S: If you wanna tap the power of your network using tips, tools, techniques that are based on science? This episode number 135 is for you. Our guest today is David Burkus. He’s a bestselling author, a sought-after speaker, and associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University. His newest book, Friend of a Friend, offers readers a new perspective on how to grow their networks and build key connections—ones based on science of human behavior—not wrote networking advice. He’s delivered keynotes to the leaders of Fortune 500 companies and the future leaders of United States Naval Academy. His TED Talk has been viewed over 1.8 million times and he’s a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review. David, welcome to the show.
D: Thank you so much for having me.
S: Let’s talk about your new book. I’m sure you get a lot of questions around that. If you could tell me why you wrote this book, that’ll be some nice insightful story telling for our listeners.
D: It’s in the midst of launch, you’re talking about the book all the time. But it’s like a new baby, you don’t mind showing photos, you don’t mind talking about it. This was actually a weird pivot for me. My prior book was actually about management and leadership. One of the things that we kept going back to was using a lot of network science studies to explain what’s going on in organizations because organizations are fundamentally a network. That led to a growing fascination with the research in the world of network science. It’s about a 60 year old sub-discipline of both sociology and psychology, but also mathematics and to some extent physics. It’s just this fascinating domain with really some fascinating studies, some of which people are lightly familiar with, the Six Degrees of Separation and that kind of stuff. There’s a lot there that nobody was talking about. Even in networking advice books, there was a lot of advice from one person that didn’t seem to be based on the science, fundamentally a lot of these books. They’re good, but they’re, “Here’s how I did it,” or they’re the slightly more compelling, “Here’s what I wasn’t doing and then I did and it changed and made all the difference. You should do it too.” It started to make this realization that what we need is a synthesis of the two. I think most people don’t need another book about networking advice or how to use networks to market better advice. I think I’ve already taken that advice, tried to apply it, felt a little weird and inauthentic, and then went back to the drawing board. I think what most people need is to understand how the network they’re already operating in works. That was the big idea for the book, “Okay, what if we can merge these two communities? What if we can bring all these insights from the study of networks, large and small, human networks, electrical networks, internet networks, ecosystem, food chains? Just all of the studies on what is universally true, but every network can bring that over into the world to help people understand the network they’re already in, the network they’re already selling in, the network their companies are competing in.” All of those things matter. I think you need that map. That’s been the goal. It’s to create that map of, “Here’s how your network works and how you can work it.”
S: There’s a law called Metcalfe’s law which I think it’s the value of the network doubles or increases exponentially with the size of the network, something like that, two fax machines in the world and nobody really cares. 500 fax machines, it’s a very small value, but it just exponentially rises in value as you add more and more fax machines into offices all around the world. Does that come into play here in the science of Friend of a Friend?
D: Yeah, a little bit. It’s funny that it’s 2018 now, fax machines are useless except for that one company that insists on the demand that you send something over as a fax instead of as a scan, right? The principle holds true with email, it holds true with phone number, with all of it. Actually in the intro, we talked about that a little bit. We profile a man named Adam Rifkin. He’s been written about before, Adam Grant wrote about him in Give and Take . That’s how we got on my radar, but I chased them down and said, “I want to do an interview with you two.” What you find out is that Adam Rifkin is the world’s greatest networker. That’s not something I made up, that’s something Fortune Magazine decided that he was. They did this thing where they took everyone on Fortune’s lists: The 40 Under 40, The Most Influential, there’s a list of most influential women, most influential men, company leaders. They have a bunch of different lists of influential people. It’s how they sell magazines, really. They decided to look at who is most connected to most people on this list via LinkedIn. They found it was this random guy, Adam Rifkin. It’s not a celebrity, it’s not a CEO celebrity, it’s not this huge billionaire business owner. It’s this guy who is not your stereotypical networker. He’s not the tall, slicked back, business card guy who can work a room. He’s an introvert, he’s a little shy. He actually describes himself as awkward sometimes. He looks like a panda bear. He leans into that by making a lot of his handles on social media, had something to do with the name Panda. He really leans into this idea that he’s not the standard one. The reason that he basically has become the world’s greatest networker is he was trained in computer science, in how computer networks work, and very early on introduced to Metcalfe’s law. He basically said, “That’s true. The most useful thing I can do for my network and the network around me is to make sure everybody’s interconnected to each other.” He started building communities, doing regular introductions, and really trying to get the community of Silicon Valley where he was as connected as possible to each other. He, by default, ended up in the center. But not because he wanted to be this massive influencer, which is because he considered himself the caretaker of the network, and as a result became the greatest networker. There really is something true to that idea. There’s a bunch more laws other than Metcalfe’s law. What you find is that people are either like Adam Rifkin, they’re intentionally trying to do something that’s in practice with them or unintentionally stumbled into something that’s in line with the law and it’s been working.
S: There are a couple of books that are all about how to be a better networker. I’m sure many of us who are listening at least heard of, if not read. There’s Never Eat Alone, there’s How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Keith Ferrazzi wrote Never Eat Alone. Would you say that those books are just not based on science, but more based on experience and may not be a one size fits all solution?
D: No. That’s exactly right. Keith’s book is great and his experience is. He has an amazing story. Dale Carnegie’s book is a collection of observations from, I think 1937 was when it was first published. It’s a collection of observations from back then. There’s actually been others. There’s about every couple of years. There’s that person who’s a good networker writes a memoir. Those things are good. My background is in Organizational Psychology, one of the things they try and impress on a lot of people is that advice is a sample size of one. If you were doing a study and you surveyed Keith Ferrazzi, Keith’s a sample size of one. It’s a great story, but you don’t actually have something that’s empirically true that you can make generalizations out to the whole world about until you have a much larger sample size. In psych, the number’s about 250; in medicine it’s a little bit larger, in some field it’s a little smaller. But there’s no field in which the sample size of one is an accurate, scientific representation of a community. I think those books have value. They just aren’t based on, “Here’s what we know from a huge sample size.” In network science, we’re talking thousands and tens of thousands of people. I should also say, those network science books, they exist as well. I write a lot about the work of Duncan Watson. He’s written a couple of books. I read a lot about the work of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. They have a book on network science, but their approach is just this, “Wow, look at what we discovered. It’s this fascinating.” It’s not bridging that gap between, “Okay, here’s what we know. Yes, it’s fascinating. How do we put it into practice?” Fundamentally, I’ve built my writing career on this idea of taking good ideas from that world and putting handles on them turning into tools so people can use. That’s what they’re trying to do. It’s to blend that Keith Ferrazzi, Dale Carnegie with what the actual network scientists are writing about their stuff into something that’s deep into science, but is practical as a Never Eat Alone or How to Win Friends and Influence People.
