LinkedIn and the Meaning of Connections

6 03 2012

I’ve just passed the 500 mark on LinkedIn and it feels wrong.  Let me explain.  I can’t possible know 500 people.  I’m fascinated and largely persuaded by the work of  British anthropologist Robin Dunbar.

His theory known as ‘Dunbar’s number’ is a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable relationships. That’s the sort where I know someone, they know me and we understand our relationship.  It is commonly held to be around 150. Dunbar says the “limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size”.

So how did I get here, my LinkedIn group was a list of people who I knew well personally or more commonly had worked with as colleagues, client, supplier or partners in various projects. So what went wrong? Why don’t I really know all of the people who I purport on-line to be connected to?  Here is my list of ways in which I think it’s gone wrong.

  • I’ve been on LinkedIn for around five years. Some people I knew well then, I don’t know well any more.
  • In building up my initial contact list I was probably over enthusiastic about finding and adding people.
  • A desire not to offend. I wrote a note to someone a couple of years ago politely declining an invitation to connect as we had no previous connection.  I received a vitriolic reply.  I still decline these invitations but accept others where the connection is tenuous.
  • Confusion. I think many people have a different view to mine on the nature of LinkedIn and networking on-line in general.

It may not matter but my network is clearly, to me and anyone that looks in, now a loose one. LinkedIn doesn’t annotate my actual number of connections any more. I’m like many other people a 500+.

Is there something I should do differently? There probably is. I should regard my online network as the loose association that it is and concentrate more on my real world network.  Obvious when you think about it.



4 responses

6 03 2012
Sean Fleming (@flemingsean)

I totally see where you’re coming from. But 500 in five years looks exactly like what you describe here… the gradual increase of new contacts, with older ones left in situ.

It’s people who join and within a matter of weeks break through the 500 barrier that look to me like they are less concerned with a valuable network and more with being perceived to be popular.

6 03 2012

Finally, someone who see’s it all the same as I do. Admittedly my Facebook has reached 500 people – but I talk to less than a 50 of them, and never all at once.
On LinkedIn, I have about 120 connections. But only because I wanted to know the people, or I had met them at least once. Yet I rarely use the service to chat.
Many social-connectivity sites are very voyeuristic, not truly used for discussions. Reciprocal promotion is fine for a while, but eventually turns into a dead-end with no consequence.
As an online entrepreneur with twelve years experience online, you’d think I’d say otherwise. Yet I say ‘Thank you’ posting an article that succinctly says how I feel more often about the whole online dating, oops I mean connections scene.

24 01 2015

Great idea- and I couldn’t agree more, as someone who regularly prunes my own linked in contacts. But…as CIPR president, whose only means of contact on the CIPR website is the link to your linked in profile, then how do we contact you when it comes to something significant about the CIPR or an initiative you are pursuing? Happy to use an e mail as that is how your predecessor managed it. Over to you, Rob.

26 01 2015

Email whilst clunky is the most efficient means at our disposal. I’ve sent LinkedIn messages to people that take weeks for a response. As CIPR President from January 2016 (Sarah Pinch is the current president) my principle role is to chair Board and Council and to represent the Institute externally. I’m keen to hear member views on policy but my role will be voluntary, I’ll have a dedicated CIPR email address but most member enquiries will be better directed at the full time secretariat led by CEO Alastair MacCapra.

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