About two weeks ago I wrote a post that generated one of the best discussions I’ve encountered in the blogosphere. During that discussion Bryan Cromlish left one of the most epic comments I’ve encountered. To be fair Carlos Miceli countered nicely. Needless to say I enjoyed Bryan’s comment so much that I asked him to share his line of thinking here for my audience via a guest post.
We have all heard the old adage, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It is about helping each other achieve goals and working towards mutually beneficial relationships. But, are we spending way too much time constantly interacting with the same people?
Everyone has a goal with social media. For many, (especially in North America) there is some element of monetary profit, whether that includes independent consulting work, landing yourself a great job, or even scamming others. For everyone, a goal on Twitter is to share a message with the public, whether it is your own or someone else’s. The time we spend talking, interacting and retweeting helps us meet new people, build relationships and even make new friends.
For this argument’s sake we will use the term “relationship” or “interpersonal tie.” With the help from a sociology article by Mark S. Granovetter written back in 1973, I’d like to prove that there is actually more value in a weak tie or than a strong one.
[Granovetter, Mark S. The Strength of Weak Ties. Volume 78. American Journal of Sociology, Issue 6 (May, 1973).]
In my mind, a study on social networks (connections of people, not tools like Twitter) back in the 70s is applicable because there are elements both then and now that have a strong influence on what I believe to be human nature, rather than simply being a reflection of a current societal trends. If we don’t look at the past, we’ll have a hard time understanding what is going on in the present!
Before I jump into it, I want to define ‘The Strength of Ties’ similarly to how Granovetter does by assuming it to be a linear relation. Hopefully we can agree that the strength of relationships is increased by combination of the “amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.” Using these guidelines, we can intuit whether a tie is strong, weak or non-existent.
The strategy of Granovetter’s paper can easily be applied to Social Media in 2010. He shows how the strength of an interpersonal tie relates to macro aspects like diffusion, and social cohesion in general, among factors. It is important to understand that small-scale interactions have a huge impact on larger scale patterns of communication and, in return, these general trends affect small groups.
We’ll keep all peer groups small for argument’s sake. Let’s say we have a peer group of strong ties between persons A, B, C & D and another group comprised of persons E, F, G & H. It would be hard to create more than 10 to 30 strong ties per year, so this small model isn’t completely unrealistic! Let’s also say there is a weak tie between A & E, for example, which connects the two strong networks. I argue that removing this weak tie will do more “damage” to the transmission of information than the removal any of the strong ties in this model.
We are all bloggers here. We’ll use blogging as an example to show that whatever you are trying to diffuse to the masses can travel a wider social distance, and thus reach a larger number of people, when passed through weak ties rather than strong ones. If someone announces their blog post to close friends, and these friends do the same thing, many of the group will hear about the post multiple times. This is because people with strong relationships tend to share similar ties within their social group. After a week goes by and the motivation to spread the word about your epic “How to Sway Drones, Kill the Queen Bee, & Take Over the Hive” blog post dies down, the spread of information is much more likely to be limited to a few cliques than a blogger with many weak ties.
Those with many weak ties are the best at diffusing information.
Do you think Chris Brogan, Amber Naslund, Ben Casnocha, John Moore, Penelope Trunk, Mitch Joel, Brian Clark, Guy Kawasaki, Joseph Jaffe, Darren Rowse, Seth Godin, Jason Falls, etc… all achieved their success on Twitter by only building and maintaining strong relationships? No.
These people got into social media early and made themselves innovators and opinion leaders. In fact, anything they said was new and exciting! By maintaining weak ties and “droning” early adopters who would then pass this information on to their strong ties, these people have achieved an amazing amount of success. This becomes a growing cycle in which their views matter so much that they hardly even need to worry about making the effort to maintain weak relationships! All they have to do is respond to most of the people who casually tweet them and watch their messages diffuse rapidly.
Sure, some amazing bonds are created along the way and this is great because these people can support you emotionally, give you a trusted opinion, and inspire thought. But I believe that it is possible to create too strong of a relationship. Eventually, something will happen where you cannot maintain communication with that person for a couple weeks, for example, and you will let them down because of some commitment IRL (In Real Life). This creates a chain reaction of slips in mutual support and takes the “us” out of “trust” [just made that up!]. A relationship with sporadic contact is easier to maintain.
Again… Here is the early model of the Twitter network when we got started:
Success in online communications takes strong critical thought, an open mind, respect, and checking your ego at the door.
*I found this article through Gavin’s blog http://servantofchaos.typepad.com/soc/2007/10/the-strength-of.html. Thank you.
Bryan is a Social Media & PR Intern with Jobsonica. He is passionate about marketing (strategy, account & creative), personal branding, and social media. My favorite thing about Bryan is how well he understands and practices the value of reciprocal relationships. He currently resides in Montreal, Canada.
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