By Patrick Cisler

When it comes to conversations regarding “Social Networking,” I am often struck by the conflicting points of view shared by the same person. I often hear individuals, organizations, or groups state that they need a social networking presence, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, while simultaneously complaining about their frustrations with these same platforms. It is as if social networking has become a necessary evil that we must embrace in today’s world. And guess what? I agree that we should embrace it. Don’t get me wrong, I have often been one to complain about insignificant postings and time wasted by my “friends” on Facebook. No, I don’t need to know what you are doing every second of the day, but it is nice to find out if you moved, changed jobs, are supporting a new non-profit organization, are hosting a major event, or are getting major surgery.

At their core purpose, I find social networks to be an easy way to keep track of friends, family, acquaintances, and professional connections without needing to personally touch base on a regular basis. Now herein lies a major complaint of social networking sites (particularly Facebook). Because more people communicate this way, they are less inclined to have meaningful conversation face-to-face or even on the phone. I can only see a small truth in that. The people that I tend to follow on social networking sites are those that I normally wouldn’t have regular contact with. I still see and talk to family, friends, and co-workers. It’s those that are just outside my inner circle that are the most important to follow through social networking sites.

Mark Granovetter first popularized the importance of “weak ties”, meaning those acquaintances that are often friends of friends or individuals of which you don’t have a close relationship. In his book The Strength of Weak Ties, he presents the concept that most job opportunities come through “weak ties” rather than those closer relationships in your inner circle. This concept has been further explored in many follow-up books and essays since. I tend to agree with the underlying theory as many of my own opportunities have come about this way. And, therefore, you can start to see the benefit of a vast network of “friends” and “connections” through social networking. These tools help to bridge the gap for us and stay up-to-date on our weaker ties.

When I know a little about their world through their posts and homepages, it allows for more meaningful conversation when I do see them. As Granovetter suggests, these ties may become good references for your own job search as well as good potential candidates to fill your own job openings. I have often found these connections good partners for volunteer projects, great sources for professional advice, as well as solid reference points for articles, books, and groups related to my interests.

If you are on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, use it wisely, and let people into your world by sharing your passions and personal/professional interests. Be sure to stay up-to-date on your connections as well. Who knows which “weak tie” may lead to your next big opportunity?