Social media and the strength of weak ties

By October 5, 2007 6 Comments

I was leafing through a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point yesterday and came across this passage:

when it comes to finding out about new jobs – or, for that matter, new information, or new ideas – “weak ties” [with people] are always more important than strong ties.

To explain – weak ties are with acquaintances and strong ties are with good friends.  The logic behind this thought (which initially belongs to Granovetter) is that your good friends live in pretty much the same world as you and are therefore unlikely to offer much exposure to anything novel whereas acquaintances by definition move in different circles and are therefore more likely to see and hear things that you haven’t come across before.
I was struck by the thought this morning that social networking and micro-blogging are all about keeping those weak ties alive.  At the weakest end, when I link to you in LinkedIn we know we will never lose each other’s contacts again.  Getting stronger, when we become friends on Facebook we share a bit more information and have a place to go and get current on what is happening in each others lives.  And, getting stronger still, when we microblog via Twitter or Facebook status updates or any other medium we are fleetingly touching our networks in a way that reminds them of our existence and strengthens our connection.  And, finally, full on blogging WordPress style does the same thing.
When I think about which of my friends use these tools the most it is the ones with the biggest and strongest networks.  They intuitively understand the strength of weak ties.  Also, importantly, they are the type of people who enjoy meeting new people and spending time with mere acquaintances.
When I think about my friends who eschew social networks they are the ones who prefer sticking with people they already know well.

This explains why social networks and Twitter have spread so fast – they are a great tool for the hyper-social amongst us.

For the rest of the world, who aren’t hyper-social, it is maybe a fascination with their more famous and popular friends brings them into Facebook etc.  Which in turn maybe explains in turn why 10% are content creators and 90% lurkers.