Leaders In Internet Social Networks

leadership-smallWhen you gather people together in any sort of group, a social structure most always arises. Leadership is something that comes natural to some, and others have it thrust upon them.

A small group may never appoint official leadership but receive leadership in some form from one, two, or a few. Unofficially or not, leadership roles are filled.

Leadership is defined by Wikipedia as the…

“process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”

As I began to write this post, I thought about several things. First, my assumption was that leaders definitely exist in social networks. Next, I believe leaders have certain responsibilities within the social setting. I have an expectation for a leader. Is this unrealistic or just simply unfair? These are some the things I want to discuss.

Do leaders exist in social networks?

Large scale social networks are filled with many groups, cliques, and small pockets of users. The users may have affiliation with each other via real life or only online relationships.

Often groups or cliques are simply people of similar interests or some similar trait that draws them together. Even in a group of peers, someone will inevitably stand out for their leadership qualities.

In an online social network, often this is seen by their popularity. In real life popularity is certainly not a determination for leadership or intelligence. In an internet social network, often we perceive the popular as leaders of the community.

This may or may not be a good method for finding leaders. The popular may be power users, but are they leaders?

Do they portray leadership qualities? Did they gain popularity from expertise? Are they an ambassador for the service? Do they wield power over the herd of users? Do they have a large sphere of influence?

If the answer is yes, I believe you have found a leader.

Is leadership expectation unfair?

What do you expect from a leader in real life? They obey the law of the group, the law of the land, and adhere to the accepted code of conduct. It is very easy to transfer these same expectations to a leader of a social network.

Unfortunately, a leader in this situation is, number one, not formally recognized. Second, they are certainly not compensated directly for their service to the organization.

I expect a certain decorum and behavior from a leader. The leader has the ability to incite riots, lead the herd in a way of their choosing, and generally abuse users in any way they see fit. Are my expectations are simply unfair?

How can we fix leadership in an online group?

One of the things that makes a social network work is the open format. The lack of rules and organization often leads to unique collaboration and an exchange of ideas.

Limiting user freedom and independence would be method for site admins to tighten control over their network. I am not for tightening control.

I am against formulas for processes that are informal. Formula or function where, by definition or inception, there is no formula or function. Freedom of expression on the Internet is great and can lead to innovation and invention.

These processes include all methods of communication, collaboration, and speech on today’s Internet. These creative processes can largely be stymied by rules, order, and unnecessary constraints.

However, the point of this post is power. In a social group, whether informally or not, someone gains power. The power to lead. To lead for the good and bad of others. Should site admins constrain users?

When power users lead the herd abusively, what action should be taken?