Social Network Analysis

I Know a Guy: The Power of Triadic Closure

First, I read an article about why submitting a resume without an “in” is not typically successful.

Then, I read a blog post written by a former classmate about social networks.*

Finally, the movie The Social Network was on TV today.

What do all these signs point to? A blog post about trust and social networks!

I was lucky enough to take a class outside my department in my last semester. It was a class called Social Network Analysis, and it. was. amazing. Not only because it made me do math problems for the first time since the GRE, but because it gave me a vocabulary to discuss certain aspects of relationships between people and places. For example, the fancy phrase in the title, triadic closure? Really, that means that if you are friends with Alan, and friends with Betty, then it is likely that Alan and Betty will become friends as well, mostly because they already have something in common: you. This also works with institutions. How many people went to a college because your friends were planning to go there too? Or you brought a friend to your favorite yoga studio and they started regularly attending class, even when you didn’t go too? All examples of triadic closure.

Anyway, after reading that article about networking to find an “in,” I’ve been thinking about the importance of trust in social networks. If the importance of networking, of “knowing someone” in the right position, is the key to getting inside, whether it’s a job, a party, whatever, then what’s the trust threshold? Telling people about a party may not be a big risk to your social standing, and neither is sending along a job posting that you saw online. But what about when that job is at your company?

If your connection ends up applying and mentions your name, all of a sudden your judgement and reputation are tied to this application. You may get asked your opinion of this person, maybe even your opinion of their work ethic. Like anyone, I have good friends and acquaintances, but can I comfortably comment on the work ethic of all of them? Heck no. Probably only a handful. And that’s because I’ve worked with them on something. I could give many of the others a decent character reference, but that’s it. Not because I don’t want to help them, but because whatever I say will have weight and managers and HR people want to hedge their bets and find someone who will be a good fit as quickly and painlessly as possible.

So when I think of all of these formal networking events, I wonder how valuable they really are. For an introvert like me, who needs to build up energy and courage to attend these kinds of functions, I think my time would be better spent joining groups with like-minded people, and then using those triadic closures to create others. Because Social Network Analysis tells me that’s much more likely. And definitely more fun.

 

*For the quantitatively-minded among you, check out the blog of my friend and fellow MLC alum, Casey Tesfaye: freerangeresearch.com. Or just click on the hyperlink above!

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