Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quality or Quantity?

In previous posts I confessed developing a networking habit pre-Web 2.0. Consequently, the spine of my networking philosophy is to cultivate strong, sustainable relationships, one relationship at a time. Thanks to social networking, people appear to be building looser, situational networks. Quantity is the spine of their networking philosophy.

Read On:
Every time someone that I do not know reaches out to me to connect on LinkedIn and I learn they are a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker), I evaluate how many networking connections can people effectively maintain? I am reminded of Robin Dunbar, a professor of anthropology at Oxford University in England. Thanks to extensive research, he developed Dunbar’s number, the theoretical cognitive number of people with whom we can maintain stable social relationships. He believes that number is 150. To quote Dunbar directly: “Our minds are not designed to allow us to have more than a very limited number of people in our social world. The emotional and psychological investments that a close relationship requires are considerable, and the emotional capital we have available limited.”

Along comes the collaborative world of Web 2.0. Social media gurus are now challenging Dunbar’s number. Some profess that the true value of our network does not come from strong relationships, but from casual ties which are more beneficial since they form bridges to new worlds we are not connected with. Consequently, we now are witnessing people with 500+ LinkedIn connections (LIONS), 1K+ Facebook friends and 4K+ twitter followers.

Back to my original query: How many LinkedIn networking connections can people effectively maintain? Answer: Depends on an individual’s networking philosophy. LIONS believe in quantity, situational connections, thus have learned how to manage their network effectively. Other people value strong, sustainable relationships, most of which were cultivated pre- Web 2.0, thus emphasize quality.

What are your thoughts? Quality or quantity?


  1. I'm a quality girl. A good friend of mine Ross Kimbarovsky (CrowdSpring co founder) has many high profile social media connections and is invited to speak at events nationwide. That said, thought he follows many people on twitter, he only pays attention to 75 people that he has qualified. He re evaluates on a regular basis and makes substitutions as necessary.

    Seems to make sense to me!

  2. I definitely believe it has to be a balance. Too many and you lose tight connections, too few and you lose the opportunity for visibility. Got to know what you are looking to get out of it.

    Great question!

  3. Jimmy,

    One of the supposed values of LinkedIn is that you can act as a reference to/for someone. Personally, I feel that I have to know a person before referring him/her to someone else. (Isn't that the essence of networking?)

    I don't have the time nor capacity to handle much more than 150 people, although I have 232 connections...which I attribute more to my age than anything else.

    Put me in the quantity column.


  4. It also reflects on the person with all the connections. Do you really trust that person as a 'go to person' to help you connect? Maybe they can send along a message; but, they can't truly know each of those people personally enough to make it meaningful. Thus diluting their personal brand.

  5. Thank you everyone for your input. A majority of the comments I fielded here and in LI discussion groups indicated quantity. Interesting POV about the need for balance. Given I spend a fair share of time online, I am still experimenting at this point, thus will evaluate how much juice I get for the squeeze by the COB 2011.

  6. I agree that you cannot effectively maintain relationships with more than 150 people or even a 150 to begin with. However, my thought at least with LinkedIn is that you inevitably pick "favorites" - those people you just love to chat with or try and drop a note to every few weeks. There is no harm if having a few casual contacts in my opinion but the truth is, when you network with 500+ people you end up with only a small few you frequently interact with. So why not connect with everyone who asks?

  7. The question of quality or quantity of connections begs a question, and the is- what is the definition of "maintained relationships"? I have maintained relationships from my first job at McCormick and company where I started as a young supervisor in 1969. I still talk by phone with one of my line employees who retired at age 55 in 1976. We talk six times a year or more some years. I visit her every couple of years. I consider her a maintained relationship based upon the quality of the conversations we have everytime we talk. My oldest sister lives in Baltimore. I live in Phoenix. I talk with her six or eight times a year, and each phone call is about an hour. She does most of the talking. If I let her, she'd talk three hours. Infrequent but long interactions with her is a quantity relationship. My sis talks a quantity. I make fun of most of what she says. We hang up. She is a quantity relationship. I talk with my youngest son who lives across town with his mom, three or four times some days. Or at least 10 times a week. And we fish, or camp, or play paintball, or vidoe games frequently. I consider that a maintained relationship based upon quantity and quality of interaction. I'll bet I have 200 ormore relationships that are maintained to some degree even if it might be once every two or three years. Every reconnection is like a continuation of a previous interaction or conversation. Maintaining these and more is a matter of degree, so why is the quantity, or the quality or the limit to capacity a question. What's important is the maintenance. How we measure that is different for all.

  8. It seems to me that the Dunbar number – 150 – is likely to be hardwired into our psyche. I’d guess that it derives from the number of people in a tribe that our prehistoric ancestors lived with. That’s just supposition but recently we produced a list of our friends and family that we wanted to invite to our daughter’s wedding (you may send me your congratulations!) and we ended up with almost 150. Plus, I keep a log of workplace telephone contacts (and it proves invaluable as a record) and I have counted up the numbers of people I have “relationship” type telephone contacts – 10 years ago it was about 150 a year; now it’s less because mobile/cellphones. So I conclude that whatever I do, I’m going to hit the Dunbar number – and there’s little point in going for more