Thanks to inspiration from the book, The Power of Habit, we recently examined how strong ties, weak ties, and a sense of identity can be used to understand how forum communities start from a small group, grow to achieve critical mass, and eventually become self-propelling knowledge machines. Perhaps the most interesting and surprising part of this framework is the power of weak ties.
You can think of “strong ties” as your closest circle of friends. People you see all the time and interact with most often. Weak ties are more like casual acquaintances or friends of friends. This might defy expectations but it turns out that weak ties are extraordinarily important when it comes to sharing news and novel information.
To illustrate the power of weak ties, Habit author Charles Duhigg cites research by Mark Granovetter, a pioneer in the field of social phenomena. In the 1960s, Granovetter studied how a group of 282 men found their current job. Granovetter determined that weak ties were crucial to finding employment because “weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong.”
Weak ties are absolutely critical for news of job openings to spread from one clique to another. However, the power of weak ties is not limited to news about job openings. It is equally relevant to the way habits, schools of thought, and social patterns permeate through the world at large.
The power of weak ties is especially pertinent to forum communities. Forums excel at creating weak ties for many reasons. For example, forums connect people who:
- …are likely to be friendly due to a shared interest.
- …would otherwise never meet in real life.
- …possess different levels of expertise.
- …come from different social circles and parts of the world.
- …are keen to share knowledge with one another have an eye toward self-improvement.
We know that weak ties are like bridges that shuttle novel information from one group to another. While it could be argued that forum communities are prone to isolation, more like an island in the middle of the Pacific than a diverse and well connected city-state, we believe that open platforms which foster civil discussions, even among users with unique viewpoints, allow weak ties to flourish. When weak ties abound, we like to say they bind together to create a motivational force field.