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Why social anthropology can help businesses grow their followers
For businesses, the number of people that you can reach through your social media is of utmost importance. The thinking goes that the more people that see your messages, the more people will visit your venue and spend money with your business. However, social anthropology tells us that the secret to growing our social media following is to concentrate on building relationships with a number as small as 150 people.
The Dunbar Number
Robin Dunbar, is The director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University. Dunbar’s theory goes something like this: throughout our history it has been consistently shown that we as humans have a capacity to form meaningful relationships with approximately 150 people at any one time, whether in a hunter-gatherer society or on Facebook.
The way in which our social world is constructed is part and parcel of our biological inheritance. Together with apes and monkeys, we're members of the primate family – and within the primates there is a general relationship between the size of the brain and the size of the social group. We fit in a pattern. There are social circles beyond it and layers within – but there is a natural grouping of 150.
This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there's some personal history, not just names and faces.
For example, the average village size recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086, was 150. It's the same in the 18th century, for example, thanks to parish registers. County by county, the average size of a village is again 150. (Except in Kent, where it was inexplicably just 100).
Quality trumps quantity
The idea that 150 followers is all you need probably sounds crazy to people, especially if you are just starting out. However, it is all down to your ability to interact with these 150 people and start a meaningful relationship that will make all the real difference.
In The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell further expands on Dunbar’s Number theory by suggesting that 150 people is all you need to make an idea spread and importantly our ability to influence people decreases once we try to engage with more than a core audience of 150. Now I can think of several examples with modern media where this theory appears to fall down, however I can see that when first reaching out to find a new audience, it is better to concentrate on a small core base, than try to appeal to everyone. There’s no way you are realistically going to engage effectively with thousands of followers unless you absolutely have no life.
The role of 150 in business
At Gore Associates, there always no more than 150 people at anyone plant. Everyone is known as an Associate not an employee and there are no bosses in the traditional sense, only sponsors and mentors. Founder Bill Gore termed this style as a "flat-lattice organization." Gore found that beyond the number of 150 Associates per plant, there seems to be breakdowns in the ability of the group to act and agree upon anything with one voice.
One of the lessons of the rule of 150 seems to be that if you want to create one large movement, you have to create several small movements first.
Creating your own 150
Below are some ideas for how you can set about creating your 150:
- Track Mentions: Pay attention to mentions of your Twitter name and where appropriate start a conversation with that person by mentioning them back.
- Track Retweets: Make sure that you keep track of who retweets of your posts. It’s obvious that they like what you are saying, otherwise they wouldn’t be sharing it.
- Create a List for your inner circle: Set up a list for yourself on Twitter (make it private) and call it ‘my inner circle’. Then, anytime somebody mentions you or retweets one of your posts, add them to that list. Unless they’re a spammer in which case you should block them.
- Engage with the People on that List: Simply creating the list is not going to be enough. Once you have created your inner circle list, you need to start engaging with them.
- Daily Conversations: Talk to at least some of the people on your inner circle list daily.
- Retweet their Stuff: If you want others to take notice of you, then you have to start taking notice of them. So, make a point to promote the stuff of the people in your inner circle and don’t discredit the value of those with fewer followers, as they won’t be small forever.
Where to Start When You Are at Zero
If you are starting at zero, some of the above might seem more challenging, but it’s not. Go off the beaten track and find people that have something interesting to say and start engaging them in conversations. They’ll be happy to hear from you. That will be the start of creating your 150.