Three Degrees of LinkedIn


In our previous post, Types of Direct Connection Requests on LinkedIn, we talked about the various types of connection requests on LinkedIn. In this post, we take a look at the three degrees, or tiers, of your LinkedIn network.

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Three Degrees of LinkedIn

You’ve probably heard of the trivia game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The game is based on a concept that originated in scholarly analyses of offline social networks called six degrees of separation. The hypothesis behind the concept and the game is that every person in the world is no more than six friend-of-a-friend jumps away from any other. A landmark study by famed psychologist Stanley Milgram actually determined that people in the United States were no more than three degrees of separation away from one another.[1]

There’s no telling if Milgram’s theories gave birth to LinkedIn’s three-tiered networking policy, but regardless, that’s how the site defines the size of your network.

People you are directly connected to are your First Degree network. When you visit their profiles or see them listed in a search, their names are followed by a 1st icon.

Your First Degree contacts obviously also have connections. These secondary connections are your Second Degree network, denoted by a 2nd icon. You can connect to these Second Degree folks by passing a connection request through one of your First Degree connections. That First Degree connection can decide whether or not to pass on the request, and you’ll be none the wiser. If the request is passed on, the Second Degree contact is free to accept or reject the request just as if it had come from any other source. Obviously the number of people in your Second Degree network is larger than your First Degree population.

The Second Degree connections have connections themselves, and this is the limit of your addressable network: your Third Degree network. Just as with the Second Degree connections, you can pass a connection request along to a Third Degree by first passing it to a First Degree contact, who must decide to pass it to the Second Degree connection, who similarly must decide to pass it to the Third Degree connection. Confused yet?

When you add up all the people in your First, Second, and Third Degree networks, you have your total addressable network. Depending on the number of contacts each member in your address­able network has, you might be surprised at how many people you can be potentially connected to. (See our rock star encounter in our previous post Alternative to Being a LION.)

We recommend that when you want to contact someone you don’t know at all that you use the method of passing your request through your network described here. It’s like the difference between cold calling someone and getting introduced — being passed through a presumably trusted member of the target person’s network implies a similar endorsement, and will be more likely to help you avoid getting IDKed. However, be aware that some have put the likelihood of getting introduced by a Second Degree contact at lower than 80 percent, and the likelihood for Third Degree contacts is vanishingly small.

Next up: Finding People to Invite to your LinkedIn Network


Three Degrees of LinkedIn is the 91st in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 264. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 6WXG8ABP2Infinite Pipeline book cover

Get our new book, The Infinite Pipeline: How to Master Social Media for Business-to-Business Sales Success online here. You can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

What Others Are Saying

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“Sales is all about relationships and trust. Infinite Pipeline is the ‘how to’ guide for maximizing social networks to find and build relationships, and generate trust in our digital age.”
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Infinite Pipeline will be the authority on building lasting relationships through online social that result in bottom line business.”
—Lori Ruff, The LinkedIn Diva, Speaker/Author and CEO of Integrated Alliances


[1] Milgram’s Small World experiment: bit.ly/crdJBb

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About Social Media Performance Group

Social Media Performance Group is a premier enterprise social media consulting company that offers a unique approach to integrating social media into the enterprise — forget about the tools, it's all about the strategy! Rather than focusing on the tactics (do this or that on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube), first we work with you and your senior leadership to comprehend your corporate strategy. Once we understand your strategic objectives and goals, we show you how a comprehensive social media strategy can integrate with and support your corporate strategy. We take an enterprise-wide view based on our unique Enterprise Social Media Framework, which maps social media to all appropriate touchpoints in your enterprise. We go beyond the obvious quick hits — sales and marketing — and help you achieve social-media-driven results in areas such as product development, customer service, and employee engagement and retention. As a result, social media is not just bolted on; it is integrated with, and provides support for, your company's existing strategy and operations, yielding unprecedented results.
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