• how to network

How To Network: 10 Insights For Understanding Support Systems

how to network

I’ve been spending Thursdays sharing great writing about friendship and community. [Read the whole category here.] Today, we continue on with a few pointers from Connected: How your friends’ friends’ friends affect everything you feel, think, and do by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD and James H. Fowler, PhD.

The premise of the book? Beyond our own social horizons…

[Tweet “Friends of friends start chain reactions that reach us, like waves arriving on our shore.”]

Below are some of the prerequisite insights that will help you wrap your head around how social networks work.

1. Ideas and messages are transmitted from person to person to person, reaching far beyond the initial conversation between two parties. Before the internet and robo-calls, we used to rely on phone-trees to get specific messages (for example, like school was cancelled) to the masses. One person would call their designated person, and that person would call their designated person, until information reached everyone in the social network. This same principle has also been used to scam people, through a Ponzai scheme in which new members are recruited to invest and the money flows up the structure to the more veteran members. This is the same basic principle at work as ideas travel, less purposefully and informally, across social networks.

2. In order for social networks to affect change, the people in them must have some sort of connection. They also must have a “contagion” (something worth transmitting) which flows across ties.

3. We choose our social networks based on something we have in common OR homophily (the word literally means “the love of  being alike”).

4. We also choose the structure of our network. We decide how many people we are willing to make the effort to be connected to and to what degree (or through which methods) we’re willing to stay connected.

5. In addition, we influence how our people connect to each other. We decide, for example, if we want to maintain separate circles–work friends, neighborhood friends, family friends, hobby-related friends–or whether we invite friends to gatherings to meet each other.

6. We control how we function inside the network. Are we an organizer? The center of attention? Are we more positioned on the sidelines?

7. While people have a number of relationships with all kinds of people, often times, those closest to them–those they discuss important matters with or spend free time with–are a less diverse mix than their pool of acquaintances.

8. The average American has just four close social contacts, with most having between two and six. 12% of Americans said they have no one to discuss important matters with or with whom to spend free time.

9. People who have a college degree usually have twice as many of these closer contacts than those who did not finish high school. 

[Tweet “People w/a college degree have 2x as many close contacts as those who didn’t finish high school. “]

10. If you are a typical American, the probability that any two of your social contacts know each other is about 52 percent.

[Tweet “The probability that any two of your social contacts know each other is about 52 percent. “]



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