Guest Blog: The Most Divisive Number in Social Media Is ….
Travis Burchart is a Community Manager with LexisNexis. He helps others with social media optimization and regularly writes about the law. He also blogs on fatherhood, having learned the ropes while balancing home based employment and eight years of daddy daycare. He enjoys college football, college wrestling, competitive swimming, youth theater and burying his nose in a good book. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.linkedin.com/in/travisburchart.
You thought Klout score, right? Of questionable value, yes, but not necessarily divisive. Klout doesn’t pit brother against brother in civil war. What I’m talking about is a very specific and very divisive number. Well, it’s not exactly a number – it’s a number and an arithmetic symbol. What I’m talking about is LinkedIn’s 500+ number.
The Stonehenge of Internet Numbers
LinkedIn drew a 500+ line in the sand to discourage “connection collecting” (i.e., a built-in restraint against competitive networking, mega-networkers, open networkers, and LIONS).  As for why LinkedIn chose the number 500, that’s a mystery on par with Stonehenge. Possibly, it’s an expansion of Dunbar’s Number – the theory that humans can maintain relationships with no more than 150 people at a time. Speaking to the “perils of bigness,” Malcolm Gladwell said in his book, The Tipping Point, that “[c]rossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference.”
LinkedIn’s Moneyball Division
In Moneyball (a movie about baseball numbers), the character Peter Brand says: “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins.” Out of context, the language hints at LinkedIn’s primary functional divide. If LinkedIn were Moneyball, users might find themselves on opposing teams: the quantity team (buying players) and the quality team (buying wins). 500+ further divides these teams because the number creates a conceptual line between what represents quality and what represents quantity.
For the die-hard “quality-ite,” 500+ represents a maze of inferior relationships, driven by ego and spamming. These LinkedIn users continuously prune connections to remain below 500+, opting for a more optimal level between 100 and 300. Conversely, the “quantity-ites” argue that low connection numbers are indicative of LinkedIn inactivity. To them, 500+ indicates active use. They also note that a 500+ network provides advantages in terms of reach, findability and hiring exposure.
So Who Has the Better Side of the (+)?
LinkedIn’s mantra – connect “with professional contacts you know and trust” – favors a trusted (quality) network over an extensive (quantity) network. However, this does little to answer the 500+ question. The arguments notwithstanding, there really isn’t a good side or a bad side of 500+. In the quality-quantity debate, one might ask, Are you building relationships, or are you merely keeping score?, but it’s not that black and white. Many engaging networks are actually quality-quantity mixes. Can one benefit from a network that’s part built relationships, part stretch (reach, findability, hiring) connections? The answer is yes. It’s less about your connection number, (+) or (-) 500, and more about the value you actively seek from your LinkedIn network. Your LinkedIn network is personal, and its value will be derived not from a single number but in how you engage your connections and what you need in terms of network range. As the saying might go, “Actions speak louder than 500+.”
 Some LinkedIn users workaround the 500+ limitation by including a larger connection number (1000+, etc.) within their LinkedIn name.
 In his book, The Start-Up of You, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman said that “there is a limit to the number of relationships you can maintain …. But, contrary to popular understanding of Dunbar’s Number, there is not one blunt limit. There are different limits for each type of relationship.” (emphasis added).