Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.
It’s nearly 50 years since Mark Granovetter published his hugely influential work1 on the value of weak ties. He countered the prevailing wisdom that networks, including social networks, are founded on the number of strong connections within them. Instead, he argued, their value comes from the number of weak ties we have in the network.
His work obviously predated the social media age, but his findings hold true, as shown by a recent study2 from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and LinkedIn, which showed that weaker social connections tend to be more beneficial for our careers than stronger ties.
The authors explain that despite Granovetter’s work being hugely influential and widely cited, there have been no tangible large-scale experimental causal tests on the impact of the theory on employability.
Granovetter argued that weak ties are beneficial because they allow people from distant clusters to share valuable information that could lead to various new opportunities, as well as more innovation, and so on. Granovetter explicitly highlighted the value of weak ties for our careers because they can introduce us to important information about the labor market.
The researchers conducted a five-year experiment via LinkedIn to see if the theory held up by tapping into the platform’s “People You May Know” algorithm to allow them to test the theory of weak ties. They randomly assigned users to receive a greater or lesser number of weak tie recommendations before examining the labor mobility of the two groups over a five-year period.
They found that weaker ties did indeed seem to bolster job mobility, but there appeared to be a distinct inverted U-shaped relationship between our job mobility and the strength of ties in our network. In other words, moderately weak ties were most influential, with the strongest ties least influential.
“It’s not a matter of ‘the weaker the better’ or ‘the stronger the worse,’” the researchers explain. “Our results show that the greatest job mobility comes from moderately weak ties—social connections between the very weakest ties and ties of average relationship strength.”
Interestingly, the power of weak ties was found to be more important in high-tech sectors of the economy, perhaps because of the rapid pace of change in these sectors requires a constant updating and exchanging of information.
The authors believe that their findings illustrate the need for policymakers to update the way in which they assess labor markets, not least due to the introduction of digital platforms, such as LinkedIn.
“Policymakers need to recognize that the labor market, like all aspects of the economy, is being digitized.” they explain. “These digital platforms and the algorithms that run them have become essential labor market drivers.”
The findings also provide the social networks themselves with an additional way to provide value to users, while employers and employees alike should be using the findings to cultivate their network and develop those weak ties.
“Weak ties on social networks can be an extremely useful part of managing your career, promotions, advancement, and even wages,” the authors conclude.
Article source: Weak Ties Really Do Help Our Career.