We’ve all heard the common wisdom that every single person in the world is connected through six degrees of separation. The concept dates back to Stanley Milgram’s 1967 “small world experiment,” which measured connections in the United States by tracking a package in the mail sent between two randomly selected people. In 2008, Microsoft conducted research analyzing MSN electronic messages and found that most people are connected by exactly 6.6 degrees.
The explosion of social media provides another interesting opportunity to test the “six degrees of separation” hypothesis. Yahoo and Facebook recently teamed up to launch an experiment that harnesses Facebook’s 750 million users to determine how they are connected.
While the results of the Facebook experiment are still pending, whether or not we are all linked by six (or five or three) degrees isn’t the point. What is exciting for marketers, and what this Facebook experiment highlights, is that social media reveals links that otherwise might not be visible. And more important for marketers, social media provides the tools to create new connections from “invisible” relationships.
Case in point: LinkedIn maps members’ connections to the third degree. A quick search reveals that I am connected to Michael Dell, Sarah Palin and, fittingly, Kevin Bacon. LinkedIn then gives me the ability to network with these individuals through an invitation or request an introduction from a mutual acquaintance.
Social media outlets like LinkedIn provide opportunities to cut through the digital noise and connect on a personal level. For example, you might try (and possibly fail) to reach a decision-maker at Company “A” through targeted email blasts, but LinkedIn reveals that you attended college with the decision-maker’s former boss, who is happy to make an introduction.
For marketers, the power of social media isn’t in proving that we are all connected, but revealing the right connections that expand our networks and create opportunities.
By Haley DeGrella
Public Relations Consultant
Cross posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network
Follow Haley on Twitter @haley_degrella.