Phil Willburn – Networked Leadership

How to Read Your LinkedIn Network

Recently I have been getting tons of requests about how to map and make sense of online networks – in addition to my work on how to map and analyze as offline line networks. So I thought I would create a series of blog posts on How to Read my (linkedin, facebook, twitter, gmail, fill in the blank) network. I’ve done quite a bit of work with people’s LinkedIn network so I thought I would start here and share what I have learned.

Before I begin, regardless of what network you are looking at it’s important to keep in mind the 3 key principles to effective networks.

First to get your linked in network go to

Caution, if you have a big network, say bigger than 2000 people it will take a long time, and it might not render at all – it takes a lot of math to produce a visualization of your network (think about it, it has to not only look at your 2000 people, but the networks of each of those 2000 people to see if there ‎are any common links).

Ok, now that you have your network here is how to start reading it – see my visualization and/or download it for clarification.

How to Read Your LinkedIn Network form InMaps

Ok, so now you got the basics. If you want to know some implications of the structure of your network, check out this visualization. It summarizes possible causes and consequences of having an open vs closed LinkedIn network.

Implications of Your LinkedIn Network Structure

Here are some other things you should consider when looking at your LinkedIn Network

How big should my LinkedIn network be?

Research shows that humans can only actively manage approximately 150-230 relationships in life. (see dunbar number; and dunbar number vs facebook)

If you are using LinkedIn to passively collect contacts, over the course of a career your network can grow well above the manageable range (150-230). However, this often means that much of your network is not actively managed—you could not ask favors equally across all 2000 or so contacts and expect a sufficient response.

Recent research shows the power of having dormant ties (i.e. relationships that you no longer actively manager). So collecting relationships is not bad, but don’t mistake collecting a big network as having lots of people resources available to you. In fact, the power reconnecting with a dominant tie comes from having strong relationship in the first place – if you’re LinkedIn Network is full of people who you’ve never built strong relationships with, then it will be fairly useless to you in the long run.


How many large nodes should I have in my network?

Answer: Not too many (10 to 15% of your total network)

Large nodes represent super connectors in your LinkedIn network. This is represented by nodes larger than average size. First you may think, that having lots of these super connectors are good, but then you’d be wrong. The problem with having super connectors within your LinkedIn network is that you may be borrowing your social capital and not creating your own.

If you have too many super-connectors in your network, you may be over-relying on them or using “their network” as your own. You may be borrowing too much social capital. The big test to see if you are overlying on your super-connectors is to ask yourself what would happen if they were no longer in the picture. Do you have strong enough relationships with other people to maintain your access and inside knowledge? Assess your super-connectors in your network and determine if you are borrowing too much of your social capital. If you are, then start to build stronger relationships around the super-connector so that his/her social capital eventually becomes yours. Everyone knows a few super-connectors, but if you have too many you might not be overlying on their networks instead of developing your own.

If you have almost no super-connectors, it is likely that you are the sole super connector in your network. You have space in your network to develop and connect to a few more super-connectors. Be strategic about the super-connecters you access, make sure they are the right sponsors for the areas you want to build stronger networks in.

How many node clusters should I have?

A node cluster is a group of nodes (minimum 7-10ish) that are located in the same general proximity to each other. You may find you have a large and tight/condensed cluster with a large number of nodes (i.e. represented by where you currently work) or you may have a smaller more distributed cluster with less nodes.

Answer: To have an open network, ideally you would have 4 to 5 fairly large and distinct node clusters.

The more distinct node clusters you have the more likely you have an open network. Having an open network is a strong predictor of career and organizational success, and has been tied to promotions, pay, and overall competitive advantage.

If you have more than 4 or 5, great! The most important question for you about your node clusters is “what kind of reputation do I have inside this node cluster?” Your ability to access relevant, timely, and critical knowledge inside your node cluster depends on your ongoing reputation inside that cluster. Make sure that your diverse node clusters are working for you by maintaining a strong positive reputation inside of them. If you don’t know your reputation inside a given node cluster, you probably need to spend some time inside working on it.

How many boundary spanning or in-between nodes should I have in my network?

Boundary spanning nodes connect between node clusters in your network.

Answer: Ideally, for your LinkedIn network you would want to have as few in-between nodes as possible.

The unique structural advantage you get from bridging node clusters is reduced by these types of nodes that are also bridging the same boundaries.

The in-between nodes visualized your LinkedIn network are crossing the same boundaries that you are crossing. Like super-connectors, in-between nodes have access to knowledge and groups inside your network. Unlike super connectors inside LinkedIn network, these in-between nodes are mostly structurally redundant. This means they are playing a very similar role to what you are playing inside your network. They may have had the same career path as you (started in one company, then moved to the new company you did). Because your in-between nodes have similar access to groups and knowledge as you do, they can act as allies or competition.

If you have many in-between nodes in your network you need to identify what role they are playing in your network. Are they acting more as allies and trusted partners, or are they competition who may be trying to reduce your social capital. You can find out who they are by going back to the LinkedIn Maps website and scrolling over the individual nodes which will reveal the actual names.

Discussion (2)

There are 2 responses to “How to Read Your LinkedIn Network”.

  1. Kristy responded:

    · Reply

    Hi Phil – I have enjoyed reading your blog but was wondering if you could provide some tips on solving some of the network problems identified. For example, how would someone take a relatively closed network and make it more open? What is the best way to identify potential strategic network connections?

    • Kristy, great questions. People typically get that an effective network is important, but don’t know what they should do to improve it. 1st thing is you have to know your current state network – if you are not accurate about that, then making changes could be a fanciful mental activity that goes no where. 2nd, to open your network you need to create in-depth relationships with people who your colleagues don’t know. The quickest way to do that is find a new club, association, non-profit, etc where non of your friends hang out and go meet some new people (check out this blog post from Herminia Ibarra – she writes great stuff on networks 3rd, and last – to be strategic, means you have a goal, whether that’s a organizational or career goal – you need to be purposeful in your relationship strategy but don’t have tunnel vision – know where you would like to build relationships – and be open to whoever might come along. hope this helps. (also check out my youtube video on this topic How to Make Simple yet Significant Changes to Your Leadership Network )

Leave a Comment to Kristy Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are bold.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.