I have this theory that friendships and other connections bear a strong relationship to the expansion theory of the universe.

Over time, we all start to move away from each other. Sometimes, those movements away bring different people and the occasional galaxy together thanks to local gravity. Trust me, I know I sound a bit bonkers but look it up.

The point is that while most of us thin out our real-world relationships (or have them thinned out for us) we tend not to do so online.

Now: I have to be clear here that I’m not suggesting or telling you how you should run your social media accounts. I’m not saying what content should be published on which channels, because they’re your channels – you do what you want. I can only say how I use them, how I approach them and how useful or otherwise I find them. Right? Good.

Know your network

Is there an optimum number of people you could follow on line? Well, Dunbar’s Number comes in at around 150. Facebook tells me that I have 146, so that’s all good. One of them is dead, so technically only 145 friends. It’s varied over the years, of course, and might yet drop down by a few. Some people have unfriended me – yes, it happens.

Some I see posts from once a year if lucky, one person I see a string of posts from at the top of my feed when I log in because Facebook thinks we’re really tight. If we were that tight I wouldn’t need Facebook, but there you go.

On Twitter I follow around 100 people and organisations – again it varies. I’m followed by around 440 people and organisations, some of whom are somewhat suspect. And one of whom is also dead (murdered, three years ago). I use Twitter for news, both real-world and professional as much as for friends, so more than 100 starts to get silly as new tweets come in faster than they can be read and commented upon.

While at West Yorkshire, we followed around 100 people, councils and transport-related bodies, grouped into lists so that they could be effectively followed in Hootsuite and similar. But on another of our accounts we followed over one thousand other accounts so we weren’t really following at all, just being ‘nice’.

And then there’s LinkedIn.

I have around 345 connections on LinkedIn. My network connections are an eclectic bunch, going back to late 2008.

Some were students who connected when I was Chair CIPR Yorkshire & Lincolnshire – I always accepted those connection requests, if it helped them with their research and so on. Some were colleagues or from partner organisations. Some were from the industries and professions I circulated in. More than a few added me to their networks, not the other way around.

Some found me because I posted something. Occasionally I see an update from someone and wonder what language they’re writing in. And what made us connect in the first place.

A few are regular updaters or posters. Many regularly share someone else’s content and links, including those ridiculously twee inspirational quotations, some of which were never said by the person in the accompanying photo. Most just lurk in the background, assuming they ever log in at all.

What have you done for me lately?

If your list of regular contacts is as high as 345, then congratulations on being able to keep up with all of those people on a regular basis. My address book was never that large – it didn’t need to be, I knew who I needed to know, and that was way fewer than 50 people.  Some of my connections have over 500 connections themselves, some have over 1,000, some probably have more than that – there’s no easy way to do a definitive analysis that I can see.

Having 345 connections doesn’t seem to be helping me much on the job front though, and it was my latest rejection that prompted me to look again at who is in my network, and why. Am I using LinkedIn effectively?

Ironically, as if knowing I was typing this up, I noticed updates from a few people I hadn’t heard from for at least one year. Must check my laptop for spyware. Anyway… if I were to trim my connections down a bit, where would I look first?

So long, farewell,…

At least four connections have left for Australia or New Zealand. I’m never going to go there and they never get in touch, so I could drop them. If you’re one of them and reading this… sorry.

I calculated that I’ve applied – directly or through agencies – for nine rail-related posts over the last eleven-ish months. A couple of them I didn’t get interviewed for. One I’m still waiting to hear about, even though one of my connections has updated his network to say that he got it. Those of you who know me well can guess which company that is.

Clearly then, there’s not much point in having all these connections in an industry that doesn’t want to employ me. It might not be their fault of course that I can’t pass an interview for toffee but that should trim more than a few off. If you’re one of them and reading this… sorry. Unless you’re short-handed and desperate; in which case you know where I am, get in quick.

Recruiters who connect with me but then who never seem to offer up any roles. I have two or three that make the effort (I really ought to write them a Recommendation one day). If you can’t make the effort with me, why should I turn to you if and when I need to employ someone? If you’re one of them and reading this… not sorry.

Then there are the ones where I can’t work out what it is they do or who they work for from their job titles and descriptions. Even after I’ve looked at their profiles it isn’t obvious!

My network might shrink but it might also become more targeted, more relevant, more useful and – whisper it soft – more interesting to read updates from.

Your own mileage, as they say, may vary.