Six social-media skills that every leader needs
Social media literacy organizations are fast becoming a source of competitive advantage. Learn, through the executive lens at General Electric, how you and your leaders can follow.
Several domains in business and society have been touched by social media revolutions — one that emerged not even a decade old. Many organizations have responded to new realities, realizing the power and potential of this technology for corporate life: wikis enable more efficient virtual collaboration in cross-functional projects; internal discussion board blogs, and YouTube channels encourage global conversation and knowledge sharing; sophisticated viral media campaigns engage customers and create brand loyalty; next generation products that are codeveloped in the open-innovation process; and company leaders work on shaping their corporate 2.0 strategy.
This radical change has created a dilemma for senior executives: while the potential of social media seems great, the inherent risk creates uncertainty and anxiety. Naturally uncontrollable, new communication media can let internal and privileged information suddenly go public virally. What's more, there is a mismatch between the logic of participatory media and the 20th century model still governing from management and organization, with an emphasis on linear processes and control. Social media encourages horizontal collaboration and unscripted conversations that travel on random paths throughout the management hierarchy. Such a short circuit established the dynamics of power and traditional lines of communication.
We believe that harnessing the transformational power of social media while reducing the risk that calls for new types of leaders. The dynamics of social media reinforce the need for quality which has long been a staple of effective leadership, such as strategic creativity, authentic communication, and the ability to deal with corporate social and political dynamics and to design an agile and responsive organization.
Social media also adds a new dimension to these traits. For example, it requires the ability to create attractive, attractive multimedia content. Leaders need to excel at co-creation and currency collaboration from the social-media world. Executives must understand the nature of different social-media tools and the rogue powers they can unleash.
Equally important, there is an organizational dimension: leaders must grow, technologies related to new social infrastructure that by design promote constant interaction across physical and geographical boundaries, as well as organized self-discourse and exchange.
We call this interaction leadership skills and design-related organizational principles of media literacy organizations, which we define together with six dimensions that are interdependent and eat each other (exhibit).
The focus of developing new forms of literacy is General Electric, where one of us is responsible for leadership development. Watching GE through this lens is very interesting; Unlike Google or Amazon, GE is not digital native, and the 130-year tradition of effort is reinventing and that alone makes it worth watching. So is GE's status as a "factory of leadership."
GE's commitment to social media that is perhaps most visible through the GE CoLab digital platform, designed by GE employees for GE employees to facilitate global teamwork and collaboration. GE CoLab combines the capabilities of Facebook, Twitter and other social applications, which allow easy networking, information sharing, instant communication, advanced search, blogging, videoblogs, and more. Launched in 2012, the platform has attracted more than 115,000 users
To get a sense of how executives handle new realities, we interviewed GE officers from various businesses and regions. The leaders and their organizations are on different mileposts all the way to social media literacy, like different companies are. In aggregate, though, they illustrate a rich variety of efforts to build personal skills, experiment with technology, invest in new tools, expand employee participation, and shape organizational structures and governance to capture emerging social opportunities. We draw on these experiences to illustrate a six-dimensional set of skills and leaders of organizational capabilities must build to create a company-level media literacy capability that will soon become an important source of competitive advantage.
1. Leaders as producers: Create interesting content
With video cameras reaching near everywhere and movie clips uploaded in the blink of an eye to YouTube or other platforms, the tools for producing and sharing multimedia are in everyone's hands. GE Video Central now houses thousands of videos, many made by top leaders. More than a few executives have begun to include video streams in their blogs. As video communication rises important, effective leadership will increasingly require the kind of creative skills we know from the world of "auteur" authentic film-making, imagination, and the ability to craft interesting stories and turn them into media products that make people take notes and "lean on front." To engage in real time on a personal level, executives will also need technical skills to master the basics of digital-multimedia production, including how to shoot and, if necessary, edit videos.
Mark Begor, who runs GE Capital's real-estate business, was nervous when he shot his first "unplugged" video message. "I am used to a studio environment where I can do some take and have a polish editor of what I want to say." anxiety that soon disappears with practice. He now routinely produces five weekly to ten minute videos for his division. "I'm talking about what I learned during the week, about a lot we've closed, and the status of the business. I also added comments about employees that I want to acknowledge." Begor said that this routine force he crystallized his thoughts and created a short story people could relate to making him more aware of his strategy and communication.
As Begor and others have discovered in this process, the logic of participatory media is very different from that of traditional corporate broadcast media, where each and every part of the communication gets perfectly made. Too much perfection is actually a barrier to collaboration and cocreation, because of the disinvites of participation. To thrive in the world of social media, leaders need to get a mind-set of openness and imperfections, and they must dare to appear "raw" and rude-traits that might be challenging for them as creative and technical development of production-skills.
