Social Media and the value of weak ties

Andrew McAfee recently published two great posts helping guide companies through the choices of applications available in the Enterprise 2.0 landscape.

In his most recent post, How to Hit the Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye, he provides an interesting framework for how to match the e2.0 task with the tool, whether it is a wiki, social network, blog, or other. It appears to be a very good framework, though I’m still digesting some of the component/task matches and may come back with comments.

In that post, and this previous post titled, The Ties that Find, Andy hits on a very interesting point, pulling from the work of Mark Granovetter, titled “The Strength of Weak Ties” to articulate the value of Social Networking Software (SNS) to those executives that don’t quite see how all of these connections matter.

The notion, as McAfee puts it, that those people connected to you by “weak ties” bridge networks (of other potentially valuable folks for certain situations) better than those (fewer) people connected to you by “strong ties”, makes a compelling case for the value of SNS. Andy does a great job articulating this point, so I will not try to repeat it here.

It’s a common source of debate among those of us using SNS services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. about how many connections to add. Many people are trying to limit the number of connections they have in these ecosystems. McAfee and Granovetter seem to suggest the more the merrier, and more productive.

At our BSG Alliance Senior Executive Summit, where Clay Christensen spoke to our member customers, the topic of thinking about your product in terms of the “job it does for its customer” came up, as you’d naturally expect. We discussed the Blackberry as a product that does the job of making knowledge workers productive during short snippets of down time (such as during a presentation!).

I find that Facebook and Twitter in part do the job of keeping me aware in short snippets of downtime each day as to what my extended network of mostly ‘weak ties’ are doing (both small things and major life/career shifts). The job these SNS services are doing for me in part is to keep me connected and informed of the whereabouts and whatabouts of a substantially larger number people than I have ever been able to remain connected to in the past. These snippets get burned into my brain and my searchable SNS services for recall in an On Demand manner when required. Yes, it’s also entertaining.

This is what is enabled by digitizing the social graph as the Facebook team would put it. I cannot imagine a company that would not want its employees to grow their ability to link their weak ties together. The value of this type of social graphing, while difficult to quantify, seems enormous.