Referral networking and Dunbar’s number

Six degrees of separation.
Image via Wikipedia

I have been thinking more about the networking butterflies and why I believe there is a need to concentrate on just a couple or so referral groups. We know that it is important to see our network contacts, who are of course people, on a regular basis. It is only because we see them often enough that we can be comfortable with them and trust them with our reputation when we refer them.

I think we can only have so many people in our trusted social networking community and beyond that we may have contacts we could suggest and but probably not have the certainty to recommend. Our close referral group is probably restricted to Dunbar’s number. Robin Dunbar, who came up with this number is a British Anthropologist and Wikipedia explains “Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person”. It is best you read the Wiki article, but many of you will have come across this theory before. The number is 148, rounded up to 150 and I can buy into that.

I don’t think we need to get confused with having large numbers of contacts on-line. Thomas Power, chairman of Ecademy, believes we should have as many as we can. That does of course give rise to the “you never know” factor based on the theory that we all have only six degrees of separation from anyone else on the planet. I don’t really buy that one, but we can get lucky, and it allows the random possibility which recently found me a client in Australia via Twitter, from where I am certainly separated by a considerable distance. Thomas has an exceptional memory for people, has met more than nearly all of us, and the random process gives rise to great connections. However, my more modest but large number of network connections would not allow me to recommend without checking the provenance of any offer and ability of any person or company to deliver.

So, back to off-line referral networking, and into my special area which is breakfast networking. I am not comfortable in trusting and recommending huge numbers of people because I am still rooted in the tribe or village size of about 150. Furthermore, in any village there are going to be a few villagers we are not so keen on and don’t like to be with. Of course, some people leave our network village, and some join, but if I go to too many networking communities I feel I will get confused as to who to refer to whom.

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

Related post: Networking, hunting and butterflies

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Networking, hunting and butterflies

As someone who runs a breakfast referral group, I follow-up visitors who have attended the occasional meeting in the past but who have not become regulars and signed on the dotted line as members. It is fascinating to hear the different responses, such as the person who obviously didn’t get networking because he was worried about just meeting the same people every week when he joined us for breakfast.

I caught up with another guy this week, and asked him why he hadn’t been to see us. He said “I already go to two networking groups and I don’t want to dilute my referrals too much”.

While I was disappointed as I had hoped he could be a valuable member of the group, I thought this was a great answer from someone who really understands networking and the importance of building trust in his inner circle of business friends. He has earned my respect.

The problem with the networking butterflies, those who flit from group to group and probably cover quite a few miles, is that they are in reality hunters. They have to be because they spread themselves too thinly to be capable of giving referrals to many people they meet.

What they hope for is a great and fortunate referral or at least a good lead in a conversation they may have with someone they hardly know. Of course it happens and it has its place in the business world in that such people are salesmen or saleswomen; let us settle for sales people. However they are not good networkers and are not expecting to be able to give anything back. Networking success usually involves giving first and receiving later.

Our hunting butterflies may protest that their larger business network may benefit from referrals. They may suggest that they can maintain relationships with one or two hundred people in a referral networking environment. They may refer to Dunbar’s number but the reality is that if they know ten printers and eight graphic designers, only one of those is up for each referral in those categories and that is the one they know best.

Do you agree? Have you seen these people fluttering around?

© Jon Stow 2010

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