S: Let’s go through some of these practical tools on.
D: One of the ones that we open up the book with is this idea of Weak Ties, which is slightly written about in some of the advice books. Although, often it is written about wrongly. I probably did help this issue by writing a book called Friend of a Friend. There is this misconception that your weak ties are people you’re not connected to, but you’re one introduction away from. That’s not actually accurate. When you think about your network you think about everybody that you know. They probably fall into one of three categories. There’s your close ties, your close link connections: the people you see every day, your family, the people you work with, the people that you trust, the people that you’re really close to. Usually these are the people that you go to for advice and counsel. Sometimes. when you have a big problem, you go to them for advice. They’re great for social support, but they’re not usually all that good for providing innovative or novel solutions to what you should do. Ronald Burt, a sociologist, uses the term, they’re redundant. Your close connections are usually interconnected to each other. They all know the same people, they all have access to the same information that you do. To some extent, they’re a little bit redundant. There’s two other categories of people inside the realm of what you know, your weak ties and your dormant ties. Weak ties are people you know but you don’t know that well. They’re the people that you might work with them, but you only see them when there’s cake in the break room or maybe you go to the gym with him and you spot each other every once in a while. But you only know his name and what he does for work, you don’t know too much about them. They’re light connections. You might even call them your acquaintances. Your dormant ties or this third category people who used to be close to you, but for some reason or another, that relationship fell by the wayside. They changed jobs, you moved, whatever happened. They moved from being a close contact to a weak tie. They were operating in both at the same time. These dormant ties in particular, but both dormant and weak Ties are incredibly valuable sources of new information, new ideas, new opportunities, new introductions to people. They’re not redundant. What I love about this is what most people tend to do whether it’s they need a job or whether they need to come up with that idea for new campaign, whatever it is, most people go to those close contacts and you need them. As soon as that’s over, they jump to Google or they jump to strangers. If it’s looking for a job, now they’re posting on monster.com or CareerBuilder. If it’s trying to find information, they’re just doing random searches and not actually interacting with this whole class of people that you know and that have access to ideas and information that’s different than you. But they’re not total strangers that you have to warm up to and build a connection with. They’re literally your friends, you just haven’t talked to them in a while. One of the very first things we encourage a lot of people to do is make a regular habit of checking in with these people. This is actually something Keith Ferrazzi is in line with. It’s pinging them on a regular basis, every 3 months, 6 months, depends on the relationship. Finding a reason to interact with them a little bit just to keep that spark of relationship alive, so that when they need you or when you need them, you’re both there and it’s not this awkward conversation because you haven’t talked to each other in three years. It’s just one more in a series of conversations.
S: I think there’s a best practice in sales. It’s to maintain a minimum of a 90-day contact frequency. Is that based on science or is that just a conventional wisdom?
A: The 90-day is conventional wisdom. I think it actually really depends on the sales cycle. If it’s a shorter sales cycle and once you have that relationship with the client, you’re checking in and just seeing what new things they need to order each month, it should probably be more soon. If it’s a really long, expensive, and almost consultative sales cycle, you’re probably okay checking in a little bit more or it should be a little bit less. This is actually something, too that a lot of what I see that’s really weird is a lot of sales functions will try and almost automate this. Two years ago, I bought a house. I get a regular letter in my physical mailbox every month or so from the real estate agent that helped me on the house. I didn’t ask for this letter. I’m just on her list. That’s not a real relationship. They might have conformed to the 90-day rule, but it’s not actually, “Hey, here’s what’s going on with me. What’s going on with you?” Networking is a medicine. There’s bit of an art and there’s a bit of a science. We have a lot of the art in the past. Now, we need a bit more of the science. Figuring out the science of checking in every once in a while is definitely accurate. Figuring out what the right interval of time varies. I think not only does it depend on the sales relationship, it depends on the person, the client, the strength of the relationship.
S: What do you do personally to keep your weak ties alive and to revive your dormant ties? As a professor and a very successful business person and author, I’m sure you have a lot of connections like thousands and thousands probably or 5000 full with your Facebook friends. You have to kick people off in order to make room for others. What do you do?
A: I just went through this massive purge in Facebook that took me multiple, multiple months. Now, it’s split between the Facebook profile and the Facebook page, and using the page to keep in touch with professional stuff. We don’t have to go to into that. I actually do two things. I recommend most people to do one of the two, if not both. There’s a couple products that are out there that are almost personal CRM systems, Salesforce for individuals. I use one called Contactually that I love. It doesn’t say every 90 days, you can set for each relationship what the right interval of time is, it’ll ping you if you haven’t talked to them. It monitors your email and your social media a little bit. If you do talk to them, it’ll make a note of it without you having to physically enter it on a lot of CRM systems. I use that, but often it doesn’t ping me for most updates because I have this other trick that I use. Right now, as we’re recording this, everyone’s complaining about social media around privacy. But before the privacy thing and long after it, one of the chief complaints now is exactly what you said, I think most people feel like they have too many contacts. Suddenly, these tools became a database of weak ties instead of those close connections, which is what you wanted when you started. That’s okay. The trick is to not get frustrated with it. Those news feeds on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever it is, they are a resource of information where people are literally broadcasting what’s going on in their lives. The trick is, don’t just click like or comment, type out little congratulations, so the little balloon thing goes off on their phone and it looks cool. It was cool the first two times, now it’s actually annoying. The trick is when you see that thing, someone you haven’t talked to in a while posts, “Hey, I just got a new job. We’re moving to Chicago.” Then there’ll be this long stream of congratulations from people they barely know. If this is a weak tie for you or a dormant tie for you, use that information, but then go to a more personal medium. Send them a text message and email, make a phone call to offer your congratulations in person because that’s what gets remembered. If you ever had to work anniversary on LinkedIn, you know that eventually you’re just drowning in messages inside that platform. It’s the ones outside that you actually remember. You would use that information. Send them a more personal message, “Congratulations! I just saw you post this. You’re moving to Chicago.” Maybe try and add something of value in the email. To use the Chicago example, anybody I notice who move to Chicago, I’m going to go ahead and tell them that the best tea place you know is Gino’s East. Don’t waste your time anywhere else. Lou Malnati’s is a close second, but it’s overpriced. Something of value.
