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How to Boost Your Social Capital in 4 Steps


Monetary capital is straightforward to calculate--by and large, it’s the number of dollars and cents you have to your name. But social capital is much more complex. It can’t be calculated using vanity metrics such as the number of LinkedIn connections you have. A 2014 study published by the University of Surrey, University of Greenwich, and Kingston Smith, a leading advisor to entrepreneurial businesses, found that entrepreneurs are aware that they need to improve their “social capital” but they’re unsure as to how to go about doing it.

We all know the importance of networking but few of us know how to go about it in a strategic way. Here are four tips, grounded in science, that will help you grow your network and boost your social capital.

1. Be a Giver

In his book "Give and Take", Adam Grant outlines three distinct groups of people: givers, takers, and matchers. According to Grant’s research, givers tend to be most successful. They adopt a long-term view and focus on how they can help others. By putting others' interests first, they gain high levels of trust and respect.

But--there’s a catch. According to Grant, there are two types of givers --selfless givers and otherish givers. Selfless givers drop everything on a dime to help others. They are so committed to helping others that they’re often taken advantage of.

Otherish givers, on the other hand, are just as willing to give as selfless givers but they are much more strategic. They ensure that others don’t take advantage of them. Ultimately, otherish givers avoid burnout while building a robust and extensive network. Because they have established a history of giving to others without expecting anything in return, members of their network are much more inclined to think about them for personal and career-boosting opportunities when they arise.

2. Use Metrics

Traditional networking platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are powered by vanity metrics such as the number of connections or number of followers. From these metrics, it’s very difficult to glean your true relationship strength with connections. In order to get an accurate gauge of your social capital, you need to adopt a more holistic measurement approach.

Relationship intelligence tools such as Affinity help you understand your relationship strength with each individual in your network. The relationship strength is based on a complete host of factors such as frequency, last contact, writing style, and other patented methods. This gives you a much better pulse into your actual social capital.

Peter Drucker once said, “you can't manage what you can't measure”. By grounding yourself in relationship intelligence metrics, you’ll be able to set goals for the future and monitor your progress over time.

3. Expand your collective network

Many people believe that social capital is exclusively confined to their first-degree connections. But, in reality, it’s our second-degree connections that can be the most impactful. It’s unlikely that your strong ties--those people who you habitually interact with--will lead you to new, exciting, and untapped opportunities. They likely have access to much of the same knowledge and groups of people as you do.

Research by Stanford Professor and sociologist Mark Granovetter has revealed that there is a strength associated with weak ties--those people who we don’t interact with on a daily basis. Granovetter argues that these ties are important for uniting different groups within a 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 afford you new opportunities.

4. Know Your Limit

Decades ago, psychologist Robin Dunbar revealed that the human brain is capable of maintaining only a certain number of relationships. This number--150--came to be termed Dunbar’s number.

While Dunbar’s initial research was performed decades ago, it still holds enormous clout today. Quite remarkable, advancements in social media and online networking, have not moved the needle much in terms of the number of relationships we can feasibly maintain. In a subsequent study, Dunbar revealed that, despite the rise of social media - Facebook, Twitter, and the like, our brain is still unable to handle more than between 150 and 180 relationships.

Want to learn more? Hear Dunbar explain the concept here: 

Networking is tough. It’s rife with uncertainty and it’s easy to put it on the back burner. By embracing the strategies here, you’ll be able to conquer networking fatigue and build a powerful network that is all-giving in its affordances.

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