It began with a simple enough question
How exponentially does your LinkedIn network grow with each additional connection? Asking a few friends in a few different industries yielded significantly varying answers. Therefore, we decided to ask more people and got over 100 responses. We also got a lot more questions. Following is a summary of our findings.
First some definitions
LinkedIn – a business oriented social networking site boasting over 120 million members, tracks the number of people you are directly connected to, the number of people they are connected to and finally the number of people to whom those people are connected.
They refer to this as 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections. You can view these statistics along with a lot more information about the composition of your network in LinkedIn under Contacts / Network Connections. Look for the little icons, which look like these:
Next, the questions and research results
In addition to the question about exponential growth, we were asked about how meaningful network size is. You may be indirectly connected to hundreds of thousands of other LinkedIn members, but does anyone use those connections?
After we received information from a little over 100 people about the number of their 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections, we learned some interesting facts. Within this group, the average person has 508 1st degree connections, over 141,500 2nd degree and over 5,700,000 3rd degree connections! Many people wrote that these numbers surprised them. We were too.
That means for every person added as a connection, on average another 279 people become potential 2nd degree connections and 11,250 3rd degree connections. That’s a lot of exponential network growth potential!
Microsoft Partners lag behind other IT peers
One interesting item that stood out was that the Microsoft Partners in our survey had fewer connections than the other IT related participants. Their non-Microsoft-Partner competitors, customers and vendors have on average 18% more connections. To the extent that someone may consider it important to be connected, this may be an opportunity for improvement. Click here to read the full report LinkedIn 2nd and 3rd degree ratio analysis and the see the numbers behind this.
Having a gigantic network of connections you don’t know is not necessarily going to be helpful. The quality of connections matters much more. A network of people in your industry, profession or geography is much more valuable than one that has tremendous numbers of people with whom there is no logical connection.
Building a network with LinkedIn Groups
Joining and participating in LinkedIn Group discussions seems to be a very effective way to build a quality network. There are currently over 870,000 different LinkedIn groups. Some are for Alumni of a company or college. Some are centered around a given professional or career topic. As people participate in group discussions they tend to make new connections with people who share similar interests, careers and professions.
What to do with your network
All this is IBU (Interesting But Useless), unless someone actually reaches out to leverage this extended network. Our next level of research compelled us to ask other groups of people how they have leveraged their connections to expand their direct network. Here is what we found out.
People use LinkedIn in many different ways. Some are fairly evident and typical. Keeping up with coworkers who move on, reconnecting with former coworkers and associates and the other usual social networking activities such as updating friends, family and associates about career developments are pretty typical.
We also found some interesting and creative ways in which people use LinkedIn, mostly around their 1st and 2nd degree connections.
For example, many people said they peruse their network to find and connect with people they already know. This is a practical and useful network building activity. LinkedIn also suggest contacts you may already know. They use an algorithm based on a number of factors to derive these lists. Some are spot on - others way off.
People also use their network of contacts to ask for recommendations of their previous and current work.
Several recent polls and discussions on LinkedIn and elsewhere suggest that a number of people use LinkedIn to search for and approach new customers. Rather than approach these people directly they tend to engage in discussion groups where they develop new connections and relationships.
How Microsoft Partners leverage their networks
Microsoft Partners reported using 1st degree connections to make introductions to people they don’t already know who are in their friends’ networks. They also use it to research companies, perform searches for potential candidates for job openings, to post job openings, to find contractors and other partners for collaboration on complex projects. They also reported using Microsoft Pinpoint and VARportal to help find these potential collaborators.
Sales people in general - and at Microsoft Partners - reported leveraging their network by asking for introductions, prospecting clients and decision makers, and researching companies and people before a sales meeting.
Recruiters at Microsoft Partners (and job seekers) reported using LinkedIn to research companies, search and post job listings, research hiring authorities before interviews, and asking their connections to help make introductions and land interviews. Employers and recruiters use LinkedIn along with other social networking tools to read about job candidates.
We also learned that Attorneys and Litigation Support Consultants used it to research companies and people, read about litigants and to identify contractors and professionals with specific skills.
The overwhelming majority of these activities take place within 1st degree and 2nd degree connections. 3rd degree connections are interesting, and the statistics lend themselves well to discussions about how much more interconnected the world has become since the film Six Degrees of Separation, but that remains largely an interesting academic discussion more than an immediate business tool.
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Please comment on this article and tell us how you use LinkedIn to leverage your network.