2. Leaders as distributors: Utilize the dynamics of deployment
Business leaders have traditionally spread information along controlled, linear chains that begin after the development of the meaning of the official creation process — think about how your company creates and distributes memos explaining new initiatives. While traditional distribution channels will not disappear, social media revolutionizes the standard information process by reversing it. social communication makes distribution a starting point and then invites company viewers to help in the creation and contextualization of content to create new meaning. Messages that are rebroadcast and repurposed will be recipients who repost videos, tweets and comments on blogs, and use fragments of other people's content to create their own mash-ups.
As broadcast (vertical) media and (horizontal) participatory media meet, leaders need to master the interaction of two fundamentally different paradigms: people from traditional channels, who follow the logic of control, and new channels, where it is important to let system dynamics work without too many direct interventions. Because executives will not be able to organize or control messages after entering the system, they must understand what might cause it to go viral and how it can change and be explained while spreading through the network. the competence-distribution of the ability to influence the way messages move through complex organizations-becomes as important as the ability to create interesting content.
Equally important are the skills of creating and maintaining a body of social followers who help to spread and reinforce messages. It becomes important to know who the key and often informal organizations of influencers are and to increase their authority to push content through the right channels. Finally, leaders must recognize their role as redistributors of the content they receive, so they can take advantage of the ongoing communication around them.
Lorraine Bolsinger, vice president and general manager of GE Aviation Systems, acquired this skill through experimentation. He started blogging a few years ago but initially didn't get much response. "It takes time to get my audience actively involved," he recalls. "I have to find my voice and be more talkative, more relaxed." To increase the appeal and sustainability of dialogue, he finally created a "360 blog," where all of his direct reports blog with him on the same platform. This network blog, with 12 regular contributors, provides additional points of view on issues, promotes more frequent communication, and attracts broader participation. Bolsinger said that the quality of his group's dialogue about strategy and operations had improved thanks to this effort.
3. Leaders as recipients: Manage overflow of communication
Social media has created a sea of information. We are immersed in a never-ending flood of e-mails, tweets, Facebook updates, RSS feeds, and more that are often difficult to navigate. "There is too much noise out there," said Stuart Dean, CEO of GE ASEAN, 2 who is an active blogger and regularly tweets about issues in his market space. "I will use Twitter more as a source of information on whether I can get what I need."
The dean sentiment echoed by most of our executives knows - many of them hardly find time to catch up with their daily e-mails. What to do? As a first step, the leader must become an expert in using software and settings that help users filter the important things from the unimportant ones. But playing in today's turbulent environment requires more than just filtering skills.
In traditional corporate communication, consumption is largely a passive act: you are pretty much left alone to understand the message and to assess their authenticity and credibility. In the realm of social media, information will be shared and commented on in seconds, and executives must decide when (and when not) to reply, what message should be linked to their blog, when to copy material and combine it with themselves, and what to share with their various communities. The creation of meaning becomes a collaborative process in which leaders must act wisely, because this is the place where acceptance or resistance to messages will be built.
"You have to see the entire universe of communication, traditional and social media interaction," said Bill Ruh, head of GE Software and Analytics Center. Just as leaders suffer from overflows, so do their people. "As a leader," said Ruh, "you have to develop empathy for various channels and the way people consume information."
4. Leaders as advisors and orchestras: Driving strategic use of social media
In most companies, social media literacy is in its infancy. Excitement often runs high for the technological potential of functional and division span silos. But without guidance and coordination, and without our ability to discuss here, passionate social media can backfire and cause severe damage.
To harvest the potential of social media, leaders must play a proactive role in increasing the media literacy of their direct reports and stakeholders. Within this 360 degree range, executives must be trusted advisors, who enable and support their environment in the use of social tools, while ensuring that a culture of learning and reflection takes hold. As a new generation and media-savvy enters the workplace, intelligent leaders can accelerate organizational change by utilizing these digital natives' expertise through a "reverse mentoring" system (see later in this article).
Steve Sargent, President and CEO of GE Australia and New Zealand, believes that social media is reshaping the culture of leadership by encouraging executives to span geographical boundaries, engage more closely with stakeholders, and strengthen the impact of employees on the periphery. Over the past five years, as proof of concept, Sargent has established a mining-industry network that crosses GE and regional businesses, connecting informal teams that use social platforms to collaborate on solving customer needs. GE employees in Brazil, for example, are currently working with colleagues in Australia to develop products and services for customers doing business in both countries. The success of the network led the company to elevate it to full GE mining business status. "The market today is very complex and multidimensional, and leadership is not about control but about activating and empowering networks," Sargent said. "The type of leadership we need to find full expression in collaborative DNA technology, and I am determined to utilize this DNA as much as I can."
