The idea behind 6 degrees of separation is, through “friend of a friend” connections, everyone is only 6 steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person.
The theory was originally presented by Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, in a 1929 short story. It was first tested by Stanley Milgram’s 1967 “small world experiment”. Milgram asked 96 randomly selected people around the country to send a piece of mail to an acquaintance, who would send the mail to another acquaintance, in an attempt to reach a designated “target” person in Boston. The messages that actually made it to their destination passed through an average of six people.
However, four more recent studies show that social media is playing its part in reducing the number of degrees of separation:
1. Facebook – 4.74 degrees of separation: A study by Facebook and the University of Milan in 2011 reported the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world was not six but 4.74. The experiment took a month and involved all of Facebook’s 721 million users.
2. Twitter – 4.67 steps: In a 2010 study of 5.2 billion Twitter friendships (friend and follower relationships), Sysomos, a social analytics company, found the most common friendship distance is five steps (the average being 4.67 steps).
3. Microsoft – 6.6 steps: In 2008, Microsoft conducted research analysing 30 billion conversations among 240 million people from its MSN Instant Messenger product. It found that most people are connected by 6.6 degrees.
4. 2003 email study – 5-7 degrees of separation: In 2003, Peter Sheridan Dodds and his colleagues at Columbia University conducted a modern version of 6 degrees of separation through studying e-mails on the Internet. They recruited over 60,000 participants from 166 different countries for the experiment. By factoring in the rate of dropouts, the researchers calculated a median chain length of between 5 to 7 people.
Last month, LinkedIn introduced a new “How you’re connected” tool, which aims to make it easier to find the best path to a new connection. LinkedIn was, perhaps more than any other social network, set up around the idea of degrees of separation (in LinkedIn’s case, three degrees of separation). The value is not only less degrees of separation but more opportunities to form relationships, and its new tool will make it easier not only to identify how you are connected to someone, but also how they know each other.
For example, one of your own connections may have attended school with the person you would like to be introduced to; but another may have recently worked with them and therefore is likely to have a stronger, more relevant connection and be the best source for an introduction.
By understanding and utilising the power of networking, you can build a valuable network of contacts. Who is in your network? Who are they connected to? And how will you leverage your network?