Strong and weak ties in social networks

Acquaintances, as compared to close friends, are more prone to move in different circles than oneself. Those to whom one is closest are likely to have the greatest overlap in contact with those one already knows, so that the information to which they are privy is likely to be much the same as that which one already has” (Granovetter 1973)

In “The Strength of weak ties” Granovetter talks about ties and their role in social networks. He defines the strength of a tie as a combination of services, the amount of time, the intimacy, and the emotional intensity between the subjects (Granovetter, 1973). He also talks about the possibility of forming new acquaintances when two persons have a strong connection to a third person, i.e. triadic closure. What role do these ties play in our own social network? In this essay we ask what could be gained by a  person ranking his or her friends as strong or weak ties. For example, should they consider the weak tie friends as potential connections to job opportunities, which is one of the positive side effects mentioned by Granovetter?

When Granovetter talks about ties in social networks, he defines a strong tie as being your close friend and a weak tie as your remote friend. An average Facebook user, who has no experience with social network theory or has never heard of Granovetters theory, would probably not consider this theory. In “Strong and weak ties: Why Your Weak Ties Matter”, Eileen Brown (2011) discuss the differences between strong and weak ties in social networks and the possibilities of what weak ties can bring you. She talks about how weak ties bind groups of strong ties together, how they create connections between networks and how they strengthen relationships. Weak ties have the ability to function as a bridge between two groups (Granovetter, 1973). Eileen Brown brings up the notion about how weak ties may bring you information about job opportunities and other information that might interest you, hence the importance of maintaining the relationship with your weak ties.

As mentioned earlier, weak ties can operate as bridges between two groups. To fully understand what this means, one first have to understand the term bridge. A link between two nodes A and B is a bridge if deleting this link separates the nodes into two components. The bridge is the only way information can move from A to B. There are two types of bridges, local bridge and a regular bridge as explained above. A local bridge is a link between two nodes which when broken increases the distance between those nodes to more than two. It’s the shortest route which information can flow from a group of nodes to another group.
BridgeLocal Bridge

Jenny-Jack, Jack-John, John-Jenny = Local bridges

A local bridge is necessarily a weak tie based on the definition of strong triadic closure. “If a node satisfies Strong Triadic Closure and is involved in at least two strong ties, then any local bridge it is involved in must be a weak tie”(Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, Easley and Kleinberg 2010). The occurrence of a bridge in large social networks is rare due to the fact that in most cases there will be a different path that connects the nodes A and B together. Local bridges however are more often seen and can connect us with parts of the network that would otherwise been neglected.

Tapping into weaker ties is strategic and needs to be part of any serious business development plan

The constant expansion of social networks and social media is becoming more important for businesses as well. Decision makers and consultants are trying to integrate these new platforms and changes into their company to make extra profit. Kevin Mckeown published an article in 2012( about making use of your weak ties in business strategies. He talks about the idea of how your distant acquaintances are the most likely to introduce you to new job opportunities. Mckeown claims that businesses that share details about their strategies are more likely to obtain more opportunities. He emphasizes how important it is to be visible online and to use your social network to grow your business.

Are social networks where you interact with your friends, becoming networks where we rank our friends by how beneficial they are to us? This seems to be an increasing tendency among students and in the job market. Making new acquaintances and establishing new friendships has never been easier due to the expansion of social media and our interaction with our social network.

The theory about strong and weak ties and their role in our social network has never been more relevant. Weak ties can provide us with possible new information, new acquaintances and access to new resource, while strong ties provide us security and trust. There already exist social networks where this theory is practiced such as LinkedIn. Tie strength seem to play a more significant role than before and should therefore be regarded as important, even to the casual user.



Granovetter, Mark (1973) The Strength of weak ties.

Easley and Kleinberg (2010) Networks, Crowds and Markets.