Today I clicked on another of those "accept" buttons inviting me to join the online network of someone I can barely recall. My threshold for clicking "accept" is not that high because I know that those ties are pretty low maintenance. Most of those people I will never hear from again; and those I do hear from again tend to be people I would stay in touch with regardless. Today I also had a (very funny) email exchange with someone I know well, and who often sends messages that are a mix of business and social content, or sometimes just social.
I have started noticing how people approach me and "maintain" me as a network contact as a result of a paper by Balagopal Vissa on the networking styles of entrepreneurs. It is a nice paper because it studies network use by entrepreneurs, who are often deliberate and skillful networkers, and to me the findings are a good blend of intuition and surprise. Like the people who keep on sending out social network invitation and collecting name cards, there are entrepreneurs who focus on broadening their networks through adding ties. Like the people who stay in touch with their acquaintances and mix social and business contacts, there are entrepreneurs who focus on deepening their network ties. That is intuitive; I have certainly noticed such differences in people.
Obviously time is limited, especially for entrepreneurs, so it would be really useful to know which style works best. The research showed out that the network broadening style is good, because those who use that style are less reliant on people they already know for getting in touch with new people. Even better, broadening the network led to more business for the entrepreneur, compared to deepening the network. That was an interesting surprise. Although in regular life we enjoy meeting friends of friends, what the findings say is that in business it can be problematic to meet customers through customers because it creates deeper dependencies with existing customers. Those dependencies hold back the business growth.
In regular social life we enjoy the company of those who stay in touch with us, and we don't appreciate the card collectors and link collectors so much. But social and business life is different, and entrepreneurs appear to do better when choosing exactly the type of behaviors that are a little less socially accepted. Let's hope they can go about with their network broadening in a nice way at least.
Vissa, Balagopal. Forthcoming. Entrepreneurs' Networking Style and Initiation of Economic Exchange. Organization Science, published online before print. DOI: 10.1287/orsc.1100.0567.