Historic Rathaus Meppen Germany

(This post is an update of my podcast post of last week. The text is the same. The change is that the audio file has now been fixed – fortunately a listener phoned in to alert me to the fact that what should have been a podcast of just over 26 minutes had been truncated and there were only 4 minutes 30 seconds. So if you listened and were confused, my apologies. I will be taking extra care to ensure there is no repeat of this problem. Des)

Years ago I spend half a year living and working in a small town in Germany – Meppen, Ems, (pop. then about 27,000_ – where I spoke only limited German and it seemed just about everyone I met in the town spoke absolutely no English – überhaupt kein englisch. It was very limiting and more than once I regretted not having spent more time and paid more attention learning German before I arrived there. The limitation was accentuated by the fact that I was there to teach English and my employers required me to speak English all the time.

The limitation was not just in terms of basic negotiations, such as in shops, but also in terms of my not being able to get more understanding of the people and their culture. And making mistakes in etiquette through plain lack of comprehension. I didn’t get the clues I would have otherwise picked up. It was very frustrating on social occasions.

I was effectively illiterate and to a degree incompetent in that context. An ignorant foreigner with a University degree in History and English, but minimal literacy and competence to function effectively in that society.

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Lack of Social Media Literacy and Competence

Many business leaders today are highly literate and skillful in business but functionally illiterate and incompetent when it comes to understanding and using social media.

That’s not going to cut it for long, if indeed it does now.

As discussed in earlier episodes of Let’s Talk Leadership, leaders in today’s digital environment need to exercise a style of leadership characterized by collaboration and co-creation and need to be effective network leaders. Which in turn means they need to be both literate and competent when it comes to social media.

Organizational Social Media Literacy – McKinsey Quarterly

A paper in the McKinsey Quarterly of February 2013, Six social-media skills every leader needs spells this out and provides a framework for developing what the authors call “organizational social-media literacy”.

They acknowledge the risks, describe the potential as “immense”, and argue that there is a mismatch between “the logic of participatory media and the still-reigning 20th century model of management and organizations, with its emphasis on linear processes and control”.

“We believe”, they write, “that capitalizing on the transformational power of social media while mitigating its risks calls for a new type of leader”. This new type of leader needs to excel at co-creation and collaboration, “the currencies of the social-media world.”

They provide a useful, six dimensional model of the “organizational social-media literacy” these leaders for our times need.

The Six Dimensions of Social Media Literate Leadership

Personal Level – Producer, Distributor, Recipient


  • Develop creative competence (authenticity, storytelling, & artistic vision)
  • Hone technical skills (especially video production)


  • Understand cross-platform dynamic and what causes messages to go viral
  • Build and sustain a body of social followers


  • Create resonance via selected replies/linking
  • Make sense of the noise through intelligent filtering

Strategic/Organisational Level


  • Enable and support 360-degree environment in social media usage
  • Coordinate and channel activities within span of control


  • Balance vertical accountability and horizontal collaboration
  • Leverage social media for key business functions


  • Monitor dynamics of social media industry
