By: Paul Adams



Everything you’ve been taught about social media is wrong… When you are sitting down to plan out your next social media campaign, or are trying to make your product “go viral”, is part of your plan to target people with thousands of Twitter followers? As it turns out, we’ve all had a lot of misconceptions about how people share online, and what makes ideas spread.

Luckily for us, Paul Adams has started to set the record straight through his book “Grouped”, where he outlines exactly how people share online, and what you as a business leader can do about it. Adams, by the way, lead the social efforts at Facebook and Google, so he has unprecedented access to the data on this topic, which means that he can back up his claims with reality.

His biggest insight is that there is a huge difference in what he calls strong ties and weak ties. At the end of this summary you’ll understand the difference between the two, and how to centre your campaigns around strong ties so that your social efforts will succeed.


When we look at a Facebook profile with somebody who has hundreds of friends, it’s easy to conclude that this person must be somebody who wields a lot of influence online. But even the best social media tools that let us know who is “influential” online doesn’t really tell us much about who influences other people to buy products or services - which is what we are really interested in as business owners.

As Adams points out, there is an enormous difference between strong ties and loose ties. Let’s look at how our relationships are structured, and then look at the difference between strong ties and loose ties.

At the core of our relationship structure are 5 people who we would consider to be in our “inner circle”. These are your very strong ties, and are the people you communicate with on a very regular basis.

The next ring out would contain the people you are very close to, and typically contains about 15 people.

The next ring out contains the 50 people you communicate with semi- regularly so that you generally know what is going on in their lives.

Casual friends and acquaintances would fit the bill here. The next ring out contains the 150 people you can maintain a stable social relationship with. Stanley Milgram is famous for his research around the fact that this is the largest number of people we can maintain a relationship with before things start breaking down. Social media was supposed to change that, but hasn’t.

Lastly, we have 500 weak ties, who are people you loosely know and can recognise.

Strong Ties, Weak Ties

Within those circles are your strong ties and loose ties. Let’s look at the difference between them, and what it means for your business.

Strong Ties

Before the social media revolution, most of our strong ties were with our family members, friends, coworkers and neighbours. That makes sense, because those are the people we see and interact with every day.

We trust the people we know best, so those are the people we’d typically turn to for recommendations. That was supposed to change with the advent of social media. We could now connect with anybody, anywhere, and we would surely start creating more connections with people who we shared common interests with.

But consider this - the average person on Facebook (at the time of Adams’ book) has 160 friends, but they communicate directly with only 4-6 of those people every month. The stunning finding here is that we are not using social media to find new strong ties, but are using it mostly to enhance our relationships with the people we are already have strong ties with.

Weak Ties

Although we communicate most often with our strong ties, we also communicate with our weak ties from time to time. When we do, it’s usually because of a common interest. There are some things that weak ties are useful for. For instance, weak ties are often a better source of information than strong ties, and can lead us to insights or discoveries that we might not have otherwise made.

The downside to using weak ties as a source of information is that we don’t know if we can trust them or their information. We simply don’t know them well enough to implicitly trust them, and so in order to act on their information we need to know that they are qualified to talk about specific topics, and that they are trustworthy.

Conclusion - Market To Strong Ties

All of the research on decision making points to the fact that we are disproportionately influenced by the people we are closest to emotionally. In independent studies, research firms found that people are three to four times as likely to trust a friend or acquaintance than a blogger or expert for product purchase advice.

What it boils down to is this - when people are looking for information and opinions from others, they’ll look to their strong ties first. Even though there are weak ties that have a higher knowledge on the topic, they go with the advice of their strong ties because they trust them.

So, as a business, you should be building your campaigns around strong ties rather than weak ties. This means you can’t rely on a few handpicked social media power users to power your campaign. You need your message to be spread from one strong tie to another - and typically this means looking at your message and product and figuring out how to get it to spread between friends and family members.

If you get this right, they will automatically spread the word using their social media accounts anyways.