There are lots of reasons to be on Facebook. I don’t have to tell you that. But contrary to popular belief, there are also a lot of reasons to continue adding people who you haven’t spoken to in years. Sure, the platform can help you build and strengthen relationships for relationships’ sake, but it can also lead you to finding work you love—often through those very people you’re not buddy-buddy with. And here you thought all professional roads pointed toward LinkedIn.
A recent report via Fast Company suggests that those friends, you know, the ones you aren’t going out with on Saturday night or aren’t inviting to your birthday bash, may be just the ones to help you land a job. The study refers to these people as weak connections. You know Tracy from middle school, but you lost touch when her family moved to another city after eighth grade—until Facebook.
You don’t exchange direct messages or even write on each other’s walls. But maybe you like a photo she posted of her recent trip to Nicaragua, and perhaps she commented on a politically astute article you shared with your network. Your connection is weak, and while that word doesn’t exactly inspire, in fact, it’s been suggested that weak ties “are more valuable because strength correlates to redundant information and acquaintances have a better chance of introducing you to new information and opportunities.”
It’s not that your best friend with the insane LinkedIn contacts won’t be able to hook you up with an introduction at the marketing firm you want to work at—this individual strong tie is better than a single weak one—but that your overall group of “real life” friends has so many overlaps that they don’t add a lot of new names to your professional network.
The study’s experimenters believe that their findings indicate that “our acquaintances are most likely to help us simply because there are so many of them.” They don’t mention it, but it’s the very structure of Facebook that allows for such ties to be maintained without any associated awkwardness. One of the reasons I think the platform is starting to gain recognition as a place for networking (beyond the specific networking-type groups) is because it’s a little more relaxed than LinkedIn. Maybe it’s even a bit friendlier. While it’s not a requirement to list your place of employment, those who are happily working for a certain company most often will display it on their profile page.
So, consider this your permission to reach out to people who you literally never see outside of the platform about potential career opportunities at their company or within their industry. (Obviously, if you haven’t spoken in years, don’t jump right into, “Can you company hire me?”) And of course, if you’re in the midst of a job search, you definitely want to exhaust your tight network first—there’s no reason to think that a close pal won’t want to help you if he’s in a position to—but you really shouldn’t stop there.
Seriously, if you’re truly looking to jump-start your job search or your career change, well, you should consider redefining Facebook stalking. Or, at the very least, you can feel less guilty liking an old nursery school friend’s vacation photos. You never know if you’ll want to reach out to her about an opportunity down the road.