S: I love Lou Malnati’s.
A: It’s good, but you pay for the ambiance, right?
S: I’m willing to pay for that.
A: That’s fair. There is no ambiance in Gino’s East. It’s nothing but people writing on the walls and sticking gums everywhere. You pay a little more of the ambiance. It’s pretty much the same pie, so we’ll go there. By the way, the right answer with the sausage patty that takes the entirety of the bed of crust, you know what I’m talking about?
S: I’m a vegetarian.
A: I’m the opposite. I don’t think pizzas should have vegetables on it but I have tried that one. It’s pretty decent. You get my point. Add a little bit of add-value. If you can’t think of anything else, make it light and fun but again, something that creates some value, some tip for them. Use that as the introduction to have a deeper conversation, “We should catch up sometime soon,” or sometimes I’ll write just in the email, “What else is new?” Depending on the relationship, I might put a little blurb about what I’ve been up to recently. But that’s the idea. You use these publicly available information, most of us are mindlessly scrolling through those news feeds anyway. Take the 90 seconds to send a more personal message. Make a habit of doing that every couple of days, maybe just shoot for once a week. If you’re doing that consistently, you’ll have a habit rather than a system. A habit that keeps these weak and dormant ties in relationship with you, which is a really powerful thing.
S: There’s a case study I heard recently where ConvertKit, which is an email provider, they would send, “Thank you for becoming a customer.” The video message, handmade just for that one new customer with the person’s name, that would be sent out through a tool called Bunjoro. It was a huge success. They got lots more customer retention because of that, and customer delight, and everything. It was such a really nice touch. It added real business value, bottomline value to ConvertKit. I think that sort of stuff makes a lot of business sense.
D: I’m actually a little sad because I never got that, I just got a tshirt, but I do wear the tshirt often as a ConvertKit customer. It says, “Create everyday on it.” It’s a pretty cool shirt. What I love about that is the personal element of that. I’m going to take the time to record the message. It doesn’t take all that long to record it – 90 seconds, two minutes if it’s a 30-second video, even counting upload times and all of that. The software tool just aids that. I think there’s a tendency, especially on the sales side, to try and automate so much stuff. There’s some systems that will literally send out—you introduce two people via email and then a week later, it’ll automatically send this generic, “Hey, John. How was the email to Sally?” It’s just an inauthentic system. There’s actually a lot of research that supports this idea, that while these tools make it easier to supplement our offline relationships, they’re not a replacement for it. You can’t ultimately automate being personal and being human, but these tools can definitely help. It’s a great example of one that definitely helps make it easier.
S: Back to this idea that our social networks, at least online, tend to be full of weak ties and just a lot of noise therefore. We don’t really know who these people are, yet we’re getting their daily updates in our news feeds. We don’t really care. What do you do to maintain better hygiene of your social networks and your news feeds and so forth, so that it doesn’t frustrate you?
D: Now, we’re branching from the science to the art. This is what works for me. I think truthfully everybody has to set rules for this. I wish there were uniform rules for each of these tools. But I think everybody has to set uniform rules. I only use three networks: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I had Instagram for a while, but I didn’t really get the point because I wasn’t really interested in jealousy-inducing photos of people on beaches when I’m not. I have a specific rule for each one. Twitter is a free forum. Anybody who wants to follow me and converse with me, great, we’ll do it there. I only follow about 100 people. It’s just people that I want to get almost news and information from, not commentary, but then other people comment at me, that’s the free forum. That’s usually the entry level place in the relationship where a lot of relationships for me start or at least a conversation starts. LinkedIn, really my only rule is I don’t send LinkedIn connections to people unless I met them in person. However, if somebody I haven’t met in person has sent it to me, I’ll accept it right up until the moment that you spam me with something, then I’ll block and report you. I’m a little bit mean about that. I’m sure you’ve been in this situation, too. You accept someone’s LinkedIn request and suddenly you’re in their email list and you totally didn’t do it. Beyond that, if you want to connect and interact and follow me and converse there, we’ll do it until it gets a little weird. My rule for a personal Facebook account is, actually I have two. I have to have met you in person and I have to be comfortable with you looking at pictures of my kids. That’s actually a very small circle for me. I think of actually the three networks themselves as concentric circles. The innermost circle is this one network, then we branch out a little bit more into that LinkedIn network, and then a little bit more into Twitter. I will say there’s one thing I do beyond just personal connections on Facebook. In my opinion, the most valuable thing about it and the only real reason other than reconnecting with close friends to have an account with this network, and that’s groups. Groups have become an incredibly powerful thing. In the book, we talk about the idea of clusters and how finding a cluster, or my friend Jeff Coyne calls it finding a scene, finding that community that you can share ideas and work with is hugely valuable. You and I are both in a group of business writers. It’s been one of the most valuable things that I’ve been a part of in the last couple of years. Between getting ideas for how to promote books or how to survive the writing process or even just being talked down off a cliff when something’s not going your way, it’s become this incredibly valuable community. I would definitely encourage a lot of people to dive in and check out those groups. LinkedIn also has groups, but I feel like they’re suddenly trying to kill it. They haven’t said anything but they’re just making it harder and harder to go back to and find. But that’s been, for me, probably the most valuable thing, it’s using it to find those circles. That’s what I do and how I put up with it. Everybody’s a little bit different, but I think you’ve got to have clear rules and then you’ve got to see them as concentric circles where depending on the strength of the relationship, you decide which medium you’re going to have that conversation in.
