The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks

“WEC’s Closing General Session by Nicholas Christakis will reinforce how people aren't merely social animals in the usual sense, for we don't just live in groups. We live in networks -- and we have done so ever since we emerged from the African savannah. Via intricately branching paths tracing out cascading family connections, friendship ties, and work relationships, we are interconnected to hundreds or even thousands of specific people, most of whom we do not know. We affect them and they affect us.” –excerpt from the Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress 2012 website

During a pre-event webinar, I discovered that Christakis’s definition of social networks might not have been the same as mine. When most of us think of social networks these days, we assume you are talking about online social networks. From what I heard on the webinar, he will be literally talking about the network of people who are your co-workers, friends and family and the people who are their co-workers, friends and families. I will, therefore, attempt to make the connection to the impact that social networking online has had on us recently. 

Let’s start with the online social network that shows you who you are connected to and who they are connected to: LinkedIn. I love this platform because I can see who my 2nd and 3rd connections are without my 1st connections having to realize that I might have something in common with one of them and introduce us. One of the things that Christakis said in the webinar is that we do not have much influence beyond our 3rd degree connections. I would tend to agree with that. However, because of LinkedIn, I have many more 1st degree connections and therefore, a larger number of 2nd and 3rd degree connections. You might say that my 2K+ connections on LinkedIn are artificial because I don’t really know all of those people and therefore cannot influence them, much less their connections. While that is true to a certain degree, if I post an article on my status update that they find interesting, I am influencing them and if they share it with anyone, I am influencing their connections.

A lesser known platform also tries to analyze the influence you have among your connections and gives you a score from 1 to 100. Klout is a score that originally calculated how influential it thought you were based on Twitter statistics. Now, they have incorporated Facebook and Google+ statistics as well. Klout ranks the number of people you influence, how much you influence them and how influential your network is. Here are a few of the scores Klout combines to come up with your overall score:
  • Network Impact measures the influence of your network. 
  • Amplification indicates how much you influence people. 
  • True Reach is the number of people you influence, both within your immediate network and across their extended networks. 

The gage for all of this is essentially the same as the example I gave with LinkedIn. If I tweet something, whether it be a link to someone else’s article, a link to my blog post, an original thought, I am influencing anyone who reads it. The real question is if someone reads my blog post, are they truly influenced by me? Does it depend on the quality of article? …whether or not they are able to create an actionable change in their lives? Do new ideas influence us whether or not we do anything about them? We hear a lot about “Content is King” but I have heard a few people say that while content is important, context is more important. Maybe we only influence someone if we reach them with an idea at the exact time and place that they can actually do something with it. Tell me what you think.
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