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Social Network Ties

Lasting Ties: Examining the Stability of Social Bridges

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

When considering their social network, most people first think about close friends or work colleagues because they have many common acquaintances or may need to attend the same event or work on the same project. Likewise, you might also think about people with whom you interact but don’t share social circles or common friends.

These latter type of connections are known as long ties, or “social bridges,” and are considered essential for diffusing novel information across different communities. These might include ethnic groups, a college class, or a labor union.

“Long ties that span different communities are critical for knowledge sharing and interdisciplinary cooperation from a network perspective,” says Yuan Yuan, an assistant professor in the management information systems area at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.

Yuan addresses the phenomena in a paper titled “Investigating and modeling the dynamics of long ties” that he coauthored for publication in Communication Physics. “We focus on the dynamics of long ties in social networks, which aim to further explain the mechanisms of their formation and evolution,” he says.

Contrary to the prediction of prior theory that long ties are unstable, the study uses empirical analysis and computational modeling that combines game theory and machine learning to show that long ties are actually very persistent and may get even stronger over time. “They are more likely to endure than other social ties, and many of them constantly function as social bridges without being embedded in local networks,” Yuan says.

Using two-year social network data, the study finds that in the long run, long ties appear to have more interactions than social ties in cohesive networks, which are made up of close friends and colleagues you meet frequently. “Two individuals who are linked by a long tie will likely maintain the relationship for an extended period of time,” Yuan says.

The study further emphasizes that the long-term value of long ties is highly beneficial, which instinctively motivates people to expend extra effort to sustain them.

“The results can be extended to the commercial and management domain in the globalizing world, understanding how information spreads across firms in supply chain and project networks, how these networks respond to it, and the development of ties across them,” Yuan says. “It also shows the need for social interventions that promote the formation of long ties, such as mixing people with diverse backgrounds to prompt novel ideas and innovation.”

Source/Media Contact: Yuan Yuan, yuanyuan@purdue.edu