Is there a correlation between your number of “friends” or “connections” and the true value of your online business network? If you have 500 “friends” (assuming you use Facebook for business networking), are you more connected from a networking sense than someone with just 150?
Some might say only quantity matters. For instance, you can go to TweetValue and they’ll tell you how much your Twitter profile is worth. Whatever algorithm they use to make this calculation, I have to believe it places an enormous value on quantity by counting your followers, and their followers and so on and so on. But can pure quantity translate into quality? Personally, I am not sure that you can convert subjective variables from a Twitter account into an objective value without some guesswork involved.
Yesterday morning on the way into work I was listening to Business Week’s Behind the Cover podcast with John A. Byrne and Stephen Barker entitled “What’s a Friend Worth? Profitable Insights from Digital Ties.” Byrne and Barker said that the average Facebook user has 500 friends, but only actively follows 40 (8.0%) of the 500. Of those 40, they only communicate with 20 (4.0%) and out of those 20, they only keep in close touch with 10 (2.0%). Viewed on this level, “quantity” is irrelevant – people only appear to be following 8% of their entire network.
I would argue that pure quality comes first. Having people in your network that are relevant to your endeavours or that may be true movers and shakers in an industry will help you ten-fold – people like that open doors (which is half the battle). But don’t ignore the fact that having quantity in your network may serve up some surprising opportunities that you would have otherwise missed. For example, landing just one solid business lead (let’s say for a potential angel investment in Pennsylvania) through your network for no reason other than the fact your old college roomate, who lives in California and sat next to the target’s CEO on a plane ride, knew you were an angel investor in Pennsylvania because of your LinkedIn contact. All this despite the fact that your old college roomate may fall into the 92% of your network that you may not actively follow. Only through an online networking site, which eliminates commonplace networking limitations such as geography and time, could such an unlikely contact and referral been possible.
Remember the old adage - you get 80% of your revenues from only 20% of your customers. I think this is a great way to tie it all together. The 20% (the quality players) provide you with the most bang for your buck, but the other 80% (the quantity players) keep your lights on, pay for your rent and some other overhead. I would argue that in the networking context, you need both to get through the good times and the bad.