There are two really important considerations here:
1) A connection typically doesn’t turn into a time sink – others are busy too
2) Having “weak connections” is very valuable.
What is a weak connection?
We all have key relationships where the whole point is to spend time with the person because we enjoy and value that. These are strong connections.
You tell them about your life and you want to hear about theirs. You do things together. You know each other very well. The fact that this takes time is a good thing.
Weak connections on the other hand, are with people you know, and at one time had an authentic reason to connect with — your weak connections are still personal connections.
They are not just a stack of business cards of people you don’t really know at all – I don’t believe this type of “contact” adds value to your network, and it is not authentic.
These weak connections are with people you would genuinely like to stay in touch with, but you don’t regularly have a specific reason to contact them.
How much time does it take?
You can establish or maintain a weak connection about once a year with a brief phone call or email. In techy terms we call this a “ping”. A ping is a test of a network connection, without sending any real data.
“I thought of you the other day, and thought I would say hello. Things are going well for me and my family. Still at my same company, but I started a new job as a regional director, which I am enjoying. Hope you are well.”
Use your own style of course, but the point is to realize that it doesn’t take a lot of “data”.
Weak connections are about keeping the connection fresh, not keeping all of the details of the relationship current.
(I am here, you are there. I thought enough about you to acknowledge our connection.)
Find some method or process or trigger to keep yourself doing this. Think about spending maybe a half an hour a month, and making this kind of brief connection, “ping”, with 10-30 people. That is a lot of network refreshing without a big time commitment.
You will also find that people are glad to hear from you!
Network when you don’t need anything!
Keeping connections fresh is more about giving than taking. You are giving someone attention, and you are not asking for anything. It is a pleasant contact for them.
If you don’t do this, it is very uncomfortable when you need to reach out to people that you have not communicated with AT ALL in 5 years and “suddenly” ask them for something.
But if you have kept the connection fresh it will be much more natural and comfortable when you need to reach out — and they will be much more inclined to actually help!
The value of a weak connection
A large network of “weak connections” is more valuable than a small network of close connections. And it is not just a matter of the numbers.
The people you are close to are not always very useful to help you because they tend to be in the same environments, know the same people, and think similarly to you.
Whereas your “weak connections” have access to different stuff!
If you are on a job search (a big reason people reach out to their network) or looking for new insights, your network of weak connections will have more new ideas, broader reach, and bigger impact.
The Science behind this concept: (from Wikipedia): The Strength of Weak Ties: Mark Granovetter is an American sociologist who has created some of the most influential theories in modern sociology since the 1970s. He is best known for his work in social network theory and in economic sociology, particularly his theory on the spread of information in a community known as “The Strength of Weak Ties” (1973).