Networks: Thoughts on Quality vs. Quantity

reflectionClients and friends constantly ask whether quality or quantity is more important in developing social networks (as if they think there is an absolute answer ,^). We all understand generally that there is a trade-off between quality and quantity.  Social network activity can be time-consuming, and it is difficult to understand the return on investment. Here I’ll offer some reflections on how to think about your network strategy for Twitter followers, your LinkedIn network or your group of Facebook friends.

Networks: Think Relationships and Style

First, let’s realize that this discussion has nothing to do with digital social networks, which only make explicit the social networks we’ve all had since time immortal.  It applies to communities of all kinds: forget technology, how do you manage your social life in general?  Do you have fewer more intense relationships or more shallow ones?  What’s really funny about (digital) social networks is they seem new, but there’s really nothing new, they are just attempting to digitize human relationship activity. For perspective, read about Dunbar’s Number.

I have a couple perspectives because I advise companies and conduct my own business.  Speaking of business (this would apply to personal, too, but that’s a different context), think along 2 main axes: what resonates with you personally and (from a business perspective), what do your key relationships expect?  Personally, are you a naturally “loose tie” person who feels very comfortable introducing people to each other, neither of whom you know?  Or do you naturally like to know people better before you say you know them?

Business Purpose

Assuming a business context here, ultimately your social networking activity must serve your business goals if it is to be sustainable for your company. Think about clients and prospects. Ask yourself:

  • Do you work in a context in which you can do deals with people you don’t know that well as long as the terms are right?
  • Or, do you have a complex, big-ticket solution that requires you to develop a fair amount of trust in relationships before you can sell anything?

Loose tie vs. tight ties. I’ve been in professional services, so that’s a tight tie proposition that requires high trust level before you do business. If a CMO in my LinkedIn network wants to meet someone else and asks me for an intro, she is going to expect that I know the third person pretty well. If CMOs are key stakeholders for me, I need to be mindful of that. However, if I’m in tech recruiting, connecting Java programmers with employers, it’s more about having the right person at the right price at the right time. That can call for a more loose tie strategy.

I am experimenting with different strategies with different Twitter accounts.  I run a loose network on Facebook and a tight network on LinkedIn.  But I do so because I think that optimizes my business strategy.  By no means to I claim to have cracked the code, this is key R&D for me.


  • Getting back to numbers, though.  Digital social networking isn’t mature enough for us to say, “Given abc business strategy, you need a Twitter following of 125,000 and 55,000 Fans on your Facebook Page.”  This will be forthcoming within 5 years max.
  • Think more about the interactions you’re having rather than the number of people you have. Given your business strategy, what kind of interactions do you need to succeed?
  • In micro(economics), you learn to optimize production so that marginal cost = marginal revenue. Here, you need to ask what number of certain interactions do you need to achieve a meaningful outcome? (for example, xx relationships qualified according to F, T and W criteria). How can you improve the interactions, so you get those outcomes?
  • You need to resonate with your company culture and with your key stakeholders. This is not simple and is a key area of my consulting practice.
  • Read more about the Social Network Life Cycle Model, a key tool I use with clients.

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