4.74 Degrees and the Net Curtain

November 24, 2011

I sat up and took notice this week at the news that Facebook had teamed up with the University of Milan to find out how closely connected users of the social network are. The old six degrees of separation test was blown away: any two people on Facebook are on average separated by just 4.74 intermediate connections. Taking account of the fact that Facebook is but one element of social media, there is no denying that the small world is shrinking and that the cyber-village is a reality.
I make any observations on this with real timidity. I confess that I have very limited social media credibility or expertise. On my last Facebook log-in, I was upset to see the suggestion that I might want to make Chippenham Town Hall my friend – so even their algorithm sees me as desperate; I make Bill Nomates look like a cyber party animal. But I do think there are a few points that are worth considering.
These close links provide the opportunity to get something close to a word of mouth recommendation – the Holy Grail of marketing services. If you are serious about wanting a good reputation then you have to commit to gaining a good online reputation. I should be preaching to the converted but I am not sure that is the reality. My recent experience suggests that many SCL members are too busy to update their LinkedIn profile regularly and much too busy to actually engage with people on that twitter account that you started ‘just to see what it was all about’. As for that blog you started, well you found it was a bit time-consuming and you also discovered that the rule that everybody has one book in them is bunkum.
I am not suggesting that you suddenly devote hours to Facebook (probably a complete waste of your professional time) or tweet every hour but you do need to think hard about that 4.74 figure and consider whether a targeted engagement with social media might not be more rewarding than an extra half hour drafting.
Those who have failed to engage with the cyber-village life have a problem. But those who have engaged too enthusiastically may have another.
One well recognised downside of village life is that everyone knows everybody else’s business. The coming and goings, the ups and the downs and the wild suppositions spread quickly and the net curtains twitch all the more frenetically when the action is good grist for the gossip mill. It is worth remembering that the Internet curtain (sorry) is as flimsy as the real thing. It follows that your interactions on twitter and other social media must not conflict with your professional life or the news will spread through those 4.74 contacts like wildfire.
It is not for me to judge based on some of the material that followers of @computersandlaw see fit to tweet but (a) judging is something of a hobby and is fun and (b) even the least judgmental might be tempted to advise on the option to create a separate social twitter identity if you are recounting tales of over indulgence and questionable moral choices. In fact, you might consider adopting a separate identity if you are recounting tales of great integrity but are digressing into an area that is going to bore potential clients to death. Showing yourself as rounded human being is probably good; showing yourself to be a devotee of astrology with an interest in bondage might not be.