The value of loose connections on LinkedIn
Social networks such as LinkedIn are based on loose ties. I’ve around 6,000 connections. It’s inconceivable that I could have so many personal relationships. So where’s the value?
British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar suggests that the maximum number of relationships that an individual can maintain is 150. His research found a correlation between primate brain size and the average size of a social group.
Dunbar’s work has been variously challenged. Cognitive scientist Philip Lieberman suggests that the number of relationships a human being can manage is between 30 and 50 people. His thesis is that the size of a community is limited by the number of mouths that can be fed without rudimentary agriculture.
Recognising that there’s an upper limit to the number of relationships you can maintain can be liberating. Indeed an alternative approach to managing relationships on LinkedIn is restricting connections to only those people you know and work with on a regular basis.
My connections make up the layers of my professional life. You can trace my 25 year old career through these connections via my formal education and my work history. It’s like the concentric rings of a tree.
There are people I’ve worked with directly such as clients, colleagues and vendors. There are academics, analysts, financiers, journalists and students. There’s people that I’ve met at conferences, engaged with via email, and people I know in no other way but through reputation.
I’m happy to connect and engage with anyone on LinkedIn providing there’s a clear value exchange. I frequently use the platform to seek help, make introductions and look up people from my network. It’s become my modern day address book.
Bad behaviour exists on the platform as it does in any walk of life. Nagging vendors selling via direct message are tedious. Inappropriate personal solicitations are plain wrong. Use the tools on the platform to proactively manage your network.
LinkedIn has worked hard to drive engagement on the platform. Like all social media platforms it monetises data and engagement through advertising.
Articles and updates in the news feed are useful and enable people to share their expertise; prompts to celebrate birthdays and work anniversaries less so. It’s the difference between a meaningful conversation and a passing social acknowledgement.
The LinkedIn algorithm rewards quality content and conversation with seemingly serendipitous connections. It’s a personal form of inbound media but quality is key.
Therein lies the value of LinkedIn. It’s a virtual personal network of reputation. It’s like Checkatrade, Glassdoors or TripAdvisor for professional expertise. It’s your community. The value it returns to you is directly proportional to the energy you invest.