I find this fascinating. So there is a little research into the background of this concept.
First let’s look at Dunbar’s number. It is the suggested limit of and average of 50 stable relationships that people can cope with. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar came up with this in the 1990s and while others argue that the number, depending on the capacity (or mental bandwidth) of the individual, could be as much as 250.
Stable relationships, by the way, refers to the strength of the relationship, and the fact that these relationships happen within a type of group or tribe, normally one that is physically close.
Now let’s look a little further back to the early 1970’s when Mark S Granovetter wrote about “The Strength of Weak Ties” as his thesis. (American Journal of Sociology, May 1973).
An interpersonal tie (a relationship between individuals) comes in three flavors: strong, weak or absent.
Granovetter’s definition of the strength of an interpersonal tie depends on a combination of
- The amount of time
- The emotional intensity
- The intimacy (mutual confiding)
- The reciprocity of service
Then Ron Burt, recently, explained that people in open networks who could reach out to others, had a higher indicator of success than those in closed networks where people only communicated with each other and didn’t explore networks with strangers.
LinkedIn, even more than other networks, allows us to take advantage of all of these areas.
We can easily build large, open networks, or clusters of networks of weak ties on LinkedIn.
The idea is to be more than just a vain collector of large numbers. After all, it’s not about how big your network is, it’s how you use it.
So once you have built a large network, the only way to make it work for you is to engage with the people in the network. Use tags so that you can categorize people into appropriate sets and communicate with them, share information or ask for information, from the appropriate people on different subjects. Use the LinkedIn tools to both broadcast and send direct messages to them so that they can become aware of what you do.
Think of how you can use LinkedIn to broaden your reach. You can connect to anyone, anywhere in the world, in a different industry, with different skill sets and t different levels of the organizations.
Having weak ties on LinkedIn means that you can reach out to anyone who is already connected to you and ask for something. Either you or they have already initiated a relationship on the platform, so there is no harm in communicating with them.
And if you are intentional enough, you can take it a step further. Ron Burt talks about becoming a Broker – a person who doesn’t just bridge the gap between individuals in a network, but bridges the gap between networks and can help different groups to share information and ideas.
LinkedIn is the best thing that could happen to weak ties. And having good weak ties with intention, is the best thing that could happen to your career.