Who Said Referrals Were Six Degrees of Separation?

New data suggests that there are fewer than five degrees of separation—your referral network just got turbocharged.

New social media data debunks the well-known factoid that it’s just six degrees of separation that connects us to others. Staying in touch with your social network just got even more important. Here’s why, according to Southwest Airlines’ Spirit magazine (Sept. 2012).

“Looks like it’s a smaller world after all.

A November 2011 study by Facebook and the University of Milan, which mined data from the social media site’s 721 million active users, found that the number of intermediate links between two strangers—better known as degrees of separation—is, at 4.74, fewer than we thought.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram polarized the six degrees theory in a 1967 study, which asked 296 volunteers from Boston and Nebraska to get a document to a stockbroker in Sharon, Massachusetts using only their acquaintances.

Sixty-four letters ultimately reached their target in about six steps, and that number—thanks to the internet—has been shrinking ever since. “When considering another person in the world, on average, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend,” reports the Facebook study. Guess we’re all that much closer to Kevin Bacon.”

Lesson learned.

Stay in touch with your network and rigorously build new connections. You will become closer and closer to potential clients. Your new referral network will contract your world. It will be faster and easier for you to give and receive referral introductions.