The conventional assumption that the most useful connections would be found through strong personal ties to friends, relatives and longtime colleagues turned out to be wrong.
In fact, he concluded, people more frequently get jobs because of acquaintances, friends of friends, or fellow alumni. This is partly because most folks have far more weak ties than strong. At the same time, Granovetter noted, "close friends know the same people you do, whereas acquaintances are better bridges to new contacts and nonredundant information."
Will this new breed of instant social network, consisting of massive numbers of very weak ties, prove to be of real value? Are people likely to respond positively to job recommendations or business introductions spawned by these services? Fans say yes, but a few critics now argue that, by making weak ties so easy to form, these new social networks might actually reduce the value of weak ties.
I predict that the underlying technological tools will be of far less importance than either the boosters or doomsayers claim.
Though there are certainly some people who are misusing these new tools to send "acquaintance spam" to everyone in their address book, this situation should correct itself over time. Every new technology has an etiquette learning curve. Eventually, we learn not to talk on cell phones in movie theaters or forward e-mail "virus warnings." Similarly, we need to learn that the level of trust in a tie is crucial, and that simply having a business card from someone we met at a conference three years ago doesn't entitle us to much trust.
Before you try to invite people into your social network, ask yourself: "What level of trust does this person have in their relationship with me? Do I know anything about them beyond their name?" If not, your invitation can quickly come off as a nuisance. You are more likely to get a favorable response if you personalize your correspondence and provide context for the relationship.
Fortunately, there is emerging technology that can help with that problem, so that when you "reach out to touch someone," you know how, where and when to best reach them--and vice versa. And, since you know how to reach people, try reaching out before you need something. Technology makes it easy to order a gift to congratulate your ex-colleague on his or her new job, or to send an e-card on your college roommate's birthday.
Social networking technology is a great tool. But, like most powerful tools, it can be misused. If you value your relationships, remember that the true strength of most relationships is determined by the content of the relationship and the effort invested by both parties, rather than the mechanism that established the relationship in the first place.