A Consultant's View

Prairie Trail Software, Inc. ............................................................. August 2009

Too many connections, not enough value

Is your networking actually helping you? Between MySpace, FaceBook, and LinkedIn and many more, electronic social networking has taken off and many people claim that you need to have as many "friends" and "connections" as possible. There are people with many thousands of "friends" and "connections". But is that really helping? I've been on LinkedIn and strangers are sending me all sorts of invitations to link up. Some of them have 500 to a couple of thousand "connections" already.

A recent speech by ICANN president Rod Beckstrom suggests that many people's online networking efforts are not helping them. For a while there, these social networking companies were valued by how many people were on them. This is based on the networking science that showed that people who have a lot of real life connections have made more money in their lives. But do these electronic forms give the same value as real life?

The best counter example is the rumor that Bill Gates had a FaceBook account with over 10,000 "friends". The rumor is that he dropped that account. It wasn't bringing him the value he wanted.

Therein lies the problem. Having a "connection" online does not mean that there is real value to that connection. When we look at human networks, there are two levels of value. One value is that we know that the other person exists. The other value is when we have a relationship of some kind with that other person. The science of networks was measuring just that we knew each other, not the level of the relationship. Based on that fuller understanding, Rod Beckstrom suggests a different way of putting a valuation on an online network: it is the sum total of meaningful transactions on that network that has value, not the network itself.

That brings some sanity to our efforts online. While we can have all sorts of electronic "friends" and "connections", the ones that we actually interact with on a regular basis are our real friends and bring value. Thus, for our online networking to bring value back to us, we need to invest value into the network. Of course, each of us will do that in a different way, but we need to have more than just a thousand connections. In order to get value from those connections, we need to invest value into them.