The friendship paradox states that, you have less friends than the average person in your network. Boston College students aren’t very comfortable with being below average. Don’t feel bad. Most people, and by most I mean nearly everyone, are in this below-average group. Why?
When trying to understand a concept, it often helps to presuppose the extreme case. Let’s say you’re in a network with 500 people on Instagram and another 2000 people that you know, even if you don’t have their email and phone numbers in your smart phone. Let’s say that 2498 people in your network have a similar number of connections, like you. Let’s also say that one of those 2500 people happens to be a social connecting phenomenon who has 10,000 people in their network. Maybe they are in sales or are at the top of a multi-level marketing pyramid, and their job is to build their network. 2499 people are therefore below average, since super network person pulled the average up.
It’s a small world
The average degrees of separation between any two Facebook users in 2011 within the USA was 4.3, and on the worldwide Facebook network it was 4.7 (Ugander: The Anatomy of the Facebook Social Graph, 2011). In a 1967 Harvard study, using mail and the personal contact list, the median degrees of separation was 5.
An average professional person’s list of direct contacts is 3500, making the total 2nd degree contacts 12,250,000. Using this math and assuming average direct connections of all citizens is 1000, the number of degrees between any 2 people in the USA is 2 (Pool and Kochen: Contacts and Influence 1978).
What does this mean for your life?
Studies show that people with a strong network of friends are happier, healthier, and live longer. If you are dating, more friends will increase the likelihood that you will be introduced to a potential date who your friends think is a good match for you.
As a job seeker, should you spend time posting your resume on a job site, with low single digit response rate, when you have over 12,000,000 second degree contacts who could get your resume on the short list of job candidates?
As a hiring manager, should you spend your time posting jobs on a job site, when you could have a personal recommendation from someone you know or a second degree contact, who wants to maintain reputation within the network with only honest, accurate recommendations?
Looking for Friends or Dates?
Should you spend your social time trying to meet people in the busiest bar nearest your home and hope for the best luck, or should you put yourself into association with people who are passionate about the same things you are (share your values) and are desiring same kinds of new connections as you?
Should you wander aimlessly without a strategy or plan, inviting people to connect as you spontaneously cross paths, or should you put yourself into environments where spontaneous connection will happen with people you think will make connections that benefit you?
Parting Advice for Your Professional Network
Wayne Baker (Networking Smart: How to build relationships for personal and organizational success) says the following:
Don’t become a glad-handing nuisance (or social media nuisance). Become more aware of the networking potential in every situation. Volunteer to take assignments in other departments at work, attend social events, attend conferences, management seminars, trade shows. The main goal is to educate yourself, learn a new skill, or contribute in some way. The by-product goal is to meet diverse people from diverse groups who can be a bridge to new networks. Don’t leave your professional network to chance. Target groups and people with influential roles by joining industry associations.