Can Actor Kevin Bacon Boost Your LinkedIn Success?

Our story starts in the 1960s … when social psychologist Stanley Milgram sent a packet to 169 randomly selected individuals in Omaha, Nebraska.

Each packet had the name of a stockbroker who lived and worked close to Boston.

Milgram included instructions with each packet. If they did not know the Boston stockbroker, they were to add their name to the packet and then forward the packet to someone they thought might know the stockbroker. Anyone who received the forwarded packet (other than the Boston stockbroker, of course) was instructed to do the same thing.

Eventually, all packets arrived at the doorstep of that stockbroker.

What Milgram found was that some packets made the journey in as little as two steps while others took as many as 10 steps. On average, he found the packets reached their destination in six steps.

Hence the term “six degrees of separation,” which reminds us of the strong connections that link us all together.

If you’ve never heard of Stanley Milgram, you’re no doubt familiar with the “Kevin Bacon Game.” The object is to link every film actor to Kevin Bacon in six steps or less. Let’s take Vivien Leigh (from Gone with the Wind):

Vivien Leigh was in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) with Warren Beatty. Beatty was in The Fortune (1975) with Christopher Guest. Guest was in A Few Good Men (1992) with … Kevin Bacon.

Three steps.

In their book LinkedWorking, Frank Agin and Lewis Howes explain how you can apply the principles of the Kevin Bacon Game to your LinkedIn strategy.

To explain how it works, you first must know that the average number of steps that any actor was away from Kevin Bacon was 2.8312. (Thanks to The Oracle of Bacon website for this analysis.)

The Oracle then ran queries on other actors and ranked them by the average steps they were from their fellow actors.

Kevin Bacon ranked 668th on the list, meaning there were 667 actors who, on average, linked to other actors in fewer steps than Bacon's 2.8312 steps. In other words, they were more closely connected by degrees.

Burgess Meredith, who appeared in 114 films, ranked in the top 20. He had direct and one- or two-degree removed connections all across Hollywood. John Wayne ranked 160th on the list, even though he appeared in 69 more films than Meredith.

“Why was this?” they wondered.

The answer was found in the type of films Wayne appeared in. They were all very similar, mostly war and cowboy movies.

Meredith had appeared in a wider variety of films: dramas, comedies, adventure and action movies, documentaries, science fiction, horror, thriller, crime, westerns, children's movies, romances, mysteries, a musical, and even an animated film. He had more opportunities to work with a variety of actors, hence his higher rank and level of “connectedness.”

So what LinkedIn conclusions can be drawn from this?

Well, the idea with LinkedIn is to connect and network with as many people as possible, right? The Meredith/Wayne comparison shows that in order for you to do that, you need to have a wide variety of people in your LinkedIn network.

In other words, if you're a copywriter, don't just invite other copywriters or marketers to be part of your network. Invite a wide variety of people. By doing so, you will greatly increase your chances of making a connection with someone who can propel your career forward.

Agin and Howe lay out six strategies on how to do this in their book:

  1. Diversify the groups you join – Don't just join groups that are directly related to your niche. Join or start groups about other topics you're interested in. For instance, if you love sports or music, search LinkedIn for related groups that catch your eye.
  2. Reach out to people – Once you join a group, go through people's profiles and engage and connect with those people who interest you.
  3. Introduce yourself to the group leader – Send the leader of the group a message explaining your passion for the topic.
  4. Offer to help – Ask the group leader if there's any way you can help out. Agin and Howe suggest offering to set up a Yahoo or Google group forum to make it easier for members to share information.
  5. Connect with classmates – As well as colleagues, be sure to connect with former classmates. They just might be in a position where they could use your services or know somebody who could use your services.
  6. Import (and connect) with your email contacts – Under the “Contact” menu, select “Add Connections,” put in your email password and username, and it will display your email contacts who are on LinkedIn. Go through them and select the ones you'd like to connect with. Be sure to send them a brief personal note with your invitation.

How has your experience been with LinkedIn? Have you diversified the connections you make like Agin and Howe suggest or focused pretty much on your own niche or industry? Do you have any tips you'd like to share on how to diversify your connections list? If so, please post your comments below.

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Published: January 25, 2012

3 Responses to “Can Actor Kevin Bacon Boost Your LinkedIn Success?”

  1. Really enjoyed this article, John -- thanks!

    MindyJanuary 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm

  2. Fantastic! This is all new insights about LinkedIn I hadn't heard yet... thanks John!

    Jerry BuresJanuary 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  3. John,

    That was a great and valuable article, period.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    Best, Jim in NJ

    Guest (Jim Rodante)January 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm


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