What makes a strong social network? Is it the number of connections? Or is it the quality of the connections you’ve made?
We've all considered the question of quality versus quantity at some point. Whether we accepted a LinkedIn request from someone we didn’t know, or we followed numerous people on Twitter hoping that they would follow us back. We’ve all experienced these crossroads. But is increasing our number of connections the best strategy? Or should we value the quality of the connections that we’ve built?
The truth is, there are arguments for both approaches and there are no shortages of opinions in this debate. Larger networks allow you to reach more people, generate more awareness, and create perceived credibility… (If I have 10,000 followers, I must be good, right?). Quality networks increase engagement; provide real world business opportunities, and ultimately higher conversion rates. In reality, both the breadth and depth of your network matters.
We decided to put this debate to test in our recent social media research project, Social Media and Financial Advisors: Early Adopters vs. Casual Users. We asked advisors how selective they are when deciding to connect with someone on a social network. We separated respondents into two groups – Early Adopters and Casual Users. Early Adopters (8% of respondents) are advisors who use social media daily to acquire new business, research clients and prospects, and integrate social media into their overall marketing strategy. Casual Users – are just what their name implies. Casual Users may have accounts on various social networks, but have not used these sites to bring in new business.
Our research uncovered that Early Adopters are more selective (53 percent versus 35 percent) of who they connect with through social media. Thus, Early Adopters favor the quality argument.
Ultimately, the decision to pursue either quality or quantity connections depend upon your overall marketing strategy. If your marketing strategy depends upon authentic relationships and positive word-of-mouth, quality is fundamental. Conversely, if your marketing strategy is a shotgun approach to the masses, quantity is key.
In reality, they both matter. Elements of both quality and quantity are necessary for any successful social media strategy. Having a network of ten quality connections will not get you far. In contrast, having 30,000 Twitter followers with no interest in you will not catapult your career. But what is more important for financial advisors?
Anecdotally, in our history of coaching advisors on social media and according to the results of our social media research, we lean towards advisors concentrating on a strategy of building quality connections. However, that does not mean you should dwell within the comfort bubble of your quality connections. You must use your quality connections to build more quality connections.
We can debate quality versus quantity ad nauseam. The truth is, the most essential metrics are neither the quality nor quantity of your connections. The most essential metrics are ones that occur offline. How much new business are you generating through social networks? Are you building deeper relationships with clients and COIs? If the answers are “zero” and “not really,” now is the time to rethink your overall social strategy.
Kevin Nichols is a thought-leader with The Oechsli Institute, a firm that specializes in research and training for the financial services industry. Follow him on twitter @KevinANichols  www.Oechsil.com