Social Networks’ Evolution – Wharton Prof. Lori Rosenkopf at Global Forum London
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Social Networks’ Evolution – Wharton Prof. Lori Rosenkopf at Global Forum London

>>Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s talk about social networks
and whether yours are working for you, and what we might do about it. Let me start with a tongue-in-cheek
view of your social networks. Six of the seven deadly sins. Lust isn’t there. We could have included Tinder. There’s FOMO, fear of missing out, YOLO,
you only live once, that has Airbnb. But so, these are social
networks, these are apps, but you’re using your social
networks for many purposes. Let’s get a little more serious about the kinds of goals you might have for
your social networks. Everybody wants to be able to share their
own knowledge, build a personal brand. You want to be able to learn from the vast array
of information that’s coming in on your feeds, and you’d like to be able to relate. You want to strengthen your relationships
and you want to use those relationships to get referrals to make new relationships. Here’s a stylized view of a social network. You’re in the center of this network. You have four friends. Those are your direct connections. They have friends, which are
your indirect connections. I call this stylized because in
any given ring of that picture, none of the people are connected to each other. So, you are the hub of this network,
and it’s a very sparse network, because these people aren’t
connected within the rings. Real networks don’t look like that. They have a lot more variety in them, and if we
zoom out a little bit, what you’ll typically see when you try to map a social network of any
sort is you’ll find a densely connected core with lots of hubs and then a
much sparser network on the edges where people have fewer connections. So, there’s a Pareto distribution. A small number of people in the network have
the vast majority of particular connections. So, a question that social network
theorists have been asking each other for about 90 years is how
connected are social networks? How many steps are there
between two people in a network? I don’t know how many people in this room
would know who both of these pictures are. The right side, Pony Ma, the CEO of Tencent. The left side, Curtis Jackson,
the rapper, 50 Cent. So, the question is, in a network, how many
steps does it take us, how many connections from 50 Cent to Tencent, and if we measure that
for every single pair of people in a network, we’ll get a measure of how
connected a social network might be. That’s easy to do once you have big data,
and our current social network data, but for many years, this was
a very hard problem to solve. And the best step forward on this problem was
taken by the experiential social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, yes, that Stanley Milgram, obedience to authority, the
electric shock experiments. He changed gears after that work
and did the small-world study, and it’s called the small-world
study, you know why. You sit down on an airplane. You start talking to your
seatmate, who you’ve never met, and you discover that their barber
is your sister’s best friend, and you look at each other and
you say, “Oh, small world.” Milgram, to measure how small the world might
be, goes to Omaha, Nebraska, that’s the red man, with lots of official-looking packages,
gives them to their subjects in Omaha, and asks them to forward those
packages to a stockbroker in Boston. That’s the green man. But the catch is, you can only forward
those packages to someone you know. It has to be an acquaintance, so
how do you strategize about this? If you know a stockbroker
somewhere, you might send it there. If you know a Bostonian, you’ll probably
send it there, but if you don’t know either of those two things, you’re
probably going to say, “Who in my network might know
a Bostonian or a stockbroker?” That person’s likely to be a
hub, and you’ll send it there. So, Milgram and his team make their way to
Boston and start collecting all these packages when they arrive at the stockbroker, and
so they’ve logged all of their steps. Here’s what they find. This is an actual scan from their
1967 Psychology Today article, and what you can see there in that histogram
is that the number of intermediaries, so steps in between Omaha and
Boston, on average, was about five. And so, what that meant, it was
six steps from Omaha to Boston, giving rise to the popular phrase,
thank you, six degrees of separation. Now, this phrase was a lowball estimate, and the
reason why, upper right side of that picture, 44 chains were completed to Boston. They dropped 160 packages in Omaha,
Nebraska, so there were lots of things that didn’t make their way, so they probably
underestimated that, but nonetheless, six degrees enshrined in popular folklore,
right, “Six Degrees of Separation,” the play by John Guare, the movie, six degrees
of Kevin Bacon, you may have played that, so this is a network of, Kevin
Bacon is in movies with a bunch of people, many movies, many cast members. They are in movies with other people. They are in movies with other people. So, another stylized picture, here, where
Kevin Bacon is the hub that’s making these connections. Fast forward to the 21st century,
we had big data, Facebook 2016 looks at their 1.8 billion Facebook users, so
maybe there were a million real users, and they discover by measuring every pair of
people that the average degrees of separation is down to three and a half from
what we thought was actually six. So, there’s your evidence. The world is getting smaller. The question is whether we’re actually
benefiting from those smaller network paths, and I’m here to say that I don’t think
