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Social Networking: When Loose Ties Draw Tighter

Early on in my learning about Social Media I came across the concept of "The Loose Tie Network" and it has defined my understanding of Social Networking ever since (first explained to me by Kate @kcarruthers Carruthers  and Stephen @trib Collins .)
 The simple idea is that the tenuous acquaintance afforded by Social Networks like LinkedIn and Network; combined with mutual, stronger connections in common - means new or dormant relationships can be forged far faster.  Because of the power of networks, loosely acquainted people can keep up to date with each other with very minimal effort.  (LinkedIn expert Tom Skotidas often talks about a similar concept called: The "Mere-Exposure Effect" - see slide 33 of this presentation.)
In practice it works like this: you have a former colleague Mary who is connected with target contact Bob.  Because you are visibly connected with Mary, Bob might accept or reciprocate your invitation to connect on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn more readily than if you had no mutual connection at all.  Over time Bob learns more about you by osmosis via your updates, and discovers topics in which you share an interest.  He may even like, Retweet or comment on your posts, and visa versa.  The time comes when you have a business proposition for Bob, or some other reason to connect.  Even though you have never met or spoken, the proximity facilitated by Social Networking means that first, a meeting can be easily secured; and second that that meeting flows easily and the relationship quickly matures because of a pre-existing affinity.
But this power works very effectively not only with new relationships, but helps to maintain old ones very well too.  I had a perfect example of this power only the other day that, as simple as it sounds, I thought worth capturing as it exemplifies this power all too well.
I was shopping in the supermarket and bumped into a former colleague I had not seen for maybe 8 or 9 years.  In fact it had been so long it is unlikely we would have recognized each other had we not seen photo updates of each other on Facebook from time to time.  Quickly we were able to talk about my recent trip to India as she had seen my blog posts on the subject.  Then we were able to discuss her stints in New York and Paris where she and her family had lived for most of the intervening years - about which I knew from the Facebook photos of Time Square and of the Eiffel Tower and the status updates celebrating foreign public holidays.
The conversation moved quickly to PR, as we had been colleagues in a PR agency in the early 'naughties'. She had seen on LinkedIn that I had gone out on my own and that my field was now Social Media.  She mentioned that she might want to re-enter the workforce now that both her children were in school.  She explained that having been out for a few years now, she felt behind on Social Media and perhaps I could bring her up to speed.  She mentioned also that she thought some others of our ex-colleagues were in the same boat and perhaps I could do a training session.
Outcome number one: a training sale for me.
In turn I realized that I often came across PR roles in my network and that if I saw one that suited her area of speciality, which was different to mine, then I could forward it onto her.
Outcome number two: a new agent in her job search.  
Finally, she mentioned a mutual acquaintance that we had both worked with but with whom I had lost touch with, but hoped to re-acquaint myself in the hope she - as the now-owner of a successful PR agency - might be able to refer business.
Outcome number three: a possible referral introduction for me.
The whole conversation lasted a maximum of 5 minutes but was pleasant, friendly and easy - very unusual for two people who hadn't seen each other for almost a decade and entirely enabled by Social Networks.  By way of contrast, the very next day in a Cinema food court I saw an old journalist contact with whom I had once had a very cordial business relationships, but with whom I had entirely lost contact - about 8 or 9 years ago.  We have never been connected on any Social Network.  We did not speak. We did not even acknowledge each other. It was too long ago.
For those who say that they do not have time for Social Networks, they are missing the point.  Social Networks save enormous amounts of time in the way they help you maintain and curate many hundreds of relationships so that they remain warm and friendly.  Or they help easily and quickly broker new ones.
The enormous effort of developing net new relationships or warming up very, very old ones is not only is sometimes entirely ineffective.
Think about it.  When was the last time your cold-call voicemail or email-from-the-blue got returned quickly, or at all?
Picture credit 1: Paul Adams 2011
Picture credit 2: Wikipedia