Weak ties

In September, Wired ran an except from Clive Thompson's new book, Smarter Than You Think. Thompson writes regularly for the print publication; I find his column one of the magazine's better features.

The excerpt, "Your casual acquaintances on Twitter are better than your close friends on Facebook", is somewhat mistitled, as the part that Wired ran deals almost exclusively with Facebook. Thompson's piece is still worth reading, as he argues that "weak ties" – remote friends on Facebook, and I imagine almost everyone you might follow on Twitter – are a richer source of discovery and opportunity:

Socially, we tend to be close friends with people who mirror us demographically, culturally, intellectually, politically, and professionally. This makes it easy to bond — but it also means that we drink from the same informational pool. Any jobs my close friends have heard about, I’ve heard about, too.

Thompson lays out the theory pretty well in his post and at greater length in his book. His work got me thinking again about format-specific services like Goodreads, which does a good job sharing perspectives and recommendations among friends.

This isn't a critique of Goodreads, as its approach serves an audience of book devotees that publishers are already reaching. An over-reliance on services like Goodreads, though, effectively means that we are primarily pursuing existing customers.

That's a slow-growing and disruption-prone universe. Reaching back to "Context first", I've noted:

[W]e treat readers as if their needs can be defined by containers.  But in a digital world, search takes place before physical sampling, much more often than the reverse.  Readers may at times look for a specific product, but more often they search for an answer, a solution, a spark that turns into an interest and perhaps a purchase.

The key to success is not becoming more efficient at reaching the customers we have, but growing the number of customers we can reach. As long as "the defining metaphor is a book", we're pursuing those with whom we already have the strongest ties, likely forsaking the promise and potential of those consumers with whom we have only the weakest connections.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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