To Expand or Not to Expand Connections
Users of social media often face the perennial issue of whether to add too many followers and connections or just maintain a few close business and professional connections in their accounts. On LinkedIn, your direct connections are also your followers. LinkedIn users with numerous connections and followers are usually honored by the network as thought leaders and influencers. On Facebook, your followers are your friends. On Twitter and other social media sites, your followers are those who follow you regardless of whether you follow them back or not. But aside from posting quality articles to attract many followers, there is no other effective way to expand one’s network except to send or accept invites. But how can one becomes an influencer if s/he is encouraged to just remain closely connected with his/her limited number of connections (around 500 on LinkedIn), discouraged to connect with the unfamiliar others or become open networkers (LIONs) or to go beyond the maximum limit of connections and friends? (e.g. 30,000 on LinkedIn or 5,000 friends on Facebook). Which is which: to limit one’s connections to maintain intimacy within the social network and to limit his/her social influence? Or expand one’s network to expand his/her social influence and to lessen his/her group intimacy in the network?
Users face a dilemma with regard to the ideal number of connections and followers in the social media. To gain too many connections and followers implies lesser time for the user to interact closely with each member the social network: the higher is the number of followers, the lesser is his/her available time to spend quality time with all of them in the social network. But If the user does not accept too many connections and followers, especially those who are unfamiliar or strangers to him/her in order to maintain a strong bonding in the network, s/he limits his/her range of social influence and possibility to connect with the right people who might help him/her in his/her business or professional career. Thus, a recruiter who connects only with people whom s/he personally knows in real or digital life is incapacitated to meet new people and connect with the right applicants who can fill up his/her wanted list. Moreover, a limited number of connections, friends or followers in the social media implies low social impact which can make one’s profile less attractive to people and to the business world.
The Sociological Significance of Connections and Followers
There is a sociological basis why having many connections and followers is desirable than having only a few. There is a grain of truth to the idea that the number of followers or connection is the user’s “social” net worth in the social media and status scale. Sir Richard Branson who has more than 6 million followers on LinkedIn is obviously has a higher social net worth than anyone else in the world’s largest professional and business social networking site. Please take note that we are talking here of “social” not economic or monetary net worth which is the main criteria being used in identifying the richest people in the world. Some top influencers such as Branson or Gates, possess both a high social class (wealth) and social status (prestige). But there are others who are not be very rich and yet very high in social status because of their unique skills, level of achievement and high number of connections and followers in the social media Thus, a user with only 100 connections is obviously lesser in social status compared to somebody with 5,000 followers or more. The indicator of social class is primarily wealth, property and monetary net worth while social status is the person’s credential and level of prestige. In social media especially in LinkedIn where every user is presumed to belong to the middle or upper social classes, social status based on the user’s prestige (as reflected in the profile), popularity and number of connection and followers can be a strong differentiating factor among social media users.
The Power of Connection and Followers
The power of having more connections and followers can be felt directly by the user through the power of his/her invites: The higher is his/her number connections and followers, the more powerful is his/her invites in the social media. The acceptance rate of his/her invites is directly correlated with his/her number of connections and followers: the higher is the number of followers, the higher is the rate of acceptance of the invites. Having more followers and connections can also have a bandwagon effect: Who can resist connecting with popular accounts in case they invite you? Can you turn down an invitation, for instance, if Richard Branson, President Obama, Guy Kawasaki or other influencers ask you to connect on LinkedIn? Being connected with someone with a big following has an advantage to the one who is invited. If that person mentions you in their posts and updates or likes or comments in your posts or updates, his/her thousands of followers can view them and see your profile picture and headline as well, thus expanding your personal brand.
Resolving the Dilemma: Maintain Bonding with Close Friends/Connections but Expand Network
There is a third way to resolve the dilemma of whether to gain more followers or not:in the social media: Maintain and expand gradually one’s small group of intimate connections within one’s social network but continue to expand the number of connections and followers to increase social status and influence. Sociologically speaking, it is humanly impossible to maintain intimacy if one’s group or network is huge. In real life, when a person’s primary group increases in membership and becomes a secondary group, his/her personal bonding and intimacy with it declines, but his/her social status and influence in society climbs. And this is also true in online interaction in the social media.The increase of membership in a social network can decrease the level of intimacy between the user and all his/her followers. But it has an advantage. It also increases his/her social influence and marketability in the digital economy.
In sum, there is really no serious problem between maintaining social bonding with a few close connections and expanding one’s social network in the social media. Indeed, life, whether real or virtual, is full of contradictions and paradoxes; one just needs to be creative, empirical and innovative in his/her journey in the world of the social media!
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Dr. Vivencio “Ven” Ballano is a sociologist-professor, religious educator, research consultant and media piracy specialist at St. Paul University, Quezon City, Philippines.