Take a moment to think about your network, you’ll likely have close connections that you regularly see or speak to, and then those more distant ties that you engage with less.
In my early days of recruiting, I aspired to my more seasoned peers, who had carefully crafted and coiffed effective large networks of contacts, connections and relationships. I knew the value of building and maintaining these ties and certainly in my industry, it’s a given that anyone worth their salt, will have their own carefully cultivated network of contacts.
It sounds like a lot of work and for good reason but this isn’t an opportunity for me to naval-gaze about my own network. Let’s get to the more subtle science about the people that might sit in your network but that don’t have much engagement with. The former colleague who changed industries, your childhood neighbour you’re friends with on Facebook or your friend from university who moved to Australia.
Why mention the people you might only engage with infrequently? Because it’s these longer term ties that a recent paper co-authored by MIT Sloan professor Dean Eckles and Eaman Jahani, PhD ’21 focuses on with fascinating results.
They defined ties as, unlike business connections, the people whom you know but with whom you share no other mutual connections.
Their study included examining thousands of public interactions among all Facebook users in the U.S. and in a six-month period. These researchers found that people with more long ties were more likely to be better off financially.
The study also found that people who had experienced more disjointed life experiences, such as moving jobs, pivoting to new industries or relocating to new geographical areas, were likely to enjoy a higher amount of long term ties and this has been supercharged thanks to social media platforms.
As a result of maintaining these long ties, their networks were more diverse and they had increased access to economic opportunities.
To quote Dean Eckles “If a close friend has valuable information, it’s likely the same valuable information that a lot of mutual friends have as well. On the other hand, long ties give you access to information and opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Let’s dig further, 50 years ago, Mark Granovetter, who edited that same paper about long ties, researched the strength of weak ties.
He found that individuals a person knows peripherally and rarely engages with are more likely to introduce them to previously unknown opportunities than the strong ties they know quite well.
A 2010 paper further pointed to the value of dormant ties, those previously strong ties that you’ve lost touch with but who could offer support upon reconnecting.
The study of interpersonal connections has captivated sociologists, economists, and management professionals for years and I certainly won’t attempt to unpack all this here but for balance, I do feel it’s important to mention the matriarch of meaningful human connection: Brene Brown.
Engaging with people, especially those from the past can open up feelings of vulnerability, but by embracing this, it will lead to joy and more meaningful connections with others.
In summary, there’s scientific evidence that proves that the person you lost touch with years ago might just enjoy hearing from you and it could open up a host of professional opportunities for you both.