we are, and the reason why is what I like to call the small-world paradox. So, the world has gotten smaller, these
network distances have been shrunk because of all of the hubs that keep emerging. The bigger our social networks are,
the more people who are participating, the more connections we have, the
more connected these hubs are, and they are making these short paths for us. But if you want to activate a network path
to use it to get a referral, for example, that means you’re going to have to go
through hubs on those shorter paths and hubs are the very people who create
what I like to call friction on paths. Let me illustrate with some real-life examples. Here’s two people in my network
that you might recognize. I know you know Geoff Garrett, and I’m sure
most of you would recognize Adam Grant, as well. They’re both hubs. What if I want to use a path
that goes through these people? So, Adam Grant, he’s my Facebook friend, and I’m
sure he’s Facebook friends with Sheryl Sandburg, right, they’re coauthors together, as well. But if I ask Adam Grant, you know, I’d
like to have a chance to have coffee with Sheryl Sandburg, can you help me out? I’m one of 100, maybe 1000 people
who are asking that same request. So, is Adam going to spend
his social capital on that? Or, another great example, we thought
about having Barack Obama come and speak to the undergraduates in our Crawley lecture, so
I said, “Does Geoff Garrett know Barack Obama?” Turns out, no. But then, we said, “Well, Amy Gutmann
knows Barack Obama,” but again, we run into the same social capital
problem where she goes to Joe Biden, who definitely knows Barack Obama,
and we’re asking a lot from people who are overwhelmed with
these sorts of requests. So, this is the small-world paradox. Our paths are getting shorter, but these shorter
paths are harder for us to really activate. So, go back to thinking about
what we want to do about it. What I want you to remember, on
the goals that we talked about, it turns out that different types of
features of network that I’ve already brought up actually promote different network goals. So, for example, dense ties,
when people are closely connected in repetitive ways, that creates social capital. That gives people stronger relationships. These are groups of friends or
family, coworkers, and the like. That will help us with relating and sharing. Hubs, if you can get them to work for you,
they’re great for sharing information. They’re certainly great for aggregating
information for you, and they also, if they will forward some of your
content to their broader network, that’s going to be a boon for you. For learning and relating, I also
like to talk about unique ties. Getting into the sparse part or different
part of your network where it’s not so densely connected gives you opportunities
to learn new things or get referrals to people you wouldn’t otherwise. So, what do we do about this, because
these are competing sorts of features that they’re existing simultaneously
in our networks? So, a couple of quick ideas for you to think about as you’re using your
social networks now or later. Prune your networks and prime your networks. What do I mean by that? So, another stylized network. Here’s you surrounded by five direct contacts. I’m going to give each of your direct
contacts two more contacts of their own. Look what happens. Ah. Very different on the left side than
the right side of this particular picture, so let’s start by talking about the right
side, the red circles, and talk about pruning. Most of you, if you’re like me, you’re getting
way too much information in your feeds, and very repetitive information in your
feeds, so you might want to think about, how can you prune your feeds like you
would prune a tree in order to get rid of some of those redundant voices? So, another personal example, let’s imagine
that this middle red circle is my mom, and the other two red circles are my cousins,
so we’re all connected with each other. I guarantee you, if I do this, I didn’t unfollow
my cousins, I just muted them in the feed, I will get every single thing that my cousins
put online because my mother will like them and my mother will share them and then for
good measure, my mother will call me to tell me about what she just liked and shared. So, think about where you’re
getting that redundant information, think about whether you need all of those feeds
coming into what you’re typically looking at. Second idea, priming. So, now we’re moving to the
left side of this picture. On the sparse side of your network, this
is where you get the unique information, the unique people, the unique knowledge. Here, what you want to make sure is that whoever
is being something of a hub, or the in between, between you and those contacts that you’re
targeting, those are the ones that you want to improve your connections
with, strengthen your ties with, because anybody who you’re thinking about
activating a path through, whatever their level of hubbiness [phonetic], the stronger
your connection is with them, personally, the more you’re likely to be able to get
that favor or request that you’re asking for. So, that priming is something that you’re going
to do, and it doesn’t rely on social networks. This goes back to networking
from the 20th century, as well. How can you volunteer for a cause
that that person is interested in, how can you forward them some information
that you think they might personally like, how can you offer them the chance to speak
at a Wharton forum, et cetera, et cetera? Look for ways that certain people that you think
would be good targets on paths that you can try to strengthen their relationships. So, with that, prune your networks, prime your
networks, and I hope that you can wind up in that very Zen middle intersection
of the Venn diagram. Good luck. Thank you.

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