Leadership in a digital world by @dtbarron

Over the past few weeks, because of various activities I’ve been involved in, I have been considering leadership within a digital environment, specifically related to social media. derek1

Instantly two questions spring to mind 1) what do I mean by leadership? and 2) what is social media?


Malby in 1997 described leadership as “an interpersonal relationship of influence, the product of personal character rather than mere occupation of managerial positions”.   Bennis and Nanus add to this by described leadership as ‘influencing and guiding’ as having a ‘future focus’, a ‘vision for the future’ while remaining in the present.

The key aspects that interest me in relation to digital and social media leadership is the ‘interpersonal relationship’ and ‘influencing/guiding’ components of these descriptions.  To me they are key in my own engagement with social media, my own role as a leader.

Social Media

So, what is social media – it’s those FaceBook and Twitter things isn’t it, celebrity gossip and nonsense about what someone is having for their dinner?  Yes, these two systems are part of the social media landscape, and yes there are celebrities on them – however it’s so much more than that.  Perhaps you haven’t consider that the very act of reading this blog means you are engaged with social media albeit it in what can be described as a more traditional approach to it.

Social media is an overarching term describing a wide range of ‘platforms’ that enable people to interact with one another:

derek2  The infographic (www.fredcavazz.net) visually helps to describe the core aspects of social media.  NB the 2013 version of the infographic has been simplified into four categories, follow the link if you want to see the 2013 version.

The infographic shows clearly that social media has multiple uses and multiple systems to use depending on what it is you want to achieve, who you want to engage with and who you want to share your message with.

In this blog I only want to focus on one platform – Twitter and share why I use it.

Some stats

80% of the UK population access the internet on a regular basis

60% of the UK population have a smartphone

The sixth most used app on a smartphone is – the phone: behind SMS, camera, Twitter, Facebook and internet browsing.

These stats simply demonstrate we are living in a changing world, the landscape around us is a dynamic place where people are doing things differently, where engagement happens in ‘new’ ways.  We have a choice embrace these developing networks as leaders or be left behind.  To be honest, I know some people who are very happy to be left behind – is that you?  If it is, don’t worry social media isn’t for everyone, we went through the same ‘pain’ with email and some still don’t see the need for it – to be fair, why would they when we’ve still got pigeons?


derek3  From my personal perspective I use a variety of social media platforms to engage with a wider community – Twitter, Google+ (struggle to understand it), WordPress (use it frequently), About.me (use it but not sure the point of it), Tumblr (just started to use it), LinkedIn (got it, but not sure why), Instagram (got it, seems pointless), Vine (too old to understand it or find a reason to use it) and even have a Facebook account (only post my blog to it – I’m not a fan!).  Some of them I don’t really understand and only have them because I’m curious what they do, others I use more frequently to share and shape opinion, to listen to the views of other healthcare professionals as well as people using our services.

My most used medium is Twitter which is a key engagement tool for me in sharing with a much wider community than I could every have hoped to do by ‘traditional’ means.  At an event I was at last week #techlearnscot @jonbolton used a quote from Douglas Adam’s  Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy

 “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

 We are all aware of the age profile of NHS Scotland (indeed Scotland as a whole) – perhaps Adam’s explanation helps us understand why I’m often told “I don’t do Twitter”  as it’s obviously against the natural order.  In fairness, since 35 was a long time ago for me, it might also explain why I don’t really understand some of the other social media systems I mentioned above.

I’ve been on Twitter for two years, the first six/eight months I didn’t tweet and only looked at it perhaps once a day or once every couple of days.  I now use it daily, I enjoy engaging with a wide network of people from across the world.  I get to share events as they occur and help to influence thinking of others, while also being influenced.

A key use for me is to access contemporary information, research and academic papers.  The fascinating thing for me is, as I now follow people who have similar interest e.g. mental health or leadership, I have information that is of interest ‘pushed’ to me, I don’t always need to go looking for it.  However it also widens my interests by having information ‘pushed’ to me that I ordinarily wouldn’t go looking for, simply being on Twitter has expanded my interests and knowledge.

Most of our conferences and events across NHS Scotland have twitter #tags, this allows me an insight into what is happening elsewhere when I am unable to attend.  I enjoy being influenced and challenged in my thinking, often tweets from conferences contain simple reminders of why I am a nurse – I never get tired of refreshing my commitment.


