Three degrees of separation, the new influencer model PT I

I hope you have a minute to grasp this concept and take the time to read through. If you have any questions regarding the concepts behind it, please comment below. You can also follow me @barryhurd on Twitter.


In working with our existing influencer analysis service, I wanted to share some insight to how digital communications are changing our lives. As individuals each of us has excelled beyond singular data points. In the wired web, our technology has moved beyond our inherent physical ability to connect with other individuals and has  accelerated us into connecting with hundreds or thousands of people.

Many of us have heard the phrase “six degrees of separation” – per Wikipedia: (also referred to as the “Human Web”) refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth.

This is the information that many business professionals struggle with. In the past twenty years many individuals considered the idea of six degrees of separation to look like this chart:

Six Degrees of Separation

As an individual (highlighted in green above), we knew that there were hundreds of individuals connecting us to almost anyone else. The problem with the above model is that there are two fundamental flaws with understanding our network of connections:

  1. The number of relationships we can manage and track has a finite number.
    From a traditional viewpoint, this number usually ranges from fifty to two hundred. If you want to sit down and define this number for yourself, sit down with a blank sheet of paper and write down the names of everyone important to you personally/professionally. Most individuals become hard pressed to exceed 100 connections of the top of their mind, and suffer from an inability to prioritize them in a list.
  2. The ability to perceive secondary and tertiary connections is nearly non-existent.
    If you manage to detail fifty to two hundred individuals in your 1st degree of connection, imagine that each 1st degree individual is also connected to fifty to two-hundred individuals that are probably not on your 1st degree list or that you are completely unaware of.

The social web has radically altered both obstacles.

With all this data the question many professionals wrestle with is this:
How do I  manage so much data from so many sources to drive my actions today?

You first need to consider that connecting the entire mass of people is probably not the most effective way of communicating. While you may have 50 to 200 basic relationships, you probably have 5 to 10 close family/friends that are considered “trusted connections.”

The following chart details the numerical difference between the 1st through 6th degree of basic relationships compared to trusted relationships.

Social media tools now allow us to define the bulk-users related to the basic relationship level and begin identifying patterns that define trusted relationships.

This is the core foundation of influencer analysis (which could be utilized for sales, marketing, PR, employee communication, etc) across larger communication networks. By identifying patterns within communication networks such as Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and commentary, different levels of relationship quality can be identified.

Why three degrees of separation is new influencer model:

If you note in the chart above: if each friend in our network averages five trusted relationships, the 3rd degree of separation is the level of interaction that you can maintain. Everyone within this “trusted cluster” falls within your human limit to maintain off the top of your head. As you try to move into the 4th degree of networking, the sheer number of individuals involved exceeds your ability to nurture the relationship.

New online tools strengthen the 3rd degree:

New processes in social media allow technology savvy professionals to qualify, quantify, and categorize the various stages of a relationship network. This allows professionals to decide on methods to move connections into closer, more personable, and more actionable degrees of connection. This is critical for the busy professional who is fighting attention deficit and workload issues on a daily basis.

Stay tuned for my next article on useful tools used for influencer analysis.