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Network Management

Four Networking Terms You Need To Know To Grow Your Network

By Rebecca Hinds

What’s in a network? We all know networking is important but few of us understand what’s entailed in building a powerful network? We rely on vanity metrics such as number of Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections, yet these metrics don’t give us an accurate representation of the strength of our networks. Here are four network terms you need to know to strategically grow your network.

1. Weak ties

According to research by Stanford Professor Mark Granovetter, there is a strength associated with weak ties. Weak ties are individuals who we don’t interact with on a frequent basis. These ties are important for uniting different groups within a network. They are bridges.

In contrast, strong ties are those people who you habitually interact with. They aren’t likely to lead you to new, exciting, and untapped opportunities. They have access to similar people and sources of information as you do. Weak ties, however, are more likely to be connected to groups and people outside of your central network. By forging bonds with these weak ties, you’re able to gain access to new communities and new information. This helps broaden your perspective and opes up new doors.

2. Structural holes

Ronald Burt, one of the world’s top network scientists believes the number one best predictor of career success is an open network. Individuals who build open networks recognize the value of structural holes. A structural hole is a gap between two individuals who exhibit complementary skill sets or knowledge. In contrast to a weak tie, which deals with the strength of the relationship between two connections, a structural hole is, according to Burt, a “chasm” or absence of a tie between two connections.

Research has found that structural holes in entrepreneurs’ social networks are associated with entrepreneurial success. When we exploit structural holes in our network, we can broker opportunities and combine knowledge in new and exciting ways.

3. Structural folds

In their seminal paper, Vedres and Stark (2010) introduce the concept of structural folds. Structural folds bear resemblance to structural holes but are notably different. Vedres and Stark describe brokerage across structural holes as akin to electrical circuits that transmit information. In contrast, they liken structural folds to molecular bonding “in which ties connect nodes into larger groupings that represent a new molecular quality and not merely an extension of circuits to further atoms of the network”. Structural folds enable entrepreneurs to access diverse resource sets by binding cohesive groups. Vedres and Stark explain, “Instead of seeing networks as the wiring through which informational electrons flow, we should think of networks as a kind of molecular bonding in which ties connect nodes into larger groupings that represent a new molecular quality and not merely an extension of circuits to further atoms of the network.”

The distinction between structural holes and folds is subtle but important. If you transfer an idea from one domain to any other (perhaps, as a result of forging a strong relationship with a connection in a different industry), you are taking advantage of structural holes. If you forge a strong relationship with a connection in a different industry and combine your unique know-how with their unique know-how to fundamentally create something new, you are taking advantage of structural folds. Both holes and folds can be game-changing in enhancing your success.

4. Homophily

Homophily—the old adage, birds of a feather flock together, is a central theme in network theory. It’s natural to bond with people who are similar to us. But when we are too alike to people in our network, we fall short in reaping full advantage from our network. It’s important to constantly assess the diversity of your network and work to expose yourself to new viewpoints and perspectives. Using Affinity, you can accurately keep tabs on the diversity of your network and ensure that you’re building ties that can enhance your reach to new opportunities. There’s a real advantage when you don’t flock together with birds of your same feather.

Marketing guru Porter Gale once said, “Your network is your net worth." By understanding the weak ties, structural holes, structural folds, and homophily in your network, you’ll be able to realize an impressive ROI from your networking endeavors.
how to grow your network guide

Network Management