Two decades ago a group of college guys turned a lazy afternoon into one of the most popular party games in history -- and it had nothing to do with beer or ping-pong balls. They found themselves watching a commercial-filled television marathon of seemingly disconnected movies. And then it hit them, each movie had one thing in common: Kevin Bacon.
From that observation sprang “Six Degrees of Separation,” a game that stems from the idea that no human on earth is more than six (relationship) degrees away from any other. It challenges players to connect any two actors by using Kevin Bacon’s movie roles as the connecting hub; for example, Demi Moore to John Belushi (Moore and Bacon in A Few Good Men and Bacon and Belushi in Animal House). The number of Bacon interactions needed for two actors to connect is referred to as the “Bacon Coefficient”; the Moore to Belushi coefficient stands at 2.0. According to “The Oracle of Bacon,” a website dedicated to mapping out the Bacon Coefficient, the average coefficient hovers around 3.25. A number higher than 4.0 is extremely rare.
When you think about it, long before the emergence of Friendster (2002), LinkedIn (2003) and Facebook (2004), the Kevin Bacon Game, as it came to be called, was predicated on the same networking principle as modern social media strategy: none of us are more than six degrees apart. Our most popular social tools are built on the idea that we’re no further away from a total stranger than a bunch of network connections. If that’s true, maybe we should reconsider the role a complete stranger can have in our own social success.
When we post on LinkedIn, we often do it to get as much of the right kind of attention as possible. We tell ourselves things like, “If I could only get Gary Vaynerchuk to like my post, then surely every social-minded soul on LinkedIn would read my story.” We are trained to dismiss strangers who fall outside of our ideal buyer/influencer or pre-fab personas. But this may not be the wisest approach.
Several months ago I posted a fun (but not overtly remarkable) story on LinkedIn. I shared it with my immediate circle via LinkedIn Messaging, tags, email, etc. I followed up 2-3 times with my most influential contacts to encourage (plead with) them to read the post in hopes they’d like and share the post, giving me a friendly boost as they sometimes do.
When I checked the post later that day I had multiple shares and likes from 1st and 2nd connections and felt pretty good. I went to bed. And sometime in the middle of the night, something peculiar happened. Zhafir liked and shared my post.
Zhafir was a stranger. He is a PR professional based in Malaysia. Not only had we never connected, his network included less than 70 connections. Not one of them was connected to anyone in my network. Our “Bacon Coefficient” was very, very high. Yet I awoke the next morning to hundreds of likes.
The likes included several of my target influencers so I immediately made the assumption that they were responsible for the uptick in likes. But I was mistaken. The next night a repeat of the first night took place. The sun set in New Orleans and when it rose across the Pacific the same pattern emerged. Mitesh, another reader with a similarly high coefficient, boosted the post and it went crazy while I slept -- not just throughout the Pacific Rim but right in my own backyard.
In less than a week the post was approaching thousands of views and hundreds of likes resulting in several qualified leads that were interested in my company’s content advisory and production services (a nice bonus). While not all likes and shares were from a potential buyer, some were… and they were people outside of my 1st and 2nd connection circles.
I had to figure out how to recreate this, but how? I explored what had happened day by day. The takeaway surprised me. My inner circle of content hot shots had resulted in a marginal lift and almost no new reach. The content that had organically jumped several degrees of separation outside of my 1st and 2nd circles was way more valuable and viral.
My experience, which followed the traditional logic that narrow-casting niche content was the only or best way to do business, was rocked. I learned instead that broad(er)casting, with equally niche but widely relatable subject matter, led to more 1:1 attention from my ideal customer base. As counter-intuitive as it seems, I pursued “the road not Bacon.” And it worked.
Despite being strangers, the same rules of social etiquette apply. I thanked Zhafir and Mitesh and everyone outside of my immediate circles for their support. And I awoke to notes like this one from Zhafir: “No problem, Elisa, I found it to be very interesting so I just had to share. Keep up the good work!”
I connected with my new contacts immediately. We are now 1st connections, and our respective Bacon Coefficient is now exactly where it should be.
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