How Weak Connections Can Make a Big Difference

Your current social network may be filled with many eager people who are willing to help you achieve your professional goals; however, these people also know roughly the same things and have the same connections that you do. So how do you meet people outside of your social circle who can connect you to the opportunities and knowledge that will help you achieve your professional goals? It starts with fostering weak connections.

Maintaining a broad network might feel like unnecessary effort, but research shows that when people put effort into developing weak connections, these relationships can become more valuable than the ones with people in your close-knit social group. According to Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, maintaining relationships that bridge you to another community or group can connect you to people who know about the information and opportunities that will move your career forward. These connections are especially beneficial to someone interested in making a career change, joining a professional society, increasing community involvement or volunteering on a nonprofit board.

So who is considered a weak connection? From talking to someone at an industry conference to striking up a conversation in a coffee shop line, weak connections appear in many different areas of your life.

Fostering weak connections is all about being open to new experiences and aware of the people you’ve connected with. It doesn’t need to take much of your time, and the benefits you will experience from nurturing these relationships can change the trajectory of your career.

For Chris LaBeau, VP of Entrepreneur Services at Eagle Bank and Trust, maintaining a broad network helped him meet his current boss. After connecting with Aimee Dunne of Prosper St. Louis, Chris heard about a new opportunity at Eagle Bank and Trust.

“Aimee said, ‘I just met with a bank CEO that wants to figure out how to better serve startups. I think you’d enjoy meeting him and giving some thought to his offer,” Chris said. “More than a year later, I am grateful that Aimee thought of me. The role I’m in is challenging and inspiring, and allows me to reinvent how a 105-year-old bank serves its markets. This opportunity would have never appeared without a personal referral.”

By nurturing his weak connections, Chris is now challenging perceptions of what a bank can be.

For anyone looking to broaden his or her network, making meaningful – and worthwhile – connections takes more than just handing over a business card. And, once you get to know more people, stay in touch with them. Maintaining these relationships doesn’t have to be hard. Reach out to them on LinkedIn with a personalized message, send a sincere tweet on Twitter or forward an article that you believe aligns with their interests. Keep your message short and simple, and make it clear that you’re not looking to gain anything out of the interaction. After all, being open to giving often creates value and naturally leads to new opportunities.

Many times, people who make new opportunities possible exist far outside of your social circle. By remaining receptive to meeting people and maintaining new relationships through small but meaningful actions, you’ll discover the benefits of fostering weak connections.

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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.