Lately, in our ongoing efforts to figure out how information — news — gets distributed, we’ve been looking more and more at the information networks that have grown around certain topics. This goes beyond looking at a single individual’s “influence” and instead examines all of the connections in an entire “information ecosystem.”
Visualizing networks — to so-called social graph — this way exposes one of the great and underappreciated truths of the digital revolution: while the influx of new tools that have driven the cost of publication close to zero has empowered Joe Public (and spawned terabytes of “consumer-generated content”), the most significant impact of the digital publication revolution has been not on individuals but on organizations: non-profits, professional associations, advocacy groups and the like.
We’ve looked at several health related “ecosystems” and found that — perhaps unsurprisingly — that the glue that holds these communities together is associations. Examine heart disease on Twitter, for instance, and it becomes instantly clear that the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology are connected to all of the important voices in the area.
These organizations aren’t necessarily spawning trending topics or collecting hundreds of thousands of followers. Instead, they are quietly serving as the hub of a web of influencers, providing authoritative perspective on topics narrowly tailored to their own ecosystem. And the impact is clear. At the last two mammoth medical congresses — the American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting and the European Society of Cardiology meeting — the most influential tweeters by any measures have not been journalists or physician opinion leaders. It’s been the organizations themselves.
And the power of these kinds of groups will only grow as they build out editorial capabilities. The Mayo Clinic — another hub group in health ecosystems — is sending blogger and arthritis advocate Kelly Young (RA Warrior) to next month’s American College of Rheumatology meeting as a member of the press. It’s probably not too early to wager Mayo and Young (along with ACR itself) will dominate the information ecosystem of that meeting.
This all means that communications pros have to continue to expand their vision of “reporter” (or “influencer”) to included these kinds of groups, and re-tool their engagement strategies to account for the reach and authority of these sources of information. This requires a new skill set, one that’s different from traditional media relations and more complex than simple “blogger/Twitter outreach.” But acquiring that skill is crucial to the future of communication.