S: There’s a definite etiquette for each of the social networks. You can add lots of hashtags to an Instagram post, but don’t go over the top with Twitter, maybe one or few at the most, and maybe one in Facebook, but certainly not three, four or five, that’s just way over the top and not appropriate. When somebody adds you or you add them, if you say, “Hey, thanks for the add,” that’s okay on certain networks, but not okay on others. It gets a little creepy on some. Any tips around the etiquette side of things?
D: My biggest piece of advice is remember that these are tools to supplement existing relationships. I once heard it described as use the cocktail party rule. You wouldn’t run into a party and start just saying all sorts of amazing things about yourself all of the time. You would be a little more subtle. I think the same thing here applies. I think whatever rule you would do in person, that’s probably what you should do online. Again, the strength of relationship affects it. I’m actually totally with you on the hashtag thing. The whole point of those was so that if you were in an event or you were talking about a certain subject, people could find you. It wasn’t supposed to be this contest of how great your hashtag is.
S: Yeah, #I’mawesome.
D: Yeah, exactly right, or #readyfortheweekend. Unless your goal is to have a conversation with a bunch of other people who are posting about yolo, there wasn’t really a point to putting that hashtag in there. I found this truthfully into whatever extent that I’m an influencer or public figure. One of the most amazing things I’ve found is that people have a tendency to forget there’s a human on the other end of the screen. I’ll get emails or tweets that sometimes are just either snarky or really mean or whatever. Then when you take the time to reply and they realize there’s a human on the other end, most of the time they apologize. The etiquette rule from that is before you click send, remember that there’s a human on the other end of that and you should probably treat them like the way you would have the same conversation as a human.
S: There’s a really cool framework or idea that I got out of a mastermind that I was in called Black Belt run by Taki Moore. That was to go against the grain–do what’s unexpected on social networks. For example, most people would be personal on Facebook and they’d be more professional on LinkedIn. What I learned was flip the script on that, be more personal on LinkedIn and more professional on Facebook. On Facebook you might do a lot of Facebook advertising and have book funnels, appointment funnels, and all sorts of cool stuff pushed out through your Facebook page, live videos and so forth, boost it or advertise, so that you get wider reach. Be more personal on LinkedIn where everybody else is treating it more like a big resume database. You actually thank people for adding you to their network, which are their connections. Start a conversation and be really personal and out of the ordinary. What do you think about that?
D: I really like that. You really think that the benefits from this is that surprise element. This is true. I think the majority of people that have a LinkedIn account filled it out because the automated prompts convinced them to put their resume basically online through their LinkedIn profile, and then totally forgot about it, and when you reply as a human, not only does it resonate with the people who really do treat it that way, and as Facebook and Twitter by the way get increasingly more divisive and political, a lot of people who just want to have work and business conversations are migrating over to LinkedIn. There are already people there who want to have human to human conversations. But even the people that you’re not, when you take that first step and you demonstrate that you are having that human conversation, that has a pretty big impact on a lot of people because of the novelty effect, which is weird to me, because all of the research points to this idea that these tools work best when they supplement real connections and real human relationships. Yet, we try and automate everything and then think that should work, then we get surprised that it doesn’t. Yeah, I absolutely love that. I know Taki, he’s definitely a friend of a friend connection. He’s a brilliant guy.
S: Yeah, he is. I’ve had him on the show. He’s great. There’s this thing on LinkedIn called LIONs. Do you know what this is?
D: I don’t actually.
S: Okay. LinkedIn Open Networker. It’s what Seth Godin would refer to as a promiscuous sneezer. Basically, they’ll take anybody. They’ll add anybody to their network. They are just looking to massively increase their network to some insanely huge number. I don’t see the point of it. If you’re two degrees away from somebody instead of three, big deal. I think it’s more valuable to have a more trusted network than to have one that you’ll take anybody because you’re looking for the big numbers. There’s a directory of LinkedIn Open Networkers. They have potentially tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of connections. I sometimes get connection requests from people who are LIONs. They’re like, “Hey, I’m on the top 100 of LIONS. I’d love to have you on my network.” I guess the idea would be, I would want that because if I just add one or two LIONs, that massively increases my reach, if we go two or three connections out, like if I do a job post or something like that. But I tend not to say yes to those people. What are your thoughts on this?
D: First of all, that actually makes a ton of sense for some of these people that will brag, you’ll see it in their little heading right for LinkedIn. They’ll brag about how many connections they have. This is where I can also get a little bit nerdy with some of the scientific research. You’re actually exactly right. In the book we look at two different things; LinkedIn was actually built off of this idea of the Six Degrees of Separation type idea. Probably when people think of Six Degrees of Separation, the most common thing they think of is Kevin Bacon. It became Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The truth is, they’ve actually done studies on the entire network of Hollywood. There’s a website which is really cool, Oracle of Bacon, where you can actually play the game and use a computer algorithm to find and connect people. But the thing is you can deselect Bacon and you find out that you can connect basically everybody. A couple of network scientists actually did the research. Hollywood is an interconnected network where you can connect pretty much anyone to pretty much anyone else in less than six steps. In fact the entirety of humanity, 7.4 billion people strong and counting, their research is strongly suggestive that you really are six, possibly seven, depending on whose living out in Idaho or if you’re trying to get to some remote island in the Pacific, but generally about 5-6. In fact in your professional world , it’s closer to 4-5. One of the things that’s interesting about both of those phenomenon though was it’s not reliant on these super connector type people. Kevin Bacon, in fact, if you look at the network of Hollywood and you rank people by how many connections they have from acting another films, Kevin Bacon is the 669th most connected person on Hollywood. In other words, he’s really average. There’s nothing special about his network and the number of connections. He’s actually a fluke history from three probably inebriated fraternity brothers who were staying up all night watching a movie marathon and saw that Kevin was in each of the films that were there and then got this grand idea and started publicizing it. You can do it with just about everyone. Our personal networks are the same way. Networks are so resilient. There are so many. If you think back to the dormant and weak ties, because of job transitions, because of changing industries, moving geographies, there are so many potential bridges that you don’t need to be connected to that super connector person in order to be close enough to all of the people that you need to be connected to. It’s weird to me that people would publicize this, but it speaks to a common misconception, that Kevin Bacon fallacy—that you don’t need to be the super connected person if your approach isn’t that it’s not about how many people, that’s your number I know, it’s about knowing who’s a friend, who’s a friend of a friend, who’s connected through the network. If you do need to meet someone that’s one or two degrees of separation, knowing who to ask for it. But you don’t actually need to be that 100,000-person connected person. This goes back to what we’re talking about before. If you don’t even know that person in real life, the fact that because they’re connected to 100,000 people, the fact that they would then be willing to introduce any two people that they don’t know in real life to each other just because they’re mutual LinkedIn connections is scary. It’s not going to be an effective introduction.
