms that share details about investment strategy secure access to more opportunities that they would otherwise. The research published in the Harvard Business Review shows that these VCs “more than make up for whatever competitive edge they lose by giving outsiders a peek at what they’re up to.” The point: top-performing VCs are using social media to discuss the “very information they once held close to the vest” in order to leverage weak ties to improve deal flow.
- B2B professional services. Think about generating new business in the B2B space or expensive purchases. In The Unexpected Way To Use Your Social Network Strategically, Don Pepper counsels that “if you use a straight-ahead business-development plan, you’ll develop a laundry list of leads and opportunities to be followed up. While this can be useful, the truth is that a great deal of such business comes in via the referral of others. And how can you increase your access to such referrals? You guessed it–by concentrating on your weak ties, rather than on your strong ties. By developing your own network of industry colleagues and blog or Twitter followers, for instance, you get access to their connections with others.” The idea is to arm your weak-tie prospects “with the tools necessary to appeal to their own networks.”
- Brown-nosing. Stop the brown-nosing. As Pepper points out, “it’s long been thought that the best way to get ahead is to hitch your wagon to a senior star” but Professor Burt’s book, Neighbor Networks, debunks this myth. Burt suggests that there’s “no advantage at all to having well-connected friends.” According to Burk and Pepper you’re better off developing and maintaining a diverse range of relationships to ensure healthy, stimulating “exposure to diverse ideas and behaviors.”
Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them. —A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)