What can “World of Warcraft” tell us about social media ‘leaders’?

What can “World of Warcraft” tell us about social media ‘leaders’?

I recently enjoyed a visit to the office of Dr Peter Andras, a complex networks scientist based at the University of Newcastle in the UK.

Dr Andras has a fascinating personal history and has contributed towards many influential papers in the burgeoning discipline of complex systems analysis. One of his papers includes a potentially controversial study of online gaming communities.

Dr Andras and his team have discovered that inter-personal and community relationships in ‘offline’ space are very different from those witnessed in online groups playing World of Warcraft (WofWC).

You can read the academic paper in full *here*.

Indeed, Dr Andras believes that the structure and relationship dynamics of groups playing WofWC more closely resemble those of hunter-gather societies than anything we normally find off-line in the modern developed world.

Dr Andras’ complex network analysis of WofWC revealed that network relationships and leadership patterns in offline communities don’t always carry over into online gaming communities.

In off-line contexts, leaders tend to be older, have wide social networks, are able to adopt long-term planning horizons and can be good at managing and resolving conflict.

In WofWC the opposite seems to be true. WofWC group leaders tend to be young, dependent on parents or the benefits system and play the game heavily as their main activity in life.

What’s more, WofWC leaders were found to have shorter planning horizons, were less able to manage conflict constructively and tended to interact aggressively with other gamers. As a consequence, WofWC groups frequently break up into new patterns of shifting alliances.

This scientific study demonstrates that not all communities play to same rules. Group leaders in WofWC seem to have lifestyle and leadership traits that are very different from those we see succeeding in off-line communities.

However, one can imagine that a different game is being played on social media networks such as Linked-in, which might closely mirror power and influence relationships in professional off-line life.

This raises some interesting questions about what we mean by ‘leadership’ in social media networks and how it might differ from ‘influence’. These questions come to the fore when planning social media marketing strategies and I’ll discuss them further in my next Network Analytics post.

Person read this post and left a comment

  • James Turland 12/02/2010

    Hi Jason,

    Thank you for showing an interest in my work and placing a blog about it on your website.

    If you have any questions regarding my research, please feel free to contact me on the provided email address.

    Many thanks,

    James Turland
    PhD Student

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