Really. Your friends are not a network.

The mafia is a network. A union is a network. The computers in your house are a network. Your phone runs on a network. Electricity flows though a network. Parts of political parties are networks.

Your assembled friends and acquaintances on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or G+ are just that. A collection of friends and acquaintances.

The whole “your friends are a network” thing is a metaphor. It’s shorthand for “Your circle of friends is sort of like a network of computers.” And, they are sort of like that.

Sort of.

If you were Kevin Bacon, you’d be six degrees of separation away from every other movie star in the movie star database. If you were Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton, you’d be six degrees away from anyone you wanted to connect with.

And, you are six degrees away from them.

You are not six degrees away from an unnamed person who might be a good employer, employee, business connection or lover. The whole idea of six degrees is that you can find connections between two people you can identify. If you don’t know who they are, you are infinite degrees away.

So, yes, you can probably get in touch with a visible public figure in six well placed phone calls if you have a clear idea, lots of determination and a way of end running the gate keepers. But, as a model for the way things work, the tightly connected world simply doesn’t match our realities.

At best, our collection of friends, business associates and acquaintances is a gateway to opportunity. At worst, it’s a small universe that limits perspective. Usually, it’s a blend of history, blind spots, love and pleasure.

Treating those relationships like they are a direct marketing email list that can be optimized to benefit your employer, business, personal objectives or other commercial interests is a recipe for loneliness, failure and poverty. While good politicians and salespeople may practice the exploitation of personal relationships, is that really a good model for organizing the rest of the world?

Keep your eyes on this space. We’re wrapping up our first ever comprehensive analysis of social media in the HR and Recruiting sectors. The report will be available for sale on the 15th of October.

Read previous post:
Your Friends Are Not A Network 2

Collaboration is nearly always championed by people who want to be in charge of stuff. This year, I took a...