S: Malcolm Gladwell talks about connectors and mavens and salespeople. I think I’m a connector. I know a lot of people and I’m really good at pairing these folks up, so that they can make magic together. How, based on science and the research that you’ve been digging into, would you say you can maximize the effectiveness of a connector? Someone like myself, how would I make that superpower and be a superhero in my connector abilities?
D: We have to think about connections in two areas. We’ve already talked a bit about Metcalfe’s Law approach of just being a connector and keeping the community that you’re in, strengthening the connections inside that community through introductions is one element of connection that’s usually important. The other has to do with what in network science, we call a structural hole and a broker. It has to do with using your connective powers to connect two disparate communities. Networks are not egalitarian, everyone’s not connected to everyone, they’re nooks and crannies. There’s clusters, there’s little communities. Then there’s the weak ties and the bridges that connect those communities. When you’re graphing out a network, you call that empty space between two clusters of people a structural hole. It’s literally like space. If you think about it like two different planets, there’s an empty space in between them because the gravitational pull has pulled everything to those two spaces. Networks work the same way, people cluster off ,and as they cluster together, they open up space. That space is called a structural hole. The sociologist Ronald Burt uses this term broker for the person who makes the effort to connect those two communities. That person who’s a member of both and is focused on introducing people from two different communities is connecting and creating an information flow between those two communities. When you look at disruptive innovations, amazing business models, all of those things, they generally come from one community and then get applied to the other, this is why until it became a cliche everybody was trying to call themselves uber for blank. They were trying to use this business model, but over here in this other industry. You also see it in a bunch of other ideas. In the book, we talk about this woman, Jane McGonigal who was a game designer and then got a concussion. She used her game design skills and partnered with the medical community to creating a game that helps people get better from a bunch of different things –addiction, depression, concussions, and all sorts of stuff. She became that broker between these two communities. If you feel like you are one of those connector type people, the way to really create the most value for the people around you is to look to what different clusters and communities can I connect together? How can I be a broker between those two communities? That’s when you’re going to create the most value for the network and that value will spill over to you as well.
S: What are you doing to be that kind of a broker?
D: To some extent, I actually look at this book as that. As I said before, there’s great advice books from the Keith Ferrazzi’s and Dale Carnegie’s of the world. There’s a whole art of networking approach. There are good ideas there, but I think they need to be partnered with the scientific community, the people that have been studying networks for 60 years. The book is literally an attempt to reconcile those two ideas. To the extent that I get to introduce people from those two worlds, awesome, but really that’s big goals to put myself in the middle of that community.
S: Are you looking into any particular social networks that are maybe the next Facebook or Uber, whatever, like the sleepers out there. There’s this one that I’m starting to get invites to called Dock.IO.
D: Yeah, I’ve gotten those. I also played around there. They shut down because they went bankrupt. I played around with this network called This, which was like Facebook, but you can only post one thing per day. The whole idea was people will post stuff on Facebook and just say the comment This as in, “Here’s the article, but this is everything.” That was a really interesting experiment because people were choosing their words more, it’s like the Twitter effect where you only have 140 characters. You have to choose your words wisely. Now, you don’t have to. You just keep tweeting new tweets and flood everybody’s news feeds. I’m very slow. I’m not a maven, to use the Gladwell terminology, when it comes to online social networks because I’m just looking for the tool to supplement my existing offline network, which is what I think is probably the best strategy for most people. If you are using these tools to grow new connections, that’s awesome, but you also have to take the time to try and move those connections into the offline domain. To give an example, you and I are both in one private Facebook group of business writers, that’s one side of the coin, then there’s another group that’s for business speakers at conferences. That’s been a really useful tool to facilitate online relationships for me. I don’t live in New York or San Francisco or LA or one of those cities, when I go to a major city, one of the things I try and do is reach into those communities and create some kind of meet up, some kind of way that we can all meet in person. I was in New York two weeks ago, and I put together a meeting of people in New York and just said, “Hey, I’d love to meet all the people in this community who are in New York.” Most of them don’t take the time to regularly interact with each other, which is really weird. It took this guy coming from half a continent away to get people who live a block away from each other to interact, which struck me as a little odd and that might be a New York thing. But the idea was okay, these tools are fascinating for making that surface level connection, but you’ve also got to take the time. That’s been the biggest tool that I’ve been experimenting with recently. It’s doubling down on the face-to-face, the in-person, the building those relationships, the old school way and using these tools as supplement.
S: Let’s go through a couple of different use cases. You mentioned, you’re in this other Facebook group with business speakers. Let’s say that you’re a professional speaker and you want to increase the value that you’re getting out of your network and add more value to the network, in particular in the area of speaking, getting better speaking gigs and connecting up conference organizers with some of your friends who are amazing speakers and so forth. That’s the use case. What tools would you recommend using? What platforms would you use with these tools or with these strategies? Let’s start there.
