THE STRENGTH OF WEAK TIES: Relating micro-level interactions to macro-level patterns.

Mark Granovetter’s paper ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’ is a highly influential research with thousands of citations according to Google. In 1969, the paper was submitted to American Sociology Review but was rejected. American Journal of Sociology published this pioneering research in 1973 and became the most cited work in the Social Sciences.

They say information is power. Those who have access to information have an added advantage over those who don’t have access to similar information. In the field of financial markets, information is used to predict the movement of the market hence determines capital gains and consequently profits. This pioneering work was influenced by the early 20th-century work of Stanley Milgram on social networks. A study launched in the late 1960s and early 1970s of job- seekers in Boston and it was found that 80% of subjects found a job through a contact with whom they did not have a close relationship with (weak ties).

Every individual has emotionally close friends and family, people they interact with very often. These are the kind of people who have the same information as you and know the same people as you do. They do not offer extended opportunities since you operate in the same social spheres. On the other hand, people also tend to have individuals whom you are not too close with and just consider them as acquaintances (weak ties). According to the theory of strength of weak ties, these individuals are likely to be the bridges to outside networks.

Weak ties expose you to their networks of strong ties. The more weak ties you have the more informed you will be with regards to opportunities and anything else that happens outside your social realm. Confining yourself to people in your strong ties puts you in a disadvantaged position and may cripple your socio-economic progress. Individuals with few weak ties will be confined to provincial views of their close friends and will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system.

The strength of weak ties is a concept applicable to many facets of life. Entrepreneurs need friends of friends in order to raise capital and make sales. Your weak ties will make recommendations to their strong ties. This creates a network that will increase your market. Technology has evolved and in recent times the power of weak ties can be easily understood through the various social media platforms. Most social media platforms have millions of active users. Users could have thousands of followers who form a network army of weak ties. Businesses bolster sales through sharing relevant content on social media. Referrals are made online increasing web traffic and conversions which in turn lead to customers.

These small interactions through weak ties become translated into bigger patterns which when properly understood can be used to spread information in social networks. In the evolution of social systems, one of the major sources of weak ties is job specialization.  Job specialization or division of labor is the separation of tasks in an organization so that people can specialize in what they are good at and improve overall performance and productivity of the organization. Smaller groups in organizations mean limited access to information. Members of different departments have similar information since they could be holding regular meetings to share progress and emerging trends. Strong ties have a lot of overlap. Weak ties, on the other hand, have the least overlap. They have information we don’t have and we have the information they don’t have. To be effective, we need to cultivate these weak ties to ensure we have access to other departments which could be critical to achieving general organizational objectives.

In today’s competitive space, weak ties are encouraged if it means achieving your purpose. Opportunities are very limited in some spheres and access to as many social networks as possible will play a critical role in you getting timely information and giving you a competitive edge which will propel you to success. Social systems lacking in weak ties will be incoherent and fragmented as new ideas spread slowly and members have access to the same information. This eventually renders them disadvantaged.



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