We’ve all heard about the need to network. In an increasingly competitive world, individual effort and talent may not always be enough. Having the right people behind us as we look for new careers, start our own business or simply develop our skills can make a difference between success and failure.

But not all networks are built the same. Simple exchanges of business cards and the occasional email won’t cut it in today’s connected world. But neither will a hyper-connected echo chamber of like-minded individuals. By diversifying our connections and crafting bridges that we normally wouldn’t, we open countless doors to develop and succeed.

But having one big network and community and attempting to maintain close relationships with everyone within it is impossible, even for the best Super Connectors. That’s why differentiating between the various layers within your social circle is critical to every professional.

Robin Dunbar, an Oxford University professor of evolutionary psychology, has created various models to understand our social circles and the importance of layers. Yet, his 5-15-50-150 personal social network model offers priceless tips to any networker – in fact, it applies to all of our social relationships.

The 5-15-50-150 Model

Dunbar’s model is straightforward – it tells us the number of people in each layer of our social circle, excluding our family. The innermost layer usually only includes 5 people. As you move out from the centre, it quickly opens up. We have roughly 15 good friends, 50 friends, and 150 meaningful contacts, each a new layer in our social circle. As a Super Connector or networker, this model offers valuable guidance. Managing relationships is time-consuming and emotionally draining – understanding what our body and mind can handle offers some help.

Dunbar 5 – Support Clique
The first layer of our social circles, known as the “support clique”, includes our closest relationships and friendships. These are the people you trust, contact with the most, and can rely on in times of need. As such, you should be reaching out and connecting once a week. It’s important to note that these 5 don’t include family. Most importantly, this layer shows that quality is more important than quantity. With more than 5, we are unable to dedicate enough time to maintain relationship quality and closeness. With less than 5, we are less prepared for emergencies and our wellbeing is likely decreased. Yet, it always comes down to the individual.

Dunbar 15 – Sympathy Group
With our initial 5 support cliche, we add on another 10 individuals to create our “sympathy group”, or Dunbar 15. Although these additional relationships are not as emotionally close as our initial 5, they still play a critical role in our health and wellbeing. We usually see these individuals at least once a month, as opposed to the weekly contact often seen within the support clique. And much like the support clique, the numbers within this circle can fluctuate as we move through life.

Dunbar 50 – Affinity Group
As we move further out, we encounter our Dunbar 50, or “affinity group”. At this point, our relationships become less about emotional support and closeness and more about providing useful connections and information. These are the contacts you can ask for help but can’t always rely on emotionally and mentally. We may connect with them twice a year, or more frequently within group settings.

Dunbar 150 – Full Active Network

Finally, we make it to the Dunbar 150, or our “full active network”. Outside of this final layer is our “total network”, or everyone we may vaguely know. We may connect with the 150 individuals in this layer once a year – for some, this layer may include everyone that receives a yearly Christmas card or New Year’s message.

Managing the 5-15-50-150

We may find it easy to differentiate between our social layers but managing each one can be a challenge. That’s where UpHabit can help. We’ve broken down the process to effortless contact management using the Dunbar 5-15-50-150 model and UpHabit’s intuitive features.

Step 1: Create your Tags
Before anything, you need to figure out what your Dunbar 5-15-50-150 look like! Think about who you see the most, rely on the most, and trust the most. These people will make up your inner 5, and you can slowly move outwards from there. Remember, these numbers aren’t absolute. Everybody’s social circles are different, so make sure you tailor the categories to best fit you. We recommend using a tool like Excel to create these categories and then populate them. At UpHabit, we like to use simple, easily identifiable tags:

Dunbar 5 – Weekly
Dunbar 15 – Monthly
Dunbar 50 – Quarterly
Dunbar 150 – Annually

Step 2: Tag your contacts and set Reminders
Once you have a good sense of how your social circles look and who’s in each layer, it’s time to use UpHabit to organize and manage them! Using UpHabit Tags, you can tag, sort, and search your contacts according to the Dunbar model. Tags such as the ones we set out above can help you keep track and manage each social circle individually and as a whole.
While tagging your contacts, you can also utilize the power of UpHabit Reminders and Notes to become closer with each layer of your social circle. Reminders can be set to help you reach out and reconnect – we recommend you set intervals of:

Dunbar 5 → 1W
Dunbar 15 → 1M
Dunbar 50 → 3M
Dunbar 150 → 1Y

In UpHabit, we recommend setting the quick reminders under Settings → General Preferences as 1M, 3M, and 1Y, to make it as easy as possible for you. For Dunbar 5, you can always use the custom option to set their weekly reminders.

These reminders will make you accountable to all your relationships, and make sure you never lose connection with anyone. Alongside reminders, notes can be used to help you remember important facts within your relationships, fostering stronger connections over time. Plus, they can help you make sure you reach out effectively – you may choose to call your Dunbar 5 while emailing your Dunbar 150.

Step 3: Follow up and Reflect
As we’ve discussed, social circles are fluid. Our friendships change, we meet new people, and our social circles fluctuate as we move along in life. Big changes, like moving to a new city, starting a new job, or finishing school can drastically change how our social circles, and our Dunbar 5-15-50-150, look. As such, it’s important to reflect upon your relationships at various points, whether that be yearly or after big events in your life. Doing so will help your emotional wellbeing, and ensure you stay committed to your friends, acquaintances, and connections.

Relationships aren’t a science, but you can still use science to make them better. Understanding what we can manage effectively and organizing ourselves accordingly can not only save us time, but it can also help us become closer and better connected with every layer of our social circle. And with the help of personal CRM’s such as UpHabit to apply the model, you can be a better friend, colleague, and networker.

About UpHabit

UpHabit is an easy-to-use app that takes the heavy lifting out of reaching out, following up, and building an effective professional network. Build a stronger network with UpHabit, an app for Thoughtful Super Connectors! Download now on iOS, Android, and MacOS. Available as a web app too.

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