Is your online network too big?

By: Mike Southon

Date: 31 May 2013

Is your online network too big?/social media network{{}}Assiduous networkers such as myself know that, every six months or so, it's time to do some radical pruning of the people in our online networks.

This may surprise anyone who has ever been to an event featuring a so-called social networking guru. Their message is simple: if you are not on several online networks, connecting furiously on a regular basis, you are dead to the world and your company is at severe risk of imminent bankruptcy.

This is utter hokum, as anyone who really understands the art of networking will tell you. Any network is all about quality rather than quantity, the depth rather than the breadth of your connections.

Business is about trust, and you cannot build up any sensible level of trust with a few instant messages over the Internet. Real trust only happens when people meet face-to-face, which is why all meetings should be carefully scheduled, and if they have a proper business purpose, run to a pre-agreed agenda.

There is a strong argument that we only really know 150 people, sometimes defined as Dunbar's number, named after the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who calculated a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.

In networking terms, this represents people who, even if you meet them in a public place out of context, you would instantly recognise and with whom you would also remember the key elements of your business or personal relationship.

To this I would add the extra caveat that you also like them, to the extent that you would happily set aside some social time with them away from your busy work schedule.

Of course, we all have to spend some time with people we do not particularly like for work purposes, but the more we concentrate our business activities on those we like personally, the more we will enjoy life in general.

This is particularly true for salespeople, who are always encouraged by their managers to play what is called “the numbers game”. This is the simple premise that if you visit ten customers, you will have ten times more chance of making a sale.

But every experienced salesperson knows that the biggest single factor in securing a sale is that the prospect likes the person selling to them. This is about liking someone in the broadest sense, not just the personal manner of the salesperson; it also includes the overall premise of the company they work for, including product quality and value for money.

This is why the most expert networkers, such as very successful salespeople, may appear to have a very large network, but in reality work very hard indeed on a much smaller number of people. They are also aware that, as an extrovert, less people like them than they immediately assume. It is important for them to sense if they are irritating people with their naturally talkative style.

The converse is true of introverted or shy people, such as engineers and accountants. Rather more people like them than they first assume, and often the level of trust they have with customers is much higher than salespeople, who are often mistrusted when pushing for a sale.

So, my advice for all business people, whether they are expert networkers or more naturally reserved, is to go through your online address books and identify the 150 people you actually like the most, and make some quality time for them.

The mathematics is on your side. They also have 150 people they like and trust, which makes a total of 22,500 people in your close circle, or one degree separated. Whatever you do for a living, this is easily enough potential business for you and your company.

Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.