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Exploiting Dunbar’s number for your business model

San Francisco food cart fair

Seth talked yesterday about Dunbar’s number, that Wikipedia defines as:

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person.[1] Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.

One take on this is that there is no way of stretching this number without blurring people over 400 into a meaningless stream of faces that you fail to remember who they are.

I believe there is also a second approach, where you turn constraints into a business model. A big part of the 150 limit will be occupied by your non-professional friends and work colleagues, extended family etc. Leaving you just a limited room for true professional contacts.

Here is where the business model comes in: if you’re willing to sacrifice the relative amount of your personal network, you can in turn resell it to others via introductions and networking facilitation. One could call this occupation community management (as you need to know and have relationship with influencers), but it expends to all sorts of managerial out-reaching roles such CEO or public relations officer. At the end of the day, it also might be the reason why you’re a better freelancer.

How many of your personal contacts are you willing to sacrifice for your career?

3 responses to “Exploiting Dunbar’s number for your business model

  1. How many personal contacts I am willing to sacrifice? None.
    But I believe that the potential employer will take the number/quality of your “friends” on social networks into consideration if you are applying for a job that involves social media.

  2. One could say that the 150 limit networks mostly retain bonding social capital, while larger personal networks develop bridging social capital. The latter one actually becomes a real capital in your business model.

    Maybe the concept “community manager” is a bit misleading as the stress is more on managing information-communication processes than social processes, which would refer to community characteristics. In this sense concept from communication sciences might be more suitable – opinion leader, crowd mobilizer, social marketing expert..?

    Lastly, I disagree with Tina that this occupation is only relevant for jobs involving social media (at least directly). On the contrary, I don’t imagine a single organization (either company, instituition or a political party) which would NOT be interested for such a profile.

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