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Power in a Social World

Spontaneous tweeting is the “antithesis” of political conventions, says Dan Schnur, who was communications director for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. “Conventions are about singing from the same hymnbook. Twitter means everybody has their own song.”

Twitter rewrites the script for political contentions, Martha T. Moore, USA Today – August 22nd, 2012

The quote above shows just how much the man quoted doesn’t understand what has happened in the world in the past 5-6 years. 

It used to be that you could script a political convention, large scale event like the Olympics, or even a news event and control the message relatively simply. We used to talk about how politicians were able to spin stories with press conferences or package their candidate with ads. Michael J. Fox starred in a show called Spin City, the very premise of which feels dated now. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert make millions of dollars pointing out the inaccuracies of news items that have been spun from the truth.

Today, power has shifted away from those traditional mediums. Today, power truly belongs to the people. Position and influence are really two different things in this new, flat world.

Don’t believe me? Remember the Arab Spring? Yeah, Twitter was the catalyst for those revolutions which lead to regime change in several countries.

Here’s a news flash for those “in power.” More often than not the person with the microphone is in the least powerful position in the room(Traditionally, they had the most power.) While they are speaking there is an entirely different conversation going on via Twitter about the speakers credibility, the veracity of their talk, and whether or not their words even matter. While they are the ones saying the words they have zero control over how its received.

Someone can walk off the platform thinking they’ve nailed it only to learn that they made a mistake that costs them big time. Or they can feel like it’s a dud and see it take off on YouTube. In either case, the person in a traditional position of power (the speaker) is now the least powerful person in the room because the platform is vulnerable. A guy like me, watching on TV, can make snide remark that gets retweeted and refashioned 10,000 times before he steps off the platform. That’s just the way it goes now. 

What does this have to do with me as a local leader?

Social media has changed a lot for big, national leaders. But I don’t think it’s dramatically altered things at the local level. There just isn’t the same volume so the impact of social media on your leadership is way smaller.

If anything, just know that the text, twitter, Facebook conversation that happens about you and your leadership is completely beyond your control. It’s a whole new level of vulnerability that can be overcome by simply being authentically you.

2 Responses to Power in a Social World

  1. Richard Matson-Daley August 23, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    On a similar note. You might be interested in this post called “Your audience’s audience” from Duarte Blog:
    http://blog.duarte.com/2012/06/your-audiences-audience/ . The one-sentence summary of which is that while you are speaking you should be aware that you’re not just speaking to the people in the room, but the social community of those people.

  2. John Mulholland August 27, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Adam, I read this and had a similar thought. Why would you NOT want to empower EVERYONE present to be a voice?

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