Even as individuals increasingly embrace social technologies, many organisational leaders fear the risks of unbridled information and see difficulties integrating the open dynamics of social media with existing communications processes in their companies.
Why it matters
When leaders shy away from social media, they inhibit collaboration, knowledge sharing, and the tapping of employee capabilities that collectively can create competitive advantage.
What to do about it
Leaders need to develop new social-media skills and help their organizations do the same. At the personal level, leaders must be able to produce compelling, authentic content; master the new distribution dynamics; and navigate information overload. At the organizational level, leaders should encourage usage through thoughtful orchestration and role modelling, become architects of a social-media-friendly organisation, and stay ahead of rapid technology shifts.
These are six-dimensional set of skills and organizational capabilities that leaders must build to create an enterprise level of media literacy—capabilities will soon be a critical source of competitive advantage.
1)The leader as producer: Creating compelling content
With video cameras achieving near ubiquity and film clips uploading in the blink of an eye to YouTube or other platforms, the tools for producing and sharing rich media are in everyone’s hands. As video communication rises in importance, effective leaders will increasingly require creative skills and the ability to craft compelling stories and to turn them into media products that make people take note and “lean forward.”
To engage in real time on a personal level, executives will also need the technical skills to master the basics of digital-multimedia production. Content creation is no longer the preserve of the PR and Marketing departments.
2) The leader as distributor: Leveraging dissemination dynamics
Business leaders have traditionally disseminated information in a top –down fashion. While traditional distribution channels won’t disappear, social media revolutionizes the standard information process by reversing it. Messages are rebroadcast and repurposed at will by recipients who repost videos, retweet and comment on blogs, and use fragments of other people’s content to create their own content.
Leaders need to master the interplay of two fundamentally different paradigms: those of the traditional channels, which follow the logic of control, and of the new channels, where it is essential to relinquish control. Since executives won’t be able to govern or control a message once it enters the social networks system, they must understand what might cause it to go viral. Distribution competence—the ability to influence the way messages move through complex organizations—becomes as important as the ability to create compelling content.
Equally important is the skill of creating and sustaining a body of social followers who help to spread and reinforce the message. It becomes critical to know who an organization’s key—and often informal—influencers are and to leverage their authority to push content through the right channels.
3) The leader as recipient: Managing communication overflow
Social media has created an ocean of information. We are drowning in a never-ending flood of e-mails, tweets, Facebook updates, RSS feeds, and more that’s often hard to navigate. There is too much noise out there. Leaders must become proficient at using the software tools and settings that help users filter the important stuff from the unimportant.
In the social-media realm, information gets shared and commented on within seconds, and executives must decide when (and when not) to reply, what messages should be linked to their blogs, when to copy material and mash it up with their own, and what to share with their various communities.
4) The leader as adviser and orchestrator: Driving strategic social-media utilization
In most companies, social-media literacy is in its infancy. Excitement often runs high for the technology’s potential but without guidance and coordination, and without the capabilities to make it effective, social-media enthusiasm can backfire and cause severe damage.
To harvest the potential of social media, leaders must play a proactive role in raising the media literacy of their immediate reports and stakeholders. Executives should become trusted advisers, enabling and supporting their environment in the use of social tools, while ensuring that a culture of learning takes hold. As a new and media-savvy generation enters the workplace, smart leaders can accelerate organizational change by harnessing these “digital natives” expertise through “reverse mentoring.”
5) The leader as architect: Creating an enabling organizational infrastructure
Leaders who have steeped themselves in new media will testify that it requires them to navigate between potentially conflicting goals: they must strive to establish an organizational and technical infrastructure that encourages free exchange but also enforce controls that mitigate the risks of irresponsible use. This is a tough organizational-design challenge.
6) The leader as analyst: Staying ahead of the curve
As companies start to digest the consequences of the Web 2.0 revolution, the next paradigm shift is already knocking on the door. The next generation of connectivity—the Internet of Things—will link together appliances, cars, and all kinds of objects. As a result, there will be about 50 billion connected devices by the year 2020. This transformation will open new opportunities, spawn new business models, and herald yet another major inflection point that leaders must manage.
It’s imperative to keep abreast of such emerging trends and innovations—not just their competitive and marketplace implications, but also what they mean for communications technologies, which are fundamental for creating an agile, responsive organization.
Leaders who master the six dimensions of organizational media literacy will have a brighter future. They will be more creative, innovative, and agile. They will attract and retain better talent, as well as tap deeper into the capabilities and ideas of their employees and stakeholders. They will be more effective in collaborating across internal and external boundaries and enjoy a higher degree of global integration. They will benefit from tighter and more loyal customer relationships and from the brand equity that comes with them.
Article adapted from: Six Social media skills every leader needs, by Roland Deiser and Sylvaina Newton. Mckinsey and Company, 2013
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