D: Whether you do it in digital or you do it in person, the strategy is the same. I think you do both ends. My friend Pam Slim has this great approach that she says, finding the watering holes, the sort of savannah metaphor of different animals coalesce in different watering holes and you’ve got to find where do both of those communities hang out and how can I become a broker? I already mentioned that I’m in the speaker group and I’m interacting with a lot of those folks. I’m also taking steps to deliberately interact with more of the meeting planners, the head of training and development for organizations, the people who decide who gets booked. They might not be the person that signs off on it, that’s usually the CFO, but the people who make that initial agenda. I’m trying to find both of those communities, trying to interact in both communities. Both of them have regular in-person meetings. In the speaker world, there’s things like NSA, there’s local chapters, there’s other meet ups of these different communities in person. In the meeting planner world there’s a couple different organizations, PCMA is for meeting planners. ASAE, it’s literally a trade association for the heads of trade associations, which is meta, but it exists. These watering holes, these communities where these people interact. Trying to interact with those communities and be that broker between them, that means that you’re going to spend more time referring other folks in that relationship. You’re talking to the meeting planner and they’re planning this, and you realize, “You don’t need me. I’m not trying to sell you on me, but I can still sell you on the idea that I’ll be a useful, long term resource. Let me connect you with my friend, Phil who does an awesome thing on sales, or my friend Scott who’s brilliant on marketing, or what have you. Trying to do that, be that broker between those communities, that’s step one.
S: I had to jump in with one thought here. This reminds me of Jay Abraham, who’s an amazing marketer. He’s actually been on my podcast twice. He’s like the godfather of marketing. He talks about preeminence and if it makes more sense for you to refer your competitor to that prospect because it’s a better fit, they’ll do a better job, if there’s more resonance or more value creation that way, then you should do that. You become the trusted advisor and not just trying to hock your own wares. I think that dovetails quite nicely with what you’re describing.
D: That’s exactly right. In this world and in a lot of worlds, where people feel like networking gets sleazy is where they feel like people are only connecting to each other because they’re trying to get the sale immediately. It’s actually depressing. One of the most common pieces of pushback as I’m trying to talk about in this book. I literally had an email two days ago from someone that said, “I’m never going to buy your book. There’s nothing in here about how you convert an initial conversation into a sale.” I thought, “Well yeah, there’s nothing in there because you shouldn’t be doing it. Unless you’re in a retail store, you should be taking time to build the relationship, be seen as a trusted advisor, be seen as a source of wisdom, and then let the sale happen.” Yeah, exactly right. To use the use case, not only do you help that meeting planner figure out what he or she needs, and they remember that they got value from that speaker, they also remember you as the source of that. They’re going to start asking you multiple times. Eventually, you’re going to be that right person. But you’re only going to be that right person in a couple of different scenarios, but what you want is to be able to go to bat in every scenario, so that when the right scenario comes up you’re there. Obscurity is a whole lot harder thing to monetize than creating this value and then referring it to somewhere else. That’ll be step one. Step two is really paying attention to those weak and dormant ties. I will do a couple of different things. When I’m even at a speech, I did this just yesterday, I’ll try and have a conversation in-person with the meeting planner about not only who did they book at last year’s annual meeting, who are they booking at the next meeting? Getting an idea of who they know that I might know that we can connect over, but also who are they thinking about. If this is what you’re planning next year, you should really think about this person, she’s fantastic and be that referral. I told you earlier I use a tool called Contactually to stay in touch every single past client of mine from this weak tie approach, it’s in Contactually. There’s a follow-up, it’s not 90 days, it’s actually about once a year. It tends to be about once a year or about three months after I would’ve done my talk, because you figure nine months out is around when planning gets really serious for next year. I’ll check back in and go, “Hey, I know you’ve got this other meeting coming up. There’s no expectation you’re going to book me again, but can I help you find somebody else? I have a lot of friends in the space. Tell me what you’re looking for and maybe I know someone.” The thing that that does is provide that long term value. I’ve been invited back a couple of times because of that. But the bigger thing is being seen as that source of value and being seen as that person that’s generous. Then the flow starts to go the other way, where other speakers start to have you top of mind because you’re constantly referring them to new potential things, too, so they start referring you as well. It’s a little bit of that weak tie approach and a lot of that being a broker between the two communities approach.
S: That’s a very virtuous cycle there. Let’s go into another use case. Let’s say that you are looking for a job.
D: Which is an unfortunate scenario to be in. This is where in some of the advice books, the ideas around weak tie come into play. There’s an early, early study from 1973, Mark Granovetter did the initial study called The Strength of Weak Ties that showed that job hunters were more likely to find the leads through acquaintances and weak ties and they were strong connections. Ever since then, one of the first pieces of advice you get if you get laid off or if you get fired or you’re looking for new work in general, is reach out to your weak ties. This is another person I’d put in the advice category, Harvey MacKay has this great quote, “You should dig your well before you’re thirsty.” The problem with that is you’re digging your well as you’re thirsty. People can smell that desperation on you, the idea that you only care about them because now there’s something to get out of you. Really, before you’re looking for that new job, you should be doing that regular practice of checking back in with weak ties. If you’re not, that’s still okay. But you should try and do to the extent that you cannot make it about, “Oh my gosh, I’m so desperate. I need this help,” but about really actually wanting to legitimately reengage that relationship and understand that person. That’s the weak ties approach. We’ve covered that a little bit more. The other thing that I would encourage a lot of people to do is if the six degrees of separation is true, if you don’t need someone like Kevin Bacon in your life to connect you to everyone else, everyone’s that interconnected, then we ought to be regularly exploring the fringes of our network. To go back to a technological tool, LinkedIn is good at this because you can see who’s one or two degrees of separation out from it, the problem is that you’ve got these people that are flooding LinkedIn with 100,000 connection requests, they are not really all that authentic. Sometimes, you can use that as a good tool to see who’s you’re one introduction away, but you’ve got to be really careful in knowing who is that introduction and if this is a legit connection or not. I coach a lot of people to ask the question, “Who do you know in blank,” with blank being the industry that you want to get to know and work in, the geography, the sector, whatever you’re trying to get know more people in? That question, “Who do you know in blank?” does a couple of different things. It’s not asking for an introduction right away. It’s allowing the other person to offer one if they feel like there’s a good fit between you and the person potential. The other thing you’re probably going to get is a list of two or three names, not just one name. You might only get one name, but over time you ask that question to a lot of people, the most common response will be two or three names especially where those names overlap, there’s a strong suggestion, there’s an easy connection there, a connection you should make, whether they can provide you a job or not. You’re just so interconnected that you should be that way. “Who do you know in blank?” is a really powerful question to be asking your close connections, but also your weak ties to explore the fringes of that network. In Friend of a Friend we tell the story of Michelle McKenna-Doyle, who’s a brilliant woman, and was, at the time. she was the highest level female executive in the NFL ever. She was the CIO in a couple different companies, the companies merged and she basically had to decide whether or not, ironically, to move to Chicago, or to look for a new job. She starts exploring the fringes of her network and she’s looking at stuff. Believe it or not, one of the things that keeps coming up, friends are sending her this posting for NFL, but she has no connections to NFL. They’re just seeing it on the career website or on Monster, or what have you. She starts exploring the network asking, “Who do you know in blank?” Searching it all out, and eventually she finds a person who works for a search firm who says, “Our firm’s not handling the search, but I know someone who works at the firm that is. Let me introduce you.” She’s using one introduction, one degree of separation out, she’s at the search firm; two degrees out, she’s in the boardroom. She convinces the NFL that they need her, that they need her at CIO position, and she gets that job. But it’s not because she just try to go on LinkedIn and see who do I know that’s connected to Roger Goodell or whoever in the NFL that I can interview with. It was exploring the fringes of her network to find the most efficient path asking, “Who do you know in blank?” Eventually she found her way there and became the highest level female executive in the history of the league. I think it’s fascinating too because she grew up in a football family. All of her brothers played football. Most of them played at the University of Alabama even though she went to Auburn. She was the only one from her family that made it into the NFL. I always thought that’s good.
