I watched a fascinating interview with the anthropologist Robin Dunbar on Youtube recently (link here). He conducted the research which concluded that human beings can only maintain stable social relationships with about 150 people. This is often referred to as the Dunbar Number. The ability to maintain these relationships is getting harder as our network becomes spread over much greater distances than a few decades ago.
With the digital revolution more and more people are running businesses with a larger geographical coverage than would have even been possible just 15 years ago. With the changing nature of employment and business structure this often means collaborating with others to provide their business services.
Business networking is a communal solution to the challenges of starting, running and growing a successful business. As such it relies on maintaining a number of social relationships. These social relationships in business are based heavily on trust and require a lot of face to face nurturing. Online Social Networks do not give us the ability to maintain a much larger number of these relationships. Dunbar's research shows us we would need thousands more years evolution to do that. The real benefit that networks and platforms like Linkedin and Twitter give us in business is the ability to stay interconnected in between the face to face time.
I have been experimenting on Twitter with a Twitter List of the 150 people I know best there. I can still view everyone else, but it ensures I get regular updates from the people I know best. That is the important bit in maintaining those relationships.