Stanford University


A Causal Test of the Strength of Weak Ties

Sinan Aral
Iavor Bojinov
Erik Brynjolfsson
Karthik Rajkumar
Guillaume Saint-Jacques

September 15, 2022

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The authors analyzed data from multiple large-scale randomized experiments on LinkedIn’s People You May Know algorithm, which recommends new connections to LinkedIn members, to test the extent to which weak ties increased job mobility in the world’s largest professional social network. The experiments randomly varied the prevalence of weak ties in the networks of over 20 million people over a 5-year period, during which 2 billion new ties and 600,000 new jobs were created. The results provided experimental causal evidence supporting the strength of weak ties and suggested three revisions to the theory. First, the strength of weak ties was nonlinear. Statistical analysis found an inverted U-shaped relationship between tie strength and job transmission such that weaker ties increased job transmission but only to a point, after which there were diminishing marginal returns to tie weakness. Second, weak ties measured by interaction intensity and the number of mutual connections displayed varying effects. Moderately weak ties (measured by mutual connections) and the weakest ties (measured by interaction intensity) created the most job mobility. Third, the strength of weak ties varied by industry. Whereas weak ties increased job mobility in more digital industries, strong ties increased job mobility in less digital industries.

Stanford University