By Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chairman at BNI, and Max Steén

Max Steén, the co-author of this piece, conducted a study as part of his Masters Thesis, entitled: The Strength of Strong Ties in Business Networks. The results of this study showed that those who focused on strong ties — rather than weak ties — were able to increase the number of referrals from networking by 21% – and with an increased value of those referrals of 63%!

Nearly three quarters of the people surveyed did not take this approach — rather, they focused on their weak ties more. Why are so many people focusing on the wrong type of relationships to build their referral base?

Here is what we see as the core of the problem: In 1973, an incredibly influential researcher by the name of Mark Granovetter stated that when networking for employment, you should look through your weak ties or connections in order to more efficiently reach your goal.

Granovetter argued that through your weak ties, you would find the most new information and new opportunities. Hence the phrase that was coined from his research: “The strength of weak ties.” Since then, many people have focused on simply expanding the number of connections they have and not focusing on the quality of those connections.

Based on this new research however, it is clear that “weak ties” may be relevant to job searches but that “strong ties” are critical for the generation of greater quality business referrals.

Your strong ties are likely to be people that you discuss topics on a deeper and more focused level. Your strong ties, or connections, are also people with whom you have developed a deeper level of trust. Trust is absolutely key in the generation of business referrals. When it comes to referrals, if you give a referral for business services, you give a little bit of your reputation away. When you give a good referral, it enhances your reputation. When you give a bad referral, it hurts your reputation. People who have strong ties with one another want to make sure that the trust level gets stronger and is not damaged with a bad referral.

Conversely, job opportunities found through weak ties are by nature greater in number (you have more weak than strong ties) and these opportunities are most often consisting of new information. Thus, reaching through weak ties enables a greater number of new job opportunities to be found.

Mark Granovetter’s major impact on networking research cannot be questioned. However, for decades, Granovetter’s conclusion has been misapplied in areas where it clearly has no bearing, such as business networking to build referrals.

With that being said, when people are networking for job opportunities, looking through your weak ties is a very effective consideration. However, if you are networking for referrals, looking through your weak ties to get referrals is a major disadvantage.

In fact, applying the strategy of finding opportunities through weak ties is costing you tons of money in lost referrals. And here’s why: Credibility substantially improves the quantity and quality of business referrals that are generated. When all the parties in the transaction, know and trust one another — the referral is much more likely to turn into business.

For more on this topic please watch episode #1 of the Global Networking Show, where we debate this issue with other networking experts.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this or have you share a networking experience that relates to this topic.

Dr. Ivan Misner is the Founder & Chairman of BNI, as well as a New York Times best-selling author. Called the “Father of Modern Networking”, Dr. Misner is one of the world’s leading experts in business networking and referral marketing.

Max Steén is a Swedish award-winning networking researcher, entrepreneur and BNI member with an everlasting thirst for knowledge. Max is also the CEO of Happy Hangers, CEO/Co-Founder of Magic Kids and the Founder of MaxAd Marketing. He can be reached at max@maxadmarketing.com.

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