Quantity versus quality on LinkedIn

In an article by NPR, “Don’t Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends,” it challenges the viability of having more than 150 friends on Facebook. The article cleverly relates a story about Bill Gore, the founder of Gor-Tex, who became so frustrated with being unable to name or recognize all of his employees, that he capped the number of people to 150 at each of his company’s locations.

Although I know little to nothing about Facebook, I see a comparison between this social networking application and the extremely popular professional networking application, LinkedIn. I firmly believe that the more contacts you have on LinkedIn, the more your network resembles your group of Facebook friends; they’re hard to keep track of.

British Anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, who is quoted in the NPR article, as well as in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, for her theory on the number of people you can actually know. Like Bill Gore, she caps it at 150.

“The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us,” she is quoted in The Tipping Point.

There has been a debate brewing among LinkedIn users over quantity versus quality contacts. Some who argue for quantity ask are you fully utilizing LinkedIn’s effectiveness by accepting only the people with whom you have developed a relationship, people you trust?

Others argue that building trust and long-term relationships is what networking is about; it’s a slow evolving process. Only after you have contacted a person seven times, some believe, will your contacts become true connections. (Seven is also a mystical number.)

For those who strive for quantity, the argument is a valid one. The more people you catch in your net, the better the possibility of starting something new. Who knows if one of the people you meet will turn into someone valuable? Business people bank on making as many connections as possible, as the more often their face appears on your home page, the more you’ll think about the products or services they sell.

Quality contacts are those with whom you have a relationship. In relationship building, LinkedIn can be an excellent tool for reaching out to people (contacts) that you’d otherwise not know about; but as the proponents of knowing the people who are in your network say, you have to follow up and reach out to them in a personal way. Then they become connections.

As a job search trainer, I recommend quality over quantity. Throwing out invitations like chum line may yield you some success reeling in fish; but having a focused networking strategy is far more effective.

If you’re a business person, quantity might be your thing. But as a jobseeker, showing 500+ contacts might show desperation or lack of focus.

You jobseekers should heed Bill Gore’s story and ask yourself, if a successful business owner, who employs thousands of people, understands the importance of a focused group of employees, shouldn’t you take the same approach to your networking strategy? What are your thoughts on this?

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