Where will you find your strongest leaders? The answer may surprise you: Among those people you already know…sort of.

Prospects come from three domains: 1) your inner circle or “warm market”; 2) the world at large, or “cold market”; 3) the fuzzy area in between.

This last includes all those people you vaguely know: not exactly friends, but not exactly strangers, either. The teller at your bank; your kids’ friends’ mom; a distant classmate from college years ago. People whose faces you know, if not their names. Friends of friends of friends.

We don’t have a term for this not-warm-but-not-cold-either realm, and that’s too bad. Because that’s where the overwhelming majority of successful network-building partners come from.

What about friends and family? It happens, but rather more rarely. Complete strangers, from an ad or lead generation system, or (as Hitchcock put it) strangers on a train? Again, it happens. But 90 percent or more of the successful network marketers I’ve ever seen have been people whose sponsors knew them, but knew them only vaguely, before they joined the network.

Malcolm Gladwell confirms this observation in his best-selling book about influence, The Tipping Point.

Gladwell describes a classic 1974 study in which sociologist Mark Granovetter looked at several hundred professional and technical workers from Newton, Massachusetts to find out how they found their current jobs. More than half learned about their positions through personal contacts. This was no big surprise—but the next part was: of those who used a personal contact to find a job, only 16 percent saw that contact “often” (i.e., close friends), and more than 55 percent saw that contact only “occasionally.”

According to Granovetter, you are far less likely to learn about a new opportunity through a close friend, because your friends occupy the same world you do. You are far more likely to learn about something new from someone you know only vaguely. He calls it, “the strength of weak ties,” and concludes that those with whom you share only weak ties represent far more social power than your close friends.

Look at it from the other direction: with what people do you hold the power of weak ties? On whom do you have the most influence?

Your siblings? Ha! They were there when you were wetting the bed! (You approach your older brother with, “Do you keep your financial options open?” and he says, “Yeah, why? You starting a company that sells waterproof pajamas?”)

Complete strangers? Maybe, in time…but you’ll have to earn it from scratch.

But acquaintances? That’s where you already have power: the power of weak ties.

Is this a paradox? Yes, a powerful one. And you can use it to build an empire.

 

JOHN DAVID MANN is Editor in Chief of Networking Times.