To achieve this goal, leaders must become strategic tutors and orchestrators of all social-media activities in their control, including the establishment of new roles that support communication logic-for networks, for example, community mentors, content curators, network analysts, and social entrepreneurs. Organizational units that utilize new technology in a coordinated and strategically aligned way will become more visible and gain influence in the dynamics of overall corporate power.
5. Leaders as architects: Creating organizational infrastructure that is possible
Leaders who have delved into the new media will testify that they need them to navigate between potentially conflicting goals: they must strive to build organizational and technical infrastructure that encourages free exchange but also enforces controls that reduce the risk of irresponsible use. This is a formidable organization-design challenge.
Most companies have formally defined organizations, with explicit vertical systems of accountability. But beneath the surface of the org chart and the process manual we find, poorly managed "informal organizations," which are always implicitly important and will now be strengthened through social media. The leader's job is to marry vertical accountability with horizontal collaboration of networks in ways that are not mutually destructive.
This challenge is reflected in GE's policy, which embraces the value of sharing expertise and perspectives with family, friends, colleagues, customers and other stakeholders throughout the world. With this openness comes a shared responsibility: employees must adhere to GE's standards of transparency and integrity, refrain from speaking on behalf of the company without authorization, and be clear in their social messages that their views are personal.
In this spirit, creating a social architecture that provides meaningful space for internal and external interaction has become an ongoing mission for Andrew Way, vice president of GE's Drilling & Surface Oil & Gas Division. "I like social-media things," he said, "so I surround myself with an organization that supports it."
In Way's last role in the division, he and his team launched a video project about the history and current time of business. Because the video is shared with customers, team members must make choices about which content can cross external boundaries. "This is a developing thing. Every quarter, the team adds a new segment that has important things that happened in the last three months. This has resulted in the story continuing, and people are hoping for every new version."
How to say that the video has united division members around a common goal, helps to bring new employees on board and make everyone more adept at using new media. "Three years ago, an effort like this would use PowerPoint with standard fonts. This clearly has created a new culture." Increasing engagement with stakeholders such as customers is an added benefit, because videos are often included in segments to help tell stories.
6. Leaders as analysts: Stay ahead of the curve
As companies began to digest the consequences of the Web 2.0 revolution, the next paradigm shift was already knocking on the door. The next generation of Internet of Things connectivity will link together equipment, cars and all kinds of objects. As a result, there will be around 50 billion devices connected in 2020.3 This transformation will open up new opportunities, spawn new business models, and proclaim again the main point of change that leaders must manage.
It's important to keep abreast of these trends and innovations — not only their competitive and market implications, but also what they mean for communication technology, which is the basis for creating a nimble, responsive organization. Executives who monitor weak signals and experiment with new technologies and devices will be able to act faster and capture the benefits of early adoption.
GE's leadership university, Crotonville, led a number of initiatives to help top executives stay ahead of the change. One example is a program called Leadership Explorations, launched in 2011 to support ongoing learning for top and organized executives in the local area connected with certain strategic leadership themes. In Silicon Valley, leaders are immersed in a variety of cutting-edge technology. Part of the program there involves "reverse mentoring," which connects media savvy millennials with senior GE leaders to discuss the buzz of the latest technology and practice. Many participants continued to exchange insights long after more formal sessions. Exposing experienced leaders to the millennium mind-set encourages them to experiment with new technology — which, in turn, helps them be more involved with and comers.
Obviously, these are the early days. Most companies recognize social media as a disruptive force that will gather strength rather than thin out. But social-media literacy as we define it here is not yet an element of leadership competency model or performance review and reward system. Equally, it has not yet found its way into the business school curriculum and leadership development program.
This needs to be changed. We believe that organizations that develop critical mass leaders who master the six dimensions of organizational media literacy will have a bright future. They will be more creative, innovative and agile. They will attract and retain better talent, as well as tap deeper into the abilities and ideas of their employees and stakeholders. They will be more effective in collaborating across internal and external boundaries and enjoy a higher level of global integration. They will benefit from tighter and more loyal customer relationships and from the brand equity that comes with them. They will be more likely to play a leading role in their industry by better utilizing the capabilities of partners and their alliances in cocreation, code development, and overall industry collaboration. And they will be more inclined to create new business models that utilize the developing potential of communication technology.
It takes courage to innovate radically in leadership and organizations, for systems of heritage, culture, and attitudes are strong forces of inertia. Fortunately, the inherent quality of social media is a powerful transformational force. Social-media involvement will confront leaders with a lack of traditional organizational design. Leaders who overcome these deficiencies will learn how to develop enabling infrastructure that encourages the truly strategic use of social technology. When organizations and their leaders embrace the call for social media literacy, they will start a positive loop that allows them to capitalize on the opportunities and disruptions that come with new connectivity from the network society. And they will be rewarded with a new type of competitive advantage.