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The impact of social media on the labor market

December 7, 2022

As much of the economy becomes digitized, it is important to consider the effect of social media and social networks on jobs. A team of researchers from Harvard, Stanford, MIT and LinkedIn recently conducted the largest experimental study to date on the impact of social media on the labor market and found that weaker social connections have a greater beneficial effect on job mobility than stronger ties.

“The ‘strength of weak ties,’ one of the most influential social theories of the last hundred years, maintains that infrequent, arms-length relationships—known as weak ties—are more beneficial for employment opportunities, promotions, and wages than strong ties.” says MIT Sloan School of ManagementProf. Sinan Aral.

Mark Granovetter, the author of the weak ties theory, argued in 1973 that weak ties allow distant clusters of people to access novel information that can lead to new opportunities, innovation, and increased productivity, being particularly helpful in delivering new employment opportunities by introducing novel labor market information to a broader social network. 

According to MIT Sloan, the largest empirical tests of this theory had discovered what scientists called “a paradox of weak ties,” in which strong ties, not weak ones, were the ones delivering jobs. Yet, researchers add that, since these previous studies were not experimental, they could not reliably pin down the causal effects of weak and strong ties on labor mobility.

In the new study, the research team overcame these hurdles by conducting a five-year set of experiments on LinkedIn with 20 million people around the world, during which 600,000 new jobs were created.  

By randomly assigning some LinkedIn users to receive more weak tie recommendations from LinkedIn’s “People You May Know” (PYMK)algorithm and other users to receive more strong tie recommendations, and then examining the labor mobility of the two groups over five years, their analysis confirmed that weaker ties increased the likelihood of job mobility the most. But the researchers also found an inverted U-shaped relationship between tie strength and job mobility, with moderately weak ties increasing job mobility the most and the strongest ties increasing job mobility the least.

“It’s not a matter of ‘the weaker the better’ or ‘the stronger the worse,’” explains Bojinov. “Our results show that the greatest job mobility comes from moderately weak ties—social connections between the very weakest ties and ties of average relationship strength.”

As for employers and job applicants, this study highlights the importance of actively managing social networks to ensure they are as broad as possible. “Weak ties on social networks can be an extremely useful part of managing your career, promotions, advancement, and even wages,” Aral adds.

Source: MIT Sloan