The Importance of Weak Ties

A weak tie for me is an email-only or phone-only relationship with someone. The weak ties in your network are important (and underrated).  Virginia Postrel, in this Forbes article on networks, reminds us that people usually find jobs not through their close friends but through their weak ties. Excerpt:

To social scientists, a network (self-help or otherwise) usually implies a system that includes both subgroups in which everyone knows everyone else and "bridging ties," where an individual is connected to others outside those smaller circles. In an influential 1973 article, "The Strength of Weak Ties," sociologist Mark Granovetter, now a professor at Stanford, demonstrated that while job hunters use social connections to find work, they don’t use close friends. Rather, survey respondents said they found jobs through acquaintances–old college friends, former colleagues, people they saw only occasionally or just happened to run into at the right moment. New information, about jobs or anything else, rarely comes from your close friends because they tend to know the same things and people you do. One reason online forums are so valuable to participants like Franks is that they connect lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise know one another.

5 Responses to The Importance of Weak Ties

  1. Scott Young says:

    I completely agree, Ben. Peripheral ties are often the gates for new ideas, people and information. A close social circle provides stability and companionship. Combined with weak ties you aren’t insulated inside your social group.

    Good post, I’d like to see more about your networking theories.

  2. Alexander says:

    It depends, I guess. E.g. Brad Feld knows a lot of people via email only (e.g. he met Paul Kedrosky after two years of “on-line” relationship; I am yet to meet him “in flesh”).

    I used to be a commodity trader and I met only 5-10% of my business counterparties. Sometimes, tet-a-tet encounters bring in some “distraction” into an already-established relationship.

    Perhaps, the nature of the relationship (kindrid spirits, common hobbies, co-workers from different countries) determines when putting a name to a face adds value.

  3. Dave says:

    I think it would be better to characterize phone/email-only relationships as dominant examples of your weak ties, rather than exclusively. Even a few in-person meetings (particularly if they are not one-on-one) doesn’t make a close tie.

  4. Ted Gonder says:

    Perhaps in a future post you could elaborate on the ethics of tie-maintaining tactics. Often I feel (and I doubt that I’m alone) that instrumental networking (such as the expansion of weak ties) is hard to prevent from being overly Machiavellian. I’d be interested to hear how you view the maintenance of such ties.

    Cheers

  5. Ben Casnocha says:

    If your motivations are pure — that is, you genuinely find the person
    interesting — it shows. If they're Machiavellian, it shows. Tactics are
    tactics. The mindset one has going into it makes the difference.

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