When I was in my teens I found myself with pockets of friends. There would be those kids that lived close to my home – the boys I would surf, fish and hang out with. There were the smart, nerdy kids who I shared classes with. And there were some cool kids who would play guitar in the playground or were good at sport.

When I moved towns to attend university, these groups of friends fragmented even further. I had work friends, university friends and people I did drama with. I was living a patchwork, finding my way. Connecting.

I noticed my level of contentedness directly related to my place within my group of friends. Over time, I shifted, as perhaps we all do, to the centre of connected webs – investing time and energy in those places where my investment matches the investment of others.

Now, I am not saying this was conscious, but it was certainly a fact.

These days I see this most clearly demonstrated in the social networks. With social networking, we like to say that we are drawn to “like minds”. However, what we are actually looking at are clusters – not of “mind” or thinking, but clusters of behaviour. What causes this? As Nicholas Christakis points out in this TED Talk, there are three conclusions:

  • Induction – where my actions see a type of contagion  or spreading within those strong ties within our personal network
  • Homphily – where our ties are based on our obvious similarities
  • Confounding – where the similarities in our behaviour are the subject of something other than the obvious

Where this gets interesting is where you look at “happiness”. It seems that when you map the clusters of happy and unhappy people, the happiest can be found in well-connected social networks, while the unhappiest are found on the fringes. Now, we knew this instinctively, right? But where it becomes fascinating is when we look at the role of the individual within network creation. Based on Nicholas’ research, 46% of the variations in an individual’s social network is genetic. Sure, some are born shy and others, extroverted, but some of us choose to CREATE a network of ties – we choose to place ourselves on the edge or in the centre of a network. This in turn determines our experience AS SOCIAL CREATURES.

In my own worlds, I gradually began weaving different social groups together. It was a risk – for me. But what I found was that all sorts of goodness arose from the connecting of these networks. There were unexpected alliances and new friendships. But there were also plenty of learnings:

  • Social shifts – people move in and out of groups, become active, cool off and re-engage. Sometimes they leave the group, the location or move beyond the reason the group came together. This is natural.
  • Community needs orchestration – in multi-group networks, the person who connects the groups MUST initiate and orchestrate engagement. You have to give people a reason to engage with each other.
  • It’s not dating – you aren’t trying to match-make people. You’re looking to align passions, not individuals. Find affinity first.

But what does this mean for brands?

We need to think through this in the same way. Think about the people behind your brand – the marketing directors, the agency, the brand managers and so on. Find their passion points. Allow them to express these within their social networks. It’s about finding the connection point into a network – not shouting at a bunch of disinterested online participants. And the strange thing is, do this right and you’ll make people happy. And isn’t that the whole point of what you do?