My last post spoke on weak ties vs strong ties, and how important a social network is for “private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power” (Uzzi). The concept of weak ties first came from Mark S. Granovetter, currently a sociology professor at Stanford University and formerly at Johns Hopkins University. Granovetter introduced the idea of the power of weak ties in his 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties.”
These next few posts are more tactical in nature: how do you visualize your friends & connections in one screen?
LinkedIn got its start serving the business community. Thus, its members are disproportionately skewed towards those in marketing, sales, finance, human resources, etc. and I’ve found that there are fewer in the medical or health sciences fields on this network. LinkedIn is still worth checking out as some prominent physicians (e.g. Francis Lu, MD, from UC Davis and UC San Francisco) have a presence on the network. Plus, LinkedIn is attempting to cater more and more towards the general working professionals audience.
LinkedIn’s InMaps feature shows all of your professional connections on one screen. Here’s mine, for example:
The map represents the diversity, strength, and ties amongst the people you know:
Colors represent what LinkedIn thinks are your main networks, based on how densely clustered people are. They assign colors, while you name the labels. In my case, I can see that I made few connections (unfortunately) while I was at UC Berkeley, but that’s when LinkedIn was in its infancy. I started adding lots of friends while I worked through 2006. Despite knowing about 300 or 400 students and countless professors at my medical school, again, not as many people in the medical and biosciences fields use LinkedIn.
Also, my networks appear disproportionately skewed towards people and schools in California.
Larger-sized circles represent “people who are the most connected within that specific cluster or group.” These represent people who have stronger ties and know more people within your network than anyone else. My friend Nick here knows pretty much everyone in two of my big core groups. The flip side, of course, is that such people may not be in contact every day with these other folks. LinkedIn doesn’t show how deep of a relationship they have. Nick’s circle is highlighted below:
What LinkedIn does NOT show are “friends of friends.” This means that information brokers — “people who [occupy] a key role in a social network by connecting disparate groups of people” — don’t appear at all. Jaycee Chu, a very prominent director at UC Irvine’s Merage School of Business and an amazing person, knows an inordinate number of people given her position of directing students and faculty, yet her circle is smaller on the InMap diagram. Jaycee’s circle is highlighted below, and despite her 500+ connections, her circle below is for whatever reason smaller than Nick’s above.
LinkedIn is only useful if you actually add contacts that you trust and have met to begin with. I know of a particular CEO/founder who has hired social media interns to add key contacts across the nation to his network. As one open networker, Karalyn Brown (@InterviewIQ), puts it:
The down side of being an open networker is that I am fair game. Now I receive hundreds of emails from people I don’t know. Many of them have nothing to do with my business. People have assumed that since I am an open networker that I want to hear about their bridge building business in California or a great deal on grapes in Penang…. It sounds bizarre, because it is bizarre. I am simply being spammed. While I received a few interesting emails among all of these, I’m sure many more good contacts have been lost in the masses.
While it’s awesome to be associated with rockstars, the network won’t necessarily represent the people you trust or count on in case you need help in the future. If you just want to have a much looser connection with a rockstar or other contact, LinkedIn allows you to “follow” them & their posts without adding them as a connection.
The bottom line is, LinkedIn’s InMaps visualization is only as useful as your existing LinkedIn network.