Hijacking Hierarchies: A potential and a peril of social media

Do you remember a time before facebook? There must have been an internet, and there were probably even blogs, but being popular meant a lot people would turn up for drinks at your birthday party. Since social media has taken off there has been an insidious introduction of more formal popularity measures. You have friends on facebook, hits on wordpress, followers on twitter – all potentially irrelevant information but a constant objective ‘measure’ non-the-less. I have mulled over this as on christmas eve a twitter posting (which frustratingly I forgot to favourite) stated the best leaders would concentrate on their families, not new followers, over the holiday period. I am not sure how many people actually look for followers on twitter (apart from the really annoying spam you receive) but the most popular tweeters (in terms of followers) are often clearly not concerned about ensuring wide appeal from their tweeting. However their does seem to be an increasing obsession with measuring popularity on social media. A number of social media ‘personality’ awards now exist. What purpose do these serve? Do those on twitter or facebook actually need reminding who they are all following? They certainly don’t affect those outside social media as they aren’t even on it. A ‘mercury music prize’ equivalent might be more reasonable with up and coming tweeters celebrated . Ultimately though however popular the Mercury might be if you don’t listen to music it probably doesn’t mean much to you! More formal measures of popularity exist (klout and others),  there is some science (seeking influence) and I have always liked [log(number of tweets)*(followers/following)]. So far major healthcare organisations have resisted this ceremony but might we one day see a British Medical Journal #SoMe award…

So is there any reason to continue supporting such narcissism? Can we see a day when gongs may be won on the basis of influence via social media. Well there might be one. If there is one great advantage to the explosion of SoME is the complete breakdown of hierarchy and flattening of communication channels. Who could have thought 5 years ago you could contact directly the chairs of the Royal College of General Practitioners (@clarercgp) , the president of the royal college of paediatrics and child health (@rcpch_president) or the chief executive of NHS Employers (@NHSE_dean) . Just follow their twitter lines to see examples of trainees and colleagues posing questions directly and getting responses. In the short term the promotion of individuals who use twitter (and other tools effectively) may draw attention to this brilliant engagement opportunity. In fact if objective measures of influence, rather than popularity, can be found it may promote greater involvement of organisations who have up to this point resisted dipping their toes in the water.

Ultimately popularity, whether relevant or not, will always be measured. It is now up to those on social media to decided on what the most constructive use of this is.

3 thoughts on “Hijacking Hierarchies: A potential and a peril of social media”

  1. Thanks Damian – my feeling is that we need to be in the room together, in each others presence with phones off, no little ego boosting messages to distract us. Joining forces to unlock the wisdom of the crowd – listening deeply, caring for each other. Having said that I only know you through twiitter and I am sitting typing now – as with all things the balance can be elusive.
    Hope to meet sometime soon – do join us for the compassion dialogue when you can

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