S: That’s funny. That’s awesome. One more use case. Let’s say you’re an affiliate marketer and you are trying to monetize your various blogs and content place. Maybe there are YouTube channels and Facebook account, and all that stuff. You need to add value in order to add these affiliate links and people to actually follow them for you to get paid. They can also leverage your network to get the word out about what you’re doing. There’s a big difference between being seen as a maven and a shill. Maven, you can go to and get trusted advice about what the right new TV to get is. But a shill is just looking to drive you to the one that has the biggest payout for them.
D: This is where we fall into that idea. We were talking a bit more about watering holes and clusters. We were talking about the speaking one and the other one. This is where I feel like if this is your goal, then your job is to twofold be a part of the affiliate marketer community, but also to build a community. You can only be a maven, you can only be an expert in so many things, and your role in order to not be a shill is to build a community around that where you’re seen as one voice in that. Then you’ve also got to be connected into that community of folks that are affiliate marketers. There are a lot of experts out there that are not doing specific affiliate marketing, maybe they’re doing all of their affiliate links to Amazon or maybe they’re just in it for the fun of talking about the best TVs, whatever it is. You’ve got to figure out, what’s my subject? What are my watering holes interact with this affiliate community of people that we are all going to represent each other, but I also need to be worried about building a community of folks that are following me and trusting me as a source of advice on whatever that thing is and only taking the opportunities where there’s overlap. Not just if you write about one thing, I’m just promoting anything you get offered to write about. I have a couple of different friends in the space. I’ve done this from time to time. I’ve planned these virtual summits as well. One of the things you get is a lot of people that are just desperate to be a part of what you’re doing, even though they’re not a fit for the subject that you’re doing it on. I’m really specific about the types of communities that I’m trying to build basically around my book. The first one was around creativity, the next one is about management and leadership, this one’s about networking. Those are really the only three spaces in which I’m trying to add any value. Unless there’s an overlap of the community of people that are paying attention to my work and the given product or the given campaign that someone else is doing, unless there’s a clear cut like, “This is a reason why you should begin to represent this product to this community, unless there’s that overlap of the two communities, this is a no go.” I know you do the math and you start to go, “Hey, I could make at least this much from promoting it.” But over time you’re going to dramatically reduce your effectiveness because people are going to see you as that shill. It’s twofold – that building community and also diving in that. I don’t talk about them in the book, but one community I really actually look up to, I’m sure you know all of these people, we’ll keep them nameless to protect the innocent, but there’s a whole lot of people now that all seem to live outside of Nashville, Tennessee that are all in this affiliate marketing space. They interact with each other offline. They’re a good community of people that are promoting each other’s stuff, but they’re also making sure that most of the time there’s an overlap between what they do and what their audience is looking for. They’re seen as those type of people.
S: Cool. With your book, you’re probably making this part of a funnel or a buyer’s journey. The book is a starting point. Then that leads maybe to an online training, some sort of information product, and that maybe leads to coaching or a mastermind. I’m just hypothesizing here. Maybe fill in the gaps here. Where does this lead?
D: To give you the example of what we just talked about, for my own life. Now, we’re in this networking community. We’re talking about building communities. There is definitely an info product in the works. One of the things I like to do is put the book out there and wait a few months and see, “Okay. What sections are resonating with people? Where are their questions?” The book isn’t just the course or whatever it is, isn’t just seen as this is me doing it over a series of 30-minutes slide show and recorded presentations. It’s actually me going deeper in the areas people want to go deeper. It’s definitely there. It’s in the six months space. The other thing is really interesting. I mentioned earlier this service, Contactually, which I’m a big fan of. I have yet to use it, but I just started talking with the owners of that about, how can I represent this product because it is a great supplement to that. There even is that affiliate approach there. That’s in the works and something I’m thinking about. I think the way to do it legitimately and the way to do it the best and sustainably for the long term is to say, “Who’s the community that I’m serving? What information am I getting out there? What’s resonating? Where do they have questions? Then to the extent that there are products I can create or products I can represent that help that, I will to the extent that they aren’t.” I’m not going to promote them just to make a quick buck. I want to be seen as that valuable person to that whole community. It’s a slower build but it’s also a more sustainable build.
S: Do you have a private Facebook group for people who have read the book?
