A scholar and an Executive Fellow from the Drucker School of Management present a six-dimensional framework of what they call ‘organizational social media literacy’. It outlines critical capabilities — from creating content and managing the flow of information to spreading social media competence throughout the organization and creating a social media infrastructure — that today’s leaders and their organizations must master to capitalize on the full potential of social media.
With the dominant, almost overwhelming impact that social media has on just about any function of a business, it’s easy to forget that social media is barely a decade old. The vast majority of today’s leaders built most of their careers before anyone had even conceived of Facebook or Twitter. As a result, leaders must work hard to develop the skills that will allow them and their organizations to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with social technologies.
The challenge for leaders is to leverage the power of social media for competitive advantage while mitigating the inevitable risks involved with unbridled and uncontrolled communication. According to Roland Deiser, founding director of the Center for the Future of Organization at the Drucker Graduate School of Management, and Sylvain Newton, formerly GE Crotonville's head of global leadership development, this 21st-century balancing act calls for a new kind of leadership and organization. To structure the arena, Deiser and Newton have developed a framework for organizational social media literacy which consists of six interdependent dimensions or skill sets.
The first dimension relates to creative competence. Leaders need to learn how to become producers who are able to develop compelling multimedia content by telling authentic stories with an artistic vision. They must also hone their technical skills, notably video production, but without striving for the polished perfection of the past. A leader who records a video of a conference and then comments on it will not be able to replicate the production quality of an industrial video with a full crew — but the video will be more authentic.
The second dimension relates to mastering the distribution dynamics of content. Traditionally, leaders distribute information through a controlled, linear process. In the social media era, distribution becomes interactive and shared, as original recipients repost and tweet the content, and comment on it as well. As distributors, leaders must learn how to mesh the organization’s traditional vertical communication processes with the horizontal processes triggered by social media. They need to understand what makes messages go viral, and what it takes to develop large numbers of followers.
Leaders don’t only send messages, they receive them, too. In an increasingly complex multichannel universe, leaders are more challenged than ever to deal with information overload. As recipients, they must learn to filter the incoming information, but also learn when and how to redistribute relevant content they receive.
These first three dimensions — mastering the creation and distribution of social media content, and understanding how to best manage inputs from an increasingly complex communication environment are personal skills leaders need to develop so they can stay influential in the new realm of horizontal communication dynamics. But leaders — especially senior ones — must also shape their context in a way that makes social media literacy a distinctive organizational capability. This is where Deiser/Newton's strategic/organizational dimensions come into play.
First, leaders must become their organizations’ social media advisers and orchestrators. They must: build up the social media skills and capacity of their direct reports and of other stakeholders; enable and empower others to use social media tools — skills are useless if employees and managers aren’t given the opportunity and authority to use them; and create roles and positions — content curators and network analysts, for example — that further foster social media literacy within the organization.
Second, leaders must design an appropriate organizational infrastructure. As architects, they must create systems and processes that allow the free-flow of information while maintaining some measures of accountability. With greater freedom comes greater responsibilities, and leaders must ensure that everyone in the organization who is active on social media shares that responsibility.
Finally, communication technology continues to grow and evolve on an ever faster pace. Today’s leaders must become analysts who stay familiar with the field, keeping track of innovations and emerging trends. Their continuous learning will be helped by drawing on the knowledge and savvy of the millennials entering the workforce — the digital natives for whom social media literacy comes naturally.
Social media is risky because it concerns global communication that is beyond the control of the corporation. It is a horizontal process that challenges the vertical power structure of the traditional organization. The art of organizational social media literacy is to assure openness and easy peer-to-peer communication within and beyond the organization while, at the same time, protecting proprietary and sensitive information.
Managing the risks and leveraging the opportunities of social media requires companies to ensure that all leaders develop the skills and knowledge outlined in the dimensions above, and to install an infrastructure that enables effective social media utilization, embracing a culture that encourages and supports social media activities. Part of that culture could be driven by performance metrics and rewards systems that include social media literacy.
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