Deep connections with people take time and energy. They are essential, but when it comes to getting a job or expanding business, research has found that weak ties are more effective than strong ones.
Strong ties represent people you already know and probably see quite often. This includes family and close friends. They occupy a great deal of your time and since you know them well, they are not likely to know much more about business prospects, cutting edge technology, and emerging markets than you do.
The Strength of Weak Ties
Weak connections, on the other hand, occupy a very different world than you do. They are likely to know something you do not. Because of this, they can give you access to worlds that offer opportunities that would not have existed before.
Weak ties form bridges and help you walk into a world you don’t know.
That new world may be the world in which your new client lives. It may also a way to broaden your job prospects or information networks.
Understanding the Value of Social Media
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times: “I don’t use social media because I value quality and not quantity in my friendships.” Remarks like these miss the point of social media—it serves an entirely different purpose.
Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others are not substitutes for strong ties. They are not your family or close friends, and they are not places to build close relationships.
However, social media is another tool to broaden your relationships. Whether it’s a grocery store, post office, local bar, or your favorite social media site, it’s a place where you have a nodding acquaintance with lots of people. You learn bits and pieces about a lot of different things.
Social media is filled with weak ties. And weak ties represent ways to broaden your horizon and expand your opportunities.
Trolling for Contacts
As an FBI counterintelligence agent, I spent a lot of time developing weak ties with a variety of people. One never knew which direction an investigation could take so I had a virtual rolodex filled with names. When we need information we don’t have, we tend to ask our weak ties because they have access to more diverse data.
A few years back I was at a reception and met a man who ran an educational training program for kids with special needs. There was no obvious connection he would have to any of the Russian spies I was investigating, but we kept in touch. A year or so later he was invited to a philanthropic dinner where he met a Russian consular official and they hit it off.
He called me to let me know and I suggested that he follow up to see if they shared any common business interests. As it turned out, the Russian consulate was going to host a reception held for a Russian educational delegation and he was invited.
He now had access to a group of people who were very wary about inviting strangers into their midst, for obvious reasons. They were expecting FBI sources with backgrounds in the hi-tech industry or politics, not special education.
I could not have predicted the way those relationships would develop when we first met. But that is the nature of a weak tie.
As leaders and managers, you do not know which way your business will go either. In this volatile economy, you cannot predict which types of contacts and business sources will be able to answer your question or help you make the next move. Since they operate outside of your environment, your weak connections may be the ones to provide the bridge you need to walk into a new world of opportunities.
How do you maintain contact with weak ties? How can you expand your network of weak ties? How do you utilize your network of weak ties?
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