D: I don’t. I should probably make one now that the book is out. I’ve got who is the early adopters and we’ve been communicating via email. No, we probably do need to create that now that the book is actually out and people are regularly connected to it. I do also have, very specifically each chapter of the book has this section called From Science to Practice. Then there are resources on my website that’ll help you put that into practice. It’s the beginning stages of building that community. It was hard to build it until the book is out. We’re recording this the day after the book came out. It’s like, “Cool. Now we can build that.” There’ll probably be an inner circle again for the people that go deeper with the course or with something else, an inner circle of that group for folks that are taking it even further.
S: You had a group of early adopters that you would nurture and hopefully they would beat the streets, telling all the bookstores like, “Hey, you got to have this book out.” It’s like what Neil Strauss did. He had a street team of people who would pick up the phones and call the local bookstores and say, “Hey, is Neil Strauss’s new book out yet? Can I pick it up yet?” They get enough calls and I’m like, “Geez. What is this Neil Strauss book? We’ve got to order more copies. They’re going to go flying off the shelves once they arrive.”
D: They’re also the community that is supporting you on social during the whole launch, the community that’s posting all of the Amazon reviews. Specifically, I don’t know how many Neil Strauss did. I specifically limited that community to about 150 folks, not because of some magical number, it just that seemed to be about the number of people that I could reasonably keep up communication with individually. More than that, we’d have to go to that group and community manager approach, which we didn’t want to do until the book was out.
S: This reminds me of one case study example of the most brilliant launch, leveraging close ties. That was when Justin Bieber launched his song What Do You Mean. He had a 30-day countdown and he got all these major celebrities, people like Ellen DeGeneres and Ed Sheeran and so forth. They were on social posting short video clips or pictures with them holding a sign saying, “What do you mean? 29 days to go,” or 12 days to go or five days left or that sort of thing. People were like, “What the heck is this what do you mean thing?” I remember Ed Sheeran did a little video clip. Nobody knew what that song was going to sound like, but he did this total riff around. He was playing his guitar and singing, of course it sounded nothing like what the song ended up being, but it really built a lot of intrigue and buzz about it. Justin Bieber broke all these records of most number of downloads or sales for single or whatever on launch day, whatever the statistics was. It was impressive. I think the secret was that particular campaign. Have you heard about this?
D: I have. Most people’s reaction to that is, “Oh, that’d be great if I knew Ellen DeGeneres.” I think a lot of people don’t know that that’s replicable, no matter what your community is. Actually, in Friend of a Friend we talk about this network science concept called the majority illusion. Majority illusion is essentially if you target the right people and you have the people who are the most connected, we are tribal creatures, we take our cues about what to be excited about, what information to consume, even where we get our news. We get that from the most connected people in the community. If you target through those people and get them onboard, you can look like everyone is talking about you even though most people aren’t. This is something some savvy marketers have known for a long time–long before there was network science research. We actually talk about Tim Ferriss. He calls it the surround sound effect. He didn’t know Ellen DeGeneres at the time when The 4-Hour Workweek came out. In fact, he didn’t really know anybody. He was a vitamin salesman on the edges of the internet. But he took the time to go to the conferences and meet around tech, meet tech bloggers, and meet everyone who would be the most connected people for the subset of 18-35 year old tech savvy males. He defined his demographic and then looked around to go where these people are getting their information, who are these people trusting, who are the connectors mavens of this community, and then build a relationship with them over a number of years. If you were in 18-35 year old tech savvy male, when that book came out Tim Ferriss was everywhere. If you weren’t, he was nowhere. You didn’t even see him. But once he got that critical mass inside that community, it spilled over. I love the idea, I love the concept. The trick is, anybody can do it. Bieber has mass audience, so knowing Ellen DeGeneres and all those folks is a must. But anybody can do it if you have a really clear idea of what is the niche that I’m targeting and then who are the people in that niche that everyone is paying attention to, I need to build relationships with those folks. You can appear to be everywhere even if you’re not, even if you’re just everywhere in that small community.
S: Having a podcast, like I do, is a great vehicle to get in the door with those major influencers–the people that seem to know everybody. These are the guests that I end up having on my show. Anybody could be a podcaster, anybody could start out reaching to these people that are so well connected and would be great to create that majority illusion. Just invite them on your show.
D: That’s exactly right. I started a podcast eight years ago. We don’t currently run it because it was targeting a little bit different audience than what this book is about. We’ll probably start up again when the initial curve of this and all of the stuff we’re going to build in the backend of this slows down. It’s really a brilliant way to do it. If audios are not your thing, there’s folks that are now doing it with video YouTube interviews, they’ll do even an in-person interview and then write it up and post it as a medium article or whatever it is. There’s no excuse to not start. But there’s a really powerful thing that happens when instead of begging that influencer, that person that you look up to for coffee or to pick your brain, when you invite them in to create content with you and to share them with your audience, you build a deeper level of trust faster with those people. They become incredibly valuable connections that you really don’t get unless you’re inviting them into some shared activity.
S: This is all great stuff. Thank you so much, David. If somebody wanted to take the next step with you, to work with you or to learn from you, where would you direct them?
D: Actually, the number one best place to go is your website, in the show notes for your episode. You do an awesome job with the link to everything. But I do want to encourage people, the book is called Friend of a Friend, check that out. Also, we have this thing for your audience. If you listened all the way through, we’ve been chatting for an hour, if you’re still with us that means that you love audio, you love podcast, you love this content. We’ve got this cool little thing for you. We’re originally giving it away as a bonus where you had to buy the book to get it. But for your audience, if you’re part of the end of the podcast club, if you’ve listened all the way to now, we want to give you a thank you gift. We created this audio course. It’s basically a series of monologues or podcasts around how to put the ideas in this book into practice, how to give and get the introductions that you need in your life. We call it How to Connect. Totally free as a thank you gift. It’s available at davidburkus.com/marketingspeak. Yours again, if you’re part of this end of the podcast club. I want to get it into your hands, get and listen to. Totally freely available, davidburkus.com/marketingspeak.
S: Thank you so much, David. Thank you listeners. Now it’s time to take action. Apply this stuff in your life, in your business, and get the returns out of the network that are available to you, and add massive value to that network. This is Stephan Spencer, your host, signing off. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. In the meantime, take care.