As soon as people start using social networks, they try to “score numbers.” Which makes sense because a network without any people is not a network. Many social networks help you acquire contacts. They help you to cross-reference your other contact lists or offer suggestions: “If you know Jack, you may know Jill.” At a later stage, you will start to think about which people are actually useful to you and how you will organize them. Who are the “right” people in a network, exactly? In other words, who are relevant to me in relation to my activities and preferences?
According to the Quantum Theory of Trust by professor Karin Stephenson, a certain category of contacts in your network is more strategic than another. They are particularly more strategic because the network gave them that position, so obviously they are more trusted by the network than others. These key people enable you to reach other contacts more efficiently, so they are your great connectors.
Stephenson distinguishes hubs, pulsetakers, and gatekeepers.
- Gatekeepers: they are the gateways to (new) networks, and are also the corridors between different networks. As this representative role is usually not directly visible – especially not in informal, learning networks – you will have to look for it.
- Pulsetakers: they are the people who pick up the posed question intrinsically and interpret it for the network they belong to. The pulsetaker actually does something with your request or question.
- Hubs: they are people who have an above average amount of contacts. They have a large network. Once you have ended up in a hub, in principle, you will reach a large audience.
These strategic positions are the outcome of the network behavior of the involved person. Someone is a hub for a reason. So, the strategic position is a measure of someone’s reliability. As it happens, this position is ascribed by others in the network; you cannot apply for it.
The roles that Stephenson discerns are dynamic and can change hands in an instant. Finding out how to map these strategic positions, and how to provide insight into the relevance of various members, is akin to searching for the Holy Grail.