Why your social graph should be bigger (not smaller)

Map of Top 50 UK PR people and followers (via flickr.com/photos/porternovelli)

I meet a lot of people who are interested in segmenting their social graphs — keeping Facebook for friends, Twitter for fun, and keeping business contacts, well, focused on business — and they are missing something.

It’s Too Hard

It’s really hard today to remember how you met someone when co-workers can friend you on Facebook, people you meet at a conference can connect to you on LinkedIn, and any number of people can find you on Twitter. I fully respect the need of some to separate out their lives so that they can maintain separation between the areas of their life, and my opinion is that spending time filtering and segmenting your social graph takes away from the very benefits that happen when your social graph is bigger.

Make Friends and Influence People (classic advice, still applicable today)

I think there are two specific benefits to increasing the size of your social graph: you can make connections between people more easily, and you can answer questions related to your interests and spark conversations. First, think of the last time you looked for a job: did you answer a classified ad or fill out a form online, or ask a friend? It turns out that the vast majority of jobs available are referred by friends or “loose ties” (I think the figure is about 85%), so don’t you want your social graph to be able to feed you the kind of jobs and opportunities that you want? By this, I mean if you’re already engaging in the communities where you’d like to be included, you’re more likely to come up in conversation the next time someone in that community is looking for a leader.

How can you engage, you say? It’s easy – do what you already do in real life: have conversations. There are plenty of ways to help, and they don’t take all of your time. You can send someone an email when you are moved by something they wrote or something they did. You can comment on an item on a Facebook Business page. You can answer a question on a Twitter hash tag (you can even use tools like InboxQ, which find the questions people are asking on a specific keyword on Twitter, and gives you a console to answer them right within the Chrome Browser.)

The Bigger the Social Graph, the More Accurate the Recommendation Set

This may seem like counterintuitive advice, but I think that the bigger your social graph, you will receive more accurate recommendations from other systems (so long as these systems take into account your activity and not just your membership.) By using your own activity as the signal, they’ll be able to cut through the noise in your ever-growing social graph – even if you can’t do it manually. So build your social graph as big as you want, and engage with the people who interest you – the fine-grained controls and recommendations will be better for you than for your friends who insist on controlling the information flow for themselves. Is this less private? (Probably.) But it also opens up amazing opportunities that otherwise would not exist.

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