Gladwell’s 150 rule … how does it apply to social media?

In his 2000 book, “The Tipping Point,” renown author, Malcolm Gladwell, cited the example of a manufacturing firm on the East Coast and its adherence to relationship building and numbers.  This firm determined that having more than a certain amount of people in one building or facility would actually prove detrimental to building teamwork and camaraderie.  In other words … the employees wouldn’t get to know everybody and they would form cliques instead.

The magic Tipping Point number

Their magic number was 150.  Up to this point everybody, more or less, would exist like a large extended “work family.”  Any more contacts than that was beyond the normal person’s ability to maintain let alone nurture.  Once they got to 150 in one building (due to expansion), they would split that facility’s workforce and build another building.  They had done this several times and Gladwell was amazed at the teamwork throughout the company.

Further research by Gladwell found that this wasn’t an isolated example.  It was a sociological phenomenon across many disciplines.

I noticed the same situation when I was recruiting.  I may have had a database of over 6000 candidates … but really only communicated regularly with only about 100 to 150 of them.  I actually flagged these as “preferred.”  This was in the nineties well before the “Tipping Point.”  Some faded away over time, but others took their place in the regular call rotation.  However, the number of my core group stayed about the same, 100 to 150.  When I tried expand the number – my rapport with the core suffered.

Now, this brings us to social media.  If you look at the numbers;  Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and Twitter followers – you’ll see numbers well into the hundreds if not thousands for some people.  The question is, “Is having this number so high beneficial or detrimental?”  Social media is not like working in a company or having real life contacts though.  The difference is how many of these people are active in your life.  How many make comments, tweet your stuff, receive your replies, etc.  And how many are wallflowers – just out there to unilaterally receive whatever you choose to send them.

I suppose a person’s social media “group” is pretty much like my recruiting candidate database.  A certain amount will be your “core group,” those that will be a regular part of your life.  And the rest will be … well, just will be there – being just a number.

What can we learn from this.  Everybody’s situation is different … but is it really?  We use social media to make and further relationships (for the most part).  These relationship are professional, personal or in some cases just conduits for information.  But they are still relationships that involve time and attention.

Maybe we should look at our social media strategy first in terms of numbers.  And maybe that number is 150.

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