Traditional hierarchies do not exist in the same way within the social media environment, access to people who you would not ordinarily have contact with are open to anyone (I blogged previously on this topic).  We work in a system that aims to be more transparent, to be more approachable to ensure we have people at the very centre of care.  Twitter is one more medium through which we can listen to the views of others – those using services, colleagues and the wider healthcare world.  Our new Director General and Chief Executive of NHS Scotland is on Twitter (@pag1962) why not open an account and connect with him today?

Quick tips

Open an account (free) add a picture and a short biography (my advice for those who are professionals is to identify yourself as a professional).

Find someone you know is on Twitter and look through who they are following – if anyone they are following is of interest then you simply follow them as well.

Check it once a day, just have a look, no need to tweet anything.  Retweet something that interested you, only once you feel comfortable do you actually need to tweet something original.

Enjoy it – and if you find you are not enjoying the interaction and the engagement, then simply stop.  At the very least you’ll have empirical evidence of why its not for you and not simply because your over thirty five! (NB youngster <35yrs can ignore the last statement).

Some suggestions to get you started:

  •  @kendonaldson
  • @hazelNMAHPDir
  • @personcntrd_DG
  • @jeffAce3
  • @davidTheMains
  • @weemac63
  • @dghealth
  • @ayrshirehealth
  • and of course my own Twitter account @dtbarron

A final thought – does anyone know what the sixth most used app on a smartphone is?  Tweet me for the answer – hope to see you on Twitter in the near future.

Derek Barron is an Associate Nurse Director in Mental Health at NHS Ayrshire and Arran. he is also the Editor-in-Chief of our sister (?brother) blog @ayrshirehealth

15 thoughts on “Leadership in a digital world by @dtbarron

  1. Great blog as always Derek. As you know, I’m one of the WELL OVER 35s who has been converted from the attitude of ” I dont do Twitter, I have a life and real friends” to one of ” go on, try it, its amazing the information you can get with no effort at all” ( incentive for lazy people too?).
    Just thought – I still not sure what a blog is but I like reading them……

    • Thank you Linda – of course exposure therapy seems appropriate re your knowledge of blogs. So if Ken doesn’t snap you up for a DGHealth blog you can guest blog on ayrshirehealth ! 🙂

  2. Excellent stuff as always, Derek. I agree with Linda’s comments too. The advantages of connecting digitally constantly amaze me- I’m sitting in Stornaway as I write this- social media is one of the good things making the world smaller, and connecting (leading?) easier!

  3. I wonder if you think there is a place for social media in the academic sphere as well as the professional sphere – should we be thinking about how to Harvard reference tweets?

    Also can’t believe my dad is more social networking literate than me 😦

    • Without doubt there is a strong role in academia for the connectedness of social media. I’ve got a couple of excellent blogs on this I can share.

      It is of course possible to reference a tweet, however you need to know how to get the URL to include in the reference. I could tell you, but then you’d know as much as me – as a father that’s a dangerous place to be. 🙂

  4. Brilliant Derek… but it may be a character thing that you are so roped up in to twitter and NOT Facebook… Not sure why you say “and even have a Facebook account (only post my blog to it – I’m not a fan!)”…. Twitter is instant and it flutters about then is lost. Facebook is a leadership tool. You say something and folk can check it out months on. You need to be more disciplined in leadership on Facebook and tell it like it is. You got me hooked on twitter and that is fine… but from a leadership point of view it is a real cop out! I agree with you regarding all the rest of social media – all the secretive- confidential business folk are Linked In. I am in there and have over 500 ‘linked in buddies’ but only rarely dip in there. Twitter is best as a news feed, and facebook as a communication tool. I recently cut back my Facebook ‘friends’ to 2000 but still I have about ten important messages a day and – journalistically – I am able to tap into anyone for quotes!
    Nevertheless I enjoyed this article … well done!

    • A Facebook, that old chestnut. At least our few areas of disagreement are consistent. However I don’t agree FB is a leadership tool of any greater value/virtue than TW. I agree Twitter is more fast moving and apparently less permanent (not factually accurate). However with FB you need to know people to connect, you cannot randomly scroll through the entire directory by linking from one person to another. TW gives you endless possibilities to connect or simply watch what is going on.
      Now blogs – they really are leadership tools.
      However I respect your obsession with FB and that it’s different from mine related to TW – others may prefer to engage via Google+, the beauty of social media is that we can chose the medium that suits us.
      Thank you for your comment, always nice to talk.

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