From hierarchies to networks

December 14, 2009

Four words I’ve ruthlessly hijacked from a pamphlet I read this week. Four words which neatly explain a significant part of why the way in which organisations operate and communicate is so drastically different now compared to just a few years ago.

How? Power, influence and impact are not necessarily derived from how far up the proverbial food chain you are, but increasingly by how good your network is. The two are often aligned, but often not; someone can build and influence a network without having climbed too far up the traditional ladder. Meaning that the blogger who builds up a huge readership can be as relevant as a mainstream publication; or that the smart lowly employee who engages with the right people online can have as much of an impact on perceptions of his employer as the CEO.

What does this mean for organisations? It’s both a threat and an opportunity. A threat in that it’s harder to keep control if everyone has a megaphone. At the same time, it’s a stunning opportunity. An organisation’s combined talents are far more likely to be shared and harnessed in a world of networks; while an individual’s talent is far more likely to be exposed. Result? Potentially, a more creative, innovative and ultimately successful organisation.

And for the people tasked with communicating on behalf of organisations? Gone are the days of rigid messaging and press conferences. Added to the mix is harnessing the best of what the internal networks have to offer by handing them the mic. Don’t just use your CEO or Comms Director to represent you: use the intern, the engineer, or (even better) the guy who doesn’t actually work for you but loves what you do. Whoever has the best story to tell, frankly. But for communicators, networks go much farther than that. Whatever your sector or issue is, there’ll be a network of people engaging about it online in some way, and you’ll need to make sure you’re listening to what they’re saying and responding to it. That’s how you keep on the ball and avoid communicating in a void; and it’s how you try to make sure you’re engaging with the people who matter even if they’re not in the higher echelons of some hierarchy.

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3 Responses to “From hierarchies to networks”


  1. Well, there’s nothing really new to the phenomenon as the wider public knows since “The Hidden Power of Social Networks” from 2004 which is based on network analytical work of several decades.

    New technologies just offer new possibilities and new channels for communication, they make the phenomenon more visible, but the principle of hierarchies becoming networks is not that new.

    • Steffen Says:

      Hi Julien. The concept might not have been invented yesterday, but you’d be hard pushed to say that technology has simply continued a trend. It has accelerated and expanded it exponentially, more like. And while the power before was “hidden”, it’s now very much in view!

  2. Tex0711 Says:

    Hi Steffen, Thanks for the post. It might not be all that new but it can’t be emphasized enough.

    I agree there is a fundamental change that happened with the introduction of online social networking. It all has to do with getting into the open the contacts of your contacts, which was very difficult before and exponentially grows everyone’s network.

    I very much like the ‘social networking in plain english’ video clip explaing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a_KF7TYKVc


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