According to a recent social experiment conducted by The University of Milan and Facebook the new average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world is now 4.74. This may come as a surprise to most of us who grew up in an era where the phrase “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” was thrown around as much as Nerf balls, but the findings seem to be accurate.
The original findings, dating back to 1967, state that the phrase “six degrees of separation” was coined by a psychologist named Stanley Milgram who conducted an experiment where 296 volunteers sent a postcard message through friends and friends of friends to a specific person in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.
The new research, however, was conducted on a much larger-scale with 721 million Facebook users (approximately 1/10th of the world’s population.) The experiment ran over the span of a month after researchers developed a specific algorithm that calculated the average distance between any two people by computing “sample paths” with Facebook users. And according to a New York Time’s Article , “they found that the average number of links from one arbitrarily selected person to another was 4.74. In the United States, where more than half of people over 13 are on Facebook, it was just 4.37.”
So what does this new number mean for the human connection? And more importantly how is it going to effect public relations? Well, personally, I believe that because people are now more connected, these numbers are going to lead to easier communication and the travel of ideas from one person to another. According to a Word of Mouth Marketing Association Infographic,word of mouth (even virtual words) accounts for 54% of the driving forces for purchase decisions. So, social media is now a tool for the human connection, a tool that can be molded in any direction we choose, and at the fingertips of public relations representatives, social media personnel, and anyone in communications.