BlueNotes debate: social media vs the hierarchy

BlueNotes Debates brings together important voices across the business, economic and social spectrum to thrash out crucial issues of the day. In our latest debate, we pitted experienced executives and social media experts against each other to discover whether the world of social media is upending the C-Suite.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

BlueNotes debate: social media vs the hierarchy

Social media is not just breaking down traditional workplace barriers but altering the basic principles of the way we do business, the latest BlueNotes debate has found.

" With the democratisation of access and the dissemination of information, the power hierarchy has been completely disrupted."
Karen Stocks, MD, Twitter Australia

In front of over 100 people at ANZ's headquarters in Melbourne, two teams of CEOs and experts fought it out over the impact social media has had on the traditional business pecking order in a event which trended #1 on Twitter in Australia.

The topic of the debate was “Is social media killing the business hierarchy?" and saw the affirmative team of ANZ CEO Mike Smith and Twitter Australia MD Karen Stocks pitched against the negative team of Andrew Grill, Global Managing Partner at IBM Social Consulting and Heidi Mason, Managing Director at Russell Reynolds Associates.

Leading the charge for the affirmative, Stocks said the power hierarchy has moved out of the traditional C-Suite to the S-Suite – for social.

"Social has levelled the playing field," she said. “With the democratisation of access and the dissemination of information, the power hierarchy has been completely disrupted. It's basically been turned on its head."

Stocks said knowledge is power and social is all about sharing knowledge, with new or innovative ideas living or dying on the back of public opinion in the social world.

“The beauty about social media is there are no barriers," she said. “Anybody who wants to have a voice can on social media."

Hitting back for the negative, IBM's Andrew Grill said that far from disrupting the hierarchy, social media was just helping it evolve, citing the hoops business are made to jump through often to just send a tweet.

“Social media is actually increasing the level of hierarchy," he said. “There are so many more jobs for lawyers, for social media managers, that have to get everything approved."

He said the internet itself had a strict hierarchy that needed to be followed if businesses were to have any success.

"If you want your website to be found by Google you have to follow Google's rules. If you want to sign up for Facebook you have to give Facebook what they want. If you want to use Twitter you have to learn how to use hashtags and 'at' symbols."

In response, ANZ CEO Mike Smith said social media was changing the way leadership works because a linear control structure is a concept no longer effective in the modern age.

“The business hierarchy is not dead but it is being killed," he said. “It's being killed by social media and by technology."

Smith said organisations and politicians were now forced to respond to social demand for change, rather than internalising as they may have done in the past.

"[Businesses] need so much more agility in how we manage change and social is a great way to communicate," he said.

Twitter highlights

Online interest in the debate was huge, with the hashtag #bndebates trending in Australia as the debate occurred. Below is a selection of some of the highlights.

Sally Reid ‏(@reidsal)

A leader who thinks top-down communications and carefully crafted press releases can compete is not a leader in a social world #BNDebates

Rachel Miller (‏@AllthingsIC)

It's the way forward, has been for a while. Can't beat peer-to-peer communication @iabcvic cc @AndrewGrill @LOMBARDI_GLORIA #BNDebates

Andrew Hutchinson ‏(@adhutchinson)

Agree, social increases accountability, but smart businesses are leveraging that to improve, rather than avoid it #bndebates

Claire Rogers ‏(@ClaireSRogers)

@ANZ_BlueNotes #BNdebates the corporate hierarchy needs to be challenged through #social - why would any one #leader have all the answers?

Amanda Smithwick (‏@AmandaSmithwick)

Social media provides another honest listening post for our leaders, time to listen! #bndebates 

Andrew Hutchinson (‏@adhutchinson)

Arguably, social media is just making it a more informed hierarchical structure, leaders are still leaders #bndebates

Russell Reynolds Associates Managing Director Heidi Mason was pragmatic, noting the rise of social had not pushed the wise heads of Australian businesses off boards.

“As we all know the most powerful part of any hierarchy is at the top and in the Australian corporate world that means boards and their chairmen," she said.

“The average age of a chairman on the board of an ASX 200 company is 66. It would be ironic to suggest that group who holds so much power is severely impacted by social media."

In the end, the crowd sided with the affirmative but at an event where almost every attendee at some point was spotted smartphone in hand having their say on social,the result may have been a forgone conclusion. Social media had already won.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

18 May 2015

BlueNotes Debate: Brand journalism – what's the problem?

BlueNotes reporter |

BlueNotes Debates brings together important voices across the business, economic and social spectrum to thrash out crucial issues of the day. To celebrate BlueNotes' first birthday, we asked a collection of Australia's most-respected journalists if corporate reporting can ever win one of journalism's highest awards.

26 Aug 2014

BlueNotes Debate: Where are all the women in the Aus media?

Jennifer Farmer & Nicole Franklin | BlueNotes production editor & BlueNotes contributing editor

BlueNotes Debates will bring together important voices across the business, economics and social spectrum to thrash out where the issues lie. They’ll be important but colourful affairs – and Monday’s first stoush was a case in point with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, company director and gender activist Carol Schwartz, the Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith (with the event opened by his namesake from ANZ) and BlueNotes associate editor Amanda Gome.