The (surprise) influence of social networking

I’ve just arrived back from Medinfo2010 in Cape Town and been intrigued to see the power of social networking in action.

Business networking did not exist in my world until I started work within a KPMG Consulting JV in the heady days of 2000, immediately before the dotcom crash. Rather naive and idealistic, straight out of my native General Practice, I watched one of the sales team actively seek out his contacts and regularly catch up for coffee or lunch. It puzzled me at the time as these contacts often had nothing to do with his day-to-day sales responsibilities, yet he nurtured these relationships carefully & deliberately, teaching me that most sales and related opportunities are formed on a basis of solid relationships and trust. Ironically, I’m not sure that I actually saw him make a sale for our software offering at the time, but later I observed that he moved on to his next role entirely because of his network of relationships.

In the past 2 years I have been involved in fostering clinician collaboration in the openEHR Clinical Knowledge Manager. As part of my personal research I made myself a previously non-existent Facebook account and started tweeting. It has been an interesting journey, particularly with Twitter, watching how unknown groups of individuals build together into a semblance of community based on similar interests. My area of interest has been around health IT in general – especially electronic health records, personal health records and quality of health data – and in particular sharing information about my day-to-day world of openEHR, archetypes and clinician engagement in electronic health records. Over time I worked out how to find the tweets that fitted my areas of interest, gradually refining and filtering them into a relevant information feed. These days I receive a great overview of happenings in the eHealth domain through the tweets of the 300-ish people I follow. If they start tweeting about what they ate for breakfast and such trivia, I have a very low tolerance for unfollowing them, unless they amuse me in other ways – I rather like the power of the ‘unfollow’!

The active component of Twitter has been interesting to explore. I have made contact with some very interesting and like-minded people from all over the world; most are US-based, with a number in Europe and South America, and surprisingly few locally here in Australia. I struggle to be pithy and witty, usually resorting usually to re-share eHealth-related articles and information that interest me. Over time, I have slowly built up a following who also seem interested in similar topics, much to my surprise.

In the past couple of years I have been privileged to travel to some European and Australian conferences and international ISO standards meetings. At each meeting I have met up with a few people tweeting from the meeting or found existing contacts on Twitter and continued communications between meetings – new friendships begun and existing friendships consolidated.

This recent meeting was a little different.

Firstly, fellow tweeps with whom I was building some friendship and trust actively introduced me to influential contacts of their own. The credibility of these introductions have opened doors that I could never have achieved on my own and may turn out to be significant opportunities in furthering my collaborative work with clinicians. I am trying to keep my excitement under some control until we can confirm that the promises made will actually be delivered;-) Too many times I’ve seen ambitious promises disappear into the ether, so… for now, we wait and dialogue. Keep you posted! In return I was able to introduce some of my contacts, so hopefully an overall win-win experience for all, twitter-driven.

Secondly, I had the surreal experience of people coming up and introducing themselves, not knowing my real name, but addressing my by my twitter ‘handle’ – I presume the recognition being the result of tweeting directly from the conference and my photo. My non-Twitter companions were rather surprised to hear me being addressed as ‘omowizard’ – it took a little time to explain!

I’ve participated in LinkedIn for years and it has been a very passive, unengaging experience – no connectivity apart from inviting others to link and being invited back. Facebook I keep predominantly limited to friends and family. Twitter however is an active and evolving community and it has provided new opportunities for meaningful connectedness to individuals who have common interests or drivers. It is a much more positive experience – I both share and receive – and the community as a whole becomes a richer resource.

How cool is that! It is fun, and I suspect I’m just a little addicted8-|