Earlier this week I posted about some old SDO research looking into the research about what works in networks. The bulk of that post is a list identifying the ten key ingredients for success. This post (and another one to follow) revisits that research, and contains my thoughts and reflections on the relevance of work conducted before the advent of facebook or twitter, for the current day, and online social networking in particular.
So what was life like back in 2003-04 when the literature review was conducted? Well 2003 was the year that SARS was identified, Paula Radcliffe set a new record winning the London Marathon, the Congestion Charge was introduced in London, seven astronauts were killed when Colombia broke up on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, it was European Disability Year, the Iraq war began, England beat Australia in the Rugby World Cup with *that* drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson, the use of mobile phones while driving was made illegal in the UK and it was the last year that the Eurovision Song Contest was held on a single night! Noteable events in 2004 included the first release of the Ubuntu operating system, the death of Yasser Arafat, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Ronald Reagan and Estée Lauder, the banning of smoking in all public places in Ireland and the best selling single was Do They Know It’s Christmas re-released by Band Aid 20. You get the picture.
In terms of the research conducted, a number of new clinical and practice networks were being introduced into health and social care at that time, with the explicit intention that they would have an impact on the quality of health and social care provided and by default on the experiences of people using services and those caring and supporting them.
Six years ago online networking was a relatively new concept. MySpace was launched in Jan 2004, with Facebook following shortly after in February; Twitter didn’t emerge until 2006. So at the time the research was carried out online social networking was very much still in its infancy. What follows are my thoughts and reflections about how the ten factors that were identified as key for successful networks, could be applied or considered today in terms of online social networking; well at least in terms of facebook and twitter, the two platforms I’m most familiar with.
Ten success factors for networks (2004) and their implications for 2010
1) Achieve a position of centrality within the network
This may well be harder than it first seems – sure you can promote yourself or your business or your network; anyone can set up a facebook group or a twitter account, in fact for a large section of the users of these media it appears that followers, likes and RTs are considered success in their own right, but achieving centrality takes more than that. Successful outcomes require network leaders (you if it is your twitter/facebook account) to be engaging with people and contributing, essentially leading your network.
Network theory suggests that progress is dependent upon shared commitments or interests; therefore I’d argue if you wish to make progress, to be reflective and engage with, or learn from your friends, colleagues and followers then it is probably easier where there is a commonality of purpose or approach.
Charisma helps too but again I’d be a little wary of this, especially with twitter – some of the most charismatic people I know can bring a whole twitter stream down when they’re not happy with something; I try to step away from the keyboard when I’m not in a good place – I wish more people would do that, or at least think twice before firing off sharp, sarcastic or just plain grumpy tweets!
2) Have a clear mission statement and unambiguous rules of engagement
So often I hear people who don’t use online networking questioning the point, which is sort of a sensible place to start. Somewhat more frustrating for me though is when people (some of whom are the same) are quick to dismiss twitter or facebook as time wasting, without really seeming to get the point, think Nadine Dorries.
The research into networks suggests that you need to have clear goals and purposes or functions of network membership – I guess the same is true if you need to convince people of the value of online networking, or any socialising or networking really.
I’m quite keen that people find their own comfort levels with online networking. In the same way some people are consummate networkers, you know the ones who confidently stroll around at coffee break at conference, completely sure that people will want to talk with them – I think the same is true of twitter and facebook. Although rather brilliantly these aren’t always the same people; in my experience online networking has given voices to, and insights into people’s personalities that can be a little harder to reach if people are less confident, more introverted or dominated by louder voices in real life. So I guess it’s whatever works for you in terms of the reasoning behind engaging a network.
3) Be inclusive in design and development
The research suggests if there is no common goal and individuals don’t have ownership of the network then there is no purpose in having a network. I guess this is both true and contradictory of twitter and facebook. Lots of people have access and ownership of their own personal groups and networks – but I’m not sure that the purpose is always clear, or always consistent. That might not be troublesome in itself though.
My greater concern is about the nature of groups and compliance (there’s a blog post brewing about this) and how openly exclusive twitter can become! More on that another time.
4) Large networks should be avoided
The reasons given for avoiding large networks were partially practical – incurring high admin costs and difficulty in centralising management arrangements; but there was also a nod to the danger of inertia.
Thinking of twitter specifically I often wonder whether there is a correlation between effort and follower numbers? Celebrities aside, in my experience, those people I follow with the greatest number of followers seem to have lost some authenticity as their personal networks have grown past a certain size. I’m not sure why this is but will probably reflect on it in the post on group behaviour, I’d hazard a guess that there is a safety in numbers (followers/fans) that allows people to lose perspective and not feel that they need to make as much effort.
Increasingly I’m seeing tweets from people who have done a spring clean, or culled the number of people they follow. This could be due to the excessive RT phenomenon that I discussed here that seems to lead to a lack of genuine offering, or it could be because there is a limit to the noise that most people can handle….hmm, maybe that is worth another post too.
….the remaining six factors will be covered in a following post but for now I’d be really interested in your views on these observations, whether they ring true for you, and even more helpfully if you disagree how you’d interpret them yourself.