David’s Hierarchy of Social Connections – 3 Steps to Harnessing the True Power of your Social Graph

Just as in real life, there are different levels, or types, of connections in the online world. As I’ve written about before we seem to have a disproportionate amount of connections that we know absolutely nothing about. Connections that are nothing more than a tick mark on our digital egos. I challenge you not to add another person to another social network unless it’s somebody you already know, a client or a potential client, for the next 4 weeks.

Instead, I want you to take a look at your current plethora of connections and dig into who they are. What makes them tick? How can you get to know them better? What can you do for them that will make you stand out in their own overflowing number of connections? Also, I want you to sort your ever expanding list of “friends” using David’s Hierarchy of Social Connections, which I will get to in a bit.

I’ll be up front, this isn’t going to be easy. It might even be something you’ve been meaning to do for a while but you either didn’t have the time or didn’t know where to start. If you’re prepared to take this challenge then keep reading; I will lay out everything that you need to know to harness the true power of your social graph.

Step 1: What You Will Need

Besides time and patients you will need a way to sort your connections. On Facebook you can use your Facebook lists, same on Twitter. With LinkedIn you can tag your connections and on Google+ you can create different circles. Most social networks will allow you to sort your connections in one way or another but if you want to get really down and dirty you can use a social CRM, I use Batchbook.

With a CRM (customer relations management) you can have all of your connections in one place, without jumping from social network to social network. That’s just my preference, you may not want to go that route, it really is up to you.

Step 2: David’s Hierarchy of Social Connections

socialconnectionsNow that you have chosen the way you will be sorting your social graph it’s time to create the buckets that you will be sorting them into. For that I’ve put together what I call David’s Hierarchy of Social Connections, it’s a way to separate your connections so that you are better able to “work” your network for social depth instead of the old way of focusing on breadth.

Let’s get right into it then:

Community At Large

While the image doesn’t show it, most of your community will fall into this level, somewhere around 50-75% of the total number of people in your social graph knows absolutely nothing about you, and vice versa. Of course, there are ways you can and should change that, but for right now let’s just keep sorting.

An idea, when sorting, is to NOT put these people into a list at all. What I mean by that is you should create lists for your Weak Ties, Key Contacts, Friends, and your Inner Circle. Everybody NOT in one of those lists will be your community at large. You will notice really quickly that you know nothing about most of the people in your network, later we will talk about changing that.

Weak Ties

I first heard about the theory of Weak Ties from Buddy Hodges when he commented on one of my posts. In short, sociologist Mark S. Granovetter brings to light a theory on the power of the weak ties, that is the relationships  that happen outside of your “group” of friends, Key Contacts and your Inner Circle.

The theory states that as you work to build a strong relationship with the people in your social graph other people are working on building their own relationships in their own social graphs. The weak ties come in when you are connected with somebody in that other social graph, but aren’t to the level of a Key Contact, Friends or Inner Circle; in other words you are an acquaintance. These acquaintances don’t take as much time and energy to develop but can still lead to large-scale patterns from small scale interactions.

Key Contacts

I like to think of Key Contacts as business contacts, people that aren’t friends (but can be) but are connected to you in such a way that the relationships is win-win. Aristotle, who provided us with one of the greatest discussions on friendship, referred to this type of contact as a friendship based on utility. He said that a friendship, based on utility, is only a friendship as long as both sides find something advantageous in the relationship.  That perfectly says what a Key Contact is. We will talk more about this a little later but for now separate these people out of your Community At large.


Your friends are people that you get personal with, people that know the name of your kids and that you confide in, outside of the subject of business. Key Contacts can be friends as well, which is the reason for the reciprocating arrow between Friends and Key Contacts.

Inner Circle

You Inner Circle is comprised of your confidants; People that you trust to watch your kids and vice-versa. Again Aristotle had a name for this type of friendship, he called it a Friendship Based On Goodness. This type of friendship doesn’t dissolve when both utility and pleasure are gone. This type of friendship is characterized as a friendship between two people that wish good to happen to the other, and are good in themselves. In other words, each friend loves the other for who they are, not what they can get out of the relationship.


Now that you have the means to separate your connections and the knowhow on how they should be separated, it’s time to get to work. Evaluate each person in your social graph, across all your social networks and move them into their corresponding category. While you’re at it take note of who you’re connected with across multiple platforms. Again, I do this in BatchBook. Each contact is tagged according to David’s Hierarchy Of Social Connections, as well as which networks I am connected with them on. In BatchBook I can see their last tweets, their Facebook Wall, blog posts, LinkedIn status updates and more. I can even see who is subscribed to my newsletter and which ones they opened.

Step 3: Moving Your Connections Up

You will notice that David’s Hierarchy Of Social Connections is both a pyramid and an arrow, with the Inner Circle being the tip of the arrow. The reason for that is simple, you want to move as many connections up the ladder as possible. Keep in mind that while doing so you should take one step at a time and that some of your connections won’t move up the pyramid for one reason or another.

I’m going to take a different approach when describing how to move one of your connections up the ladder but telling you the story of how Craig Lockerd of AutoMax Recruiting And Training moved up mine.

I met Craig on Facebook, through one of my own Weak Ties. Craig owns an automotive recruitment company and was looking for what he called a “Twitter Expert.” A few people mentioned my name, people that were familiar with my work, but weren’t actual Key Contacts, Friends, or part of my Inner Circle. These people were trusted by Craig, as they were part of his own social graph. I ended up doing some work for Craig, which landed him in the Key Contacts bucket.

The more I spoke with Craig and the more we shared with each other he quickly became a friend. He is still a client of mine but through the stories we’ve shared and our mutual respect for one another I now consider Craig part of my Inner Circle. He is one of my most trusted friends, even though we’ve only met in person twice!

So, which people in your Community At Large do you want to connect with in order to become a Weak Tie? Which one of your Weak Ties can become a Key Contact? Which Key Contacts can become a Friend? Which friends can become part of your Inner Circle?


I told you that this would take some work. Success isn’t easy but the more you put into the quality of your connections, while at the same time not being too worried about the quantity, the further you will go. Not only that but your life will also be more fulfilling as you continually add to the lives of others.  Yes, the higher in the pyramid you go the more work it takes to keep people there. Some people are better off as Weak Ties or Key Contacts, maybe they don’t belong in your Friend bucket, much less your Inner Circle, it really is up to you, and of course the other person.

Now you see why I challenged you with a month of working this system. Don’t think of it as work, step 3 is fun as you start to build relationships with people. Reach out to them, get to know them… you can thank me latter!

Here are two other posts that I have written that will help you with reaching out and connecting with people. While they are written with LinkedIn in mind, you can use the steps outlined on any social network, with only slight modification.