A few weeks ago, I did a little Twitter experiment to prove the power of weak ties. I simply asked my Twitter followers for advice: where should I go to buy an electric piano? I've been considering purchasing one for a while, but I'm far from an experienced musical instrument buyer.
A few dozen responses rolled in from people that I'm only connected to through my writing. Many were involved with music professionally; others were parents who had been through the process of buying instruments for their own children. Between the responses (and some of the quick conversations I had with respondents), I quickly found two trustworthy places to go shopping for such equipment.
That, right there, is the power of weak ties.
Individually, my relationship to these people is weak. I don't know many of them personally and our connection is merely in the form of one of the public faces of my professional work.
Yet, collectively, a bunch of weak strings becomes very strong. They can lead you to answers and success. They can bring you customers and income and business.
The trick, of course, is harnessing them. How can you turn the weak ties available to you into new business and new customers?
Here are three tactics for utilizing particular types of weak ties for just that purpose.
Weak ties through your employees
You have a weak tie to all of the people in your employees' social networks. Utilize them. Hand out coupons to your employees and ask them to give them to friends and family who haven't used your business before. Have them sign those coupons and then, when the signed coupons are used, give that employee some sort of small bonus – hours off of work paid or something like that. Boom! Your employees are using their social network to help your business through the power of weak ties.
Weak ties through your suppliers
Your suppliers are fairly weak ties; the thing you have in common is the product you need and the product they're selling. Obviously, if they can easily strengthen that weak tie a bit – especially without cutting into their own bottom line – they'll do it. Take advantage of that. When you need a certain supply they're not selling, ask your suppliers if they know of any good sources for those new supplies and let them know that you'd appreciate a good lead. I'm betting if they have a good lead, they'll pass it right along to you.
Weak ties through your local small business association
Your local Chamber of Commerce or small business association is a treasure trove of weak connections. To many of those people, you're solely connected by having a small business in the same area (a weak tie). However, if you're asking for help, many other small business owners are quite willing to lend a hand to a person to whom they have a weak tie, provided, of course, it's not too much effort or cost to them.
The key to really maximizing the value of weak ties is to focus on areas where the cost to the other person is low and the benefit to you is high. That's usually found through information and contacts, not through physical supplies and resources. Focus on situations where key information alone will really help you and you'll find opportunities to have your weak ties really work for you.
One last thing: reciprocation is good. Don't be afraid to be someone else's weak tie and share information and simple things with them if the opportunity arises. It helps foster a community where people are much more likely to share, and everyone benefits.
Image credit: Boston Public Library