How Your Personal Dunbar Number Affects Your Ability to Effectively Network Online

Reblogger Mirela Monte
Real Estate Broker/Owner with Buyers' Choice Realty


Original content by Mary McKnight

OK, Im gonna get all Ivy League "thinky" on you. If you think you can handle a dash of Mary sans controversy, read on. Oh, yeah, I also pull out my sociology degree in this one, so be prepared for theory and statistics. Its gonna be hot and a little heavy.

In sociology, there is this funky monkey number called the Dunbar Number AKA "the theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships." That number is generally accepted to be around 150. Basically what this means is that when you grow your personal social network beyond 150 people, you have a difficult time directly interacting with each of those 150+ people in a meaningful, stable inter-personal way. Which makes perfect sense offline, but online, we ought to be able to improve upon that with so many social networks, email and chat programs that allow us to message and interact with groups of people and individuals alike. However, some data suggests that people using social networks interact with only 5-10% of their available networks. Essentially, this means that online networks although larger are actually not as robust because they are not being used effectively to reach or expand a persons personal Dunbar Number.

For those of you that read Malcolm Gadwells The Tipping Point, the Dunbar number might ring a bell. In the book, Gadwell asserts that the Dunbar Number of any given human being is critical to their level of influence over others and the tipping point for any given event. Tipping points are "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable." Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." Whats interesting here is that if you as an advertiser or marketer seek to message to the influencers AKA the connectors or those individuals with higher Dunbar Numbers and therefore more connectivity to the general market, you can spread your brand and/or message through the collective conscious faster and more virally. And isnt that what you want to do? Get your message to as many people as possible?

So, why are so many people on Facebook and LinkedIn socializing with the same 10 people instead of connecting with their overall networks, strengthening their existing relationships and trying to grow their sphere of influence by bringing new connections to their network? Yeah, I dont really have the answer either. But, I can say that understanding your personal Dunbar Number is a key factor in determining your overall level of influence and identifying how you need to improve your social networking skills.

Great read: The Dunbar Number as a Limit to Groups

My favorite site on sociology and social networking: Life with Alacrity

Critical Mass

Lets do a quick exercise to see where you stand with your circle of influence and what your personal Dunbar Number is:

1. Consider all the people you know in real life that you interface with regularly at least once per month.  Write them all down if you have to.  Can you get to 150? Now, go on Facebook (I chose this one because there are 175 million people there and many of your 150 personal network peeps are likely on there) and see if each of those people is listed as one of your "friends." The people that are your online and offline contacts are considered your "overlap group."

2. Now look at all the people not within your inner social network (meaning those that are not within your overlap group). These people are considered your periphery group. They are friends on the peripheral of your inner circle, your real social network. Consider how many times you have any real social contact with this periphery group. Do you see, talk, email them regularly? The answer is most likely "no." So, now the question arises, "why are they my friend on Facebook?" And the answer is because they probably WANT to network with you or you WANT to network with them. But for some reason you arent.

Great read: How to win friends and influence people on Facebook

Back to the Tipping Point and the Value of Being a Connector

In Gadwells Tipping Point, he discusses the The Law of the Few, a theory that shows the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills. He calls these people "connectors." 80 percent of all the work of connecting people is done by a mere 20 percent of people. So, there is great value in being a connector. A connector is defined as a person who has the ability to "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances". Gadwell characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people.

Now, since the online medium allows you to easily connect to people, segment them into groups of like interests and gives you tools to easily message these groups of people, it makes sense that everyone COULD be a connector online if you learn the habits and patterns of connectors. Heres a simple question to ask yourself to see if you are a connector or not. Are you networking with less than 150 people each month on Facebook? If you are, then its time to start making some changes. Think of yourself as the butterfly that is flapping its wings and causing a tsunami. Below are a few starter tips on how to improve your social networking skills on Facebook and how to learn to be a connector:

5 Habits of Successful Facebook Connectors

  1. Group your contacts so you can message groups of people with content they care most about. I message my family and offline friends group about once a month to keep in touch. I want to connect on a personal level so I have my personal top 10 list I send. Its an easy list of funny or weird stuff that happened to me, what Ive been doing that is exciting and a few priceless, shoot milk out your nose YouTube videos. My friends and family always look forward to it and its easy to put together. (Remember, you connect best when interests and attention collide (Scobles Number) so be sure to group your contacts by interest so you can craft the most applicable content for them.)
  2. Use the "were related" application to find distant family members. I have a ridiculously large and diverse family and often forget people, so this tool was key to my being able to connect with them all on Facebook. (Sometimes I wish I didnt know so much about them and vice versa though). Thank God for limited profile features.
  3. Remember birthdays and events for your network and be sure to write on their walls. I use the My Calendar application to keep on top of my networks birthdays and events. And I always make sure to write on their walls to let them know I am thinking of them.
  4. Use the friends dashboard on your home page to connect with people you do not regularly interface with. It shows 6 faces of friends that you probably do not touch base with often enough and serves as a great reminder to connect. I generally use that as a guide to skip over to their pages and comment on one of their updates or write on their wall. Again, this helps me personally connect with more of my network and expand my sphere of influence.
  5. Also, make sure to use the "You Might Know" widget. This will give you a new list of people that you are in some way related to by virtue of their relationship to others in network (think six degrees of separation) but are not yet connected to on Facebook. If you have a small network, this is invaluable in helping you to grow it, if you have a larger network, it can often be unwieldy.

Goal: to have more personal contact with more people so you can grow your network and become an influencer to more people.

Books I recommend to the serious social marketer


Stalk Mary

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Alexsandra Stewart
Remax equity group - Portland, OR
Broker - Portland Oregon Real Estate

Thanks Mirela -- might not have discovered Mary on my own, and realy like her posts too.

Apr 03, 2009 07:32 PM #1
Caren Wallace
Premier Property Group LLC - Tualatin, OR
Portland Caren Real Estate

Mirela, you really did get all "Ivy League thinky" on us! This was pretty interesting and I will have to go back to it and put some time in to come up with my Dunbar Number! I didn't know that there was an analysis on this........very interesting. I have always loved stats!

Apr 04, 2009 04:28 AM #2
Larry Story
Total Care Realty - Greensboro, NC
Total Care Realty, LLC, Greensboro, NC Real Estate

Mirela excellent information.  I spent the time to read every word.  I will admit no I had not heard of the Dunbar number but it was fascinating and made me rethink some strategies.

Apr 04, 2009 03:28 PM #3
Sandy Childs
Keller Williams Realty - Spartanburg, SC
Realtor - Spartanburg, SC

Mirela: I had never heard of the Dunbar number either. I have bookmarked this post. I will come back and read every bit of it. It sounds fascinating.

Apr 04, 2009 05:38 PM #4
Troy Erickson
Diverse Solutions Realty - Chandler, AZ
Your Chandler, Ahwatukee, and East Valley Realtor

Mirela - I'm not sure I agree with the Dunbar Number.  I have a hard time maintaining a stable social relationship with more than about 15-20 people.  I couldn't even imagine 150.  Online, yes, but offline, I don't feel I could ever stay in touch and interact with 150 people on a regular basis.

Apr 05, 2009 09:25 AM #5
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Mirela Monte

Myrtle Beach Real Estate
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