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The (Weak) Ties That Bind: The Jobhunting/Social Network Connection

Today, my good friend and fellow deep thinker Tim Walker pointed me toward an article from Time.com called Using Twitter and Facebook to Find a Job. This prompted a short, private back-and-forth on Twitter about the benefits of social media for work seekers and the overarching connections to Richard Bolles. It’s Richard Bolles who has come to be most commonly connected to the high-value idea of developing “weak ties” in our professional networking.

What are these weak links and why are they so darn valuable? I know one of the first groups we tend to reach out to when we need new work are close friends and family. It makes a certain amount of sense: if these folks won’t come to our aid, then who can we really rely on in our time of need? It turns out our strongest links may not be the most effective, however. Here’s the counter-intuitive approach from Bolles:

It makes sense that the people you are closest to will have more in common with you; they will tend to have the same interests as you, and they will tend to know the same people as you; there is a lot of overlap between your circle of 250 and their circle of 250. And because of that overlap, they will be more likely to know what you know. And in the same way, they will be less likely to know what you don’t know; in this case, of possible job-openings. It is when you start getting farther away from your core, and start finding people with less overlap between your 250 and theirs, that you will find the people and information that you, and those closest to you, are less likely to know. Though it seems paradoxical, it is the people that you know the least well, who are most likely to be helpful in your job hunt. This is called “The Strength of Weak Ties.” (emphasis added)

Bolles’s work is a wonderfully useful extension of the work proposed by Mark Granovetter around the same time in the early 1970s (and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they built off even earlier work). If you’re inclined to read up on some truly outstanding academic work, take a look at this later article from  Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. You’ll find many of the same principles. Here’s a wee snippet:

It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time.

So what can we quickly draw from these juicy bits of knowledge? Don’t be afraid to reach out to individuals not in your tight inner circle. Even the most tangential connection may be the one that helps you settle into your next work gig. If the thought of contacting people you haven’t spoken to in years is daunting, start smaller. Reach out to people you know, industries you’re familiar with, groups you belong to and then take it one step outward.

  • Use LinkedIn to find new colleagues and groups who are connected to your own contacts.
  • Join in on Twitter and seek out interesting people. Start up a dialogue there and expand your network.
  • Go offline and volunteer with a nonprofit. Give five hours a week and you’ll be amazed at the diversity of people you’ll meet in your work. Plus it has the bonus of making a contribution to a worthy cause.

If you’ve had success at developing your own weak links to find work, what did you do? Love to hear your stories.

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The Twitter Retention Problem: Oprah, Aloha and Your Community

I tried my hardest to not write a post with the words Oprah and Twitter in it, but I just couldn’t steer away from the soft glowing light of popular discussion (though I guess I am a bit late).

So Oprah and a continuing bevy of celebrities are hitching their brand wagons to Twitter and spurring their faithful followers to give the microblogging service a try. Just one problem: these new members are walking in and just as quickly walking out. From Nielsenwire Blog, Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth:

When Facebook and MySpace were emerging networks like Twitter is now, their retention rates were twice as high. When they went through their explosive growth phases, that retention only went up, and both sit at nearly 70 percent today. Twitter has enjoyed a nice ride over the last few months, but it will not be able to sustain its meteoric rise without establishing a higher level of user loyalty. Frankly, if Oprah can’t accomplish that, I’m not sure who can.

What does this say about Twitter? I’m not going to cast doom-and-gloom on the service but there are two lessons anyone who is building or managing communities ought to consider:

Welcoming. Twitter’s been overhyped lately and the fact that folks are coming and going really shouldn’t be a shock. All the media-fed mania did was increase the curiosity of folks who wanted to see what the hubbub was about. And when they got there, they were likely disappointed by what they found because there really is no community with Twitter. It’s a social network that inspires community. Because its a social network first, there is no formal welcome, no Twitter 101, no management plan for helping newbies feel comfortable with the lingo. (Come to think of it, maybe Twitter really does need a Chief Community Officer.)

When a newcomer visits your online community for the first time, do they feel welcome and safe to explore the community space? Or do they feel like they’ve just exited the plane into a strange land where their first inclination is to want to get right back on and go home? Think how nice it is to have a friendly gal or guy waiting on you when you deplane, hand you a lei, and say “Aloha.” If that happens, you might want to hang around and explore all your destination offers. Have a welcome strategy and prepare to execute it in a way that will scale just in case Oprah decides to make your community her next cause célèbre.

Integrating. But don’t stop at “Hello!” or “Aloha!” if you’re still dreamily hanging out at the Hawaii example. Most communities that fail do so because they don’t take the next step which is engagement. Why do some people try out Twitter then lose interest after a few weeks? There could be many reasons and would be a good use case for ethnographic work. I’ll propose one possibility: lack of ongoing value. We’re inundated by so many other distractions (like kids, spouse…okay only joking there). But the competition for eyes, minds and hearts is fierce. Is your community maintaining consistent value for your members? Do they feel engaged by their interactions in your community? Whether your community is tied to a cause-based nonprofit or a business, these are just a few of the questions you need to ask.

This topic of engagement is one of my favorites and one that fuels my own anthropological research. It was also a specialty in my association membership work so I can relate to how challenging it is not only attract new members but keeping them. Yet, retention is crucial so think strategically and make a plan. If you’ve found great ideas for keeping engagement levels high among your new members, share them with others in the community here.

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