F E B R UA RY 2013
Six social-media skills
every leader needs
Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton
Organizational social-media literacy is fast becoming a source of competitive advantage. Learn, through the lens of executives at General Electric, how you and your leaders can keep up. The problem Even as individuals increasingly embrace social technologies, many leaders fear the risks of unbridled information and see difficulties meshing the open dynamics of social media with existing communications processes. 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 a 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 modeling, become architects of a social-mediafriendly infrastructure, and stay ahead of rapid technology shifts.
Few domains in business and society have been untouched by the emerging social-media revolution—one that is not even a decade old. Many organizations have been responding to that new reality, realizing the power and the potential of this technology for corporate life: wikis enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube channels encourage global conversations and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next-generation products are codeveloped in open-innovation processes; and corporate leaders work on shaping their enterprise 2.0 strategy.
This radical change has created a dilemma for senior executives: while the potential of social media seems immense, the inherent risks create uncertainty and unease. By nature unbridled, these new communications media can let internal and privileged information suddenly go public virally. What’s more, there’s a mismatch between the logic of participatory media and the still-reigning 20thcentury model of management and organizations, with its emphasis on linear processes and control. Social media encourages horizontal collaboration and unscripted conversations that travel in random paths across management hierarchies. It thereby short-circuits established power dynamics and traditional lines of communication. We believe that capitalizing on the transformational power of social media while mitigating its risks calls for a new type of leader. The dynamics of social media amplify the need for qualities that have long been a staple of effective leadership, such as strategic creativity, authentic communication, and the ability to deal with a corporation’s social and political dynamics and to design an agile and responsive organization. Social media also adds new dimensions to these traits. For example, it requires the ability to create compelling, engaging multimedia content. Leaders need to excel at cocreation and collaboration—the currencies of the social-media world. Executives must understand the nature of different social-media tools and the unruly forces they can unleash. Equally important, there’s an organizational dimension: leaders must cultivate a new, technologically linked social infrastructure
that by design promotes constant interaction across physical and geographical boundaries, as well as self-organized discourse and exchange. We call this interplay of leadership skills and related organizationaldesign principles organizational media literacy, which we define along six dimensions that are interdependent and feed on one another (exhibit). Q 1 2013 Our clearest window on the development of these new forms of literacy is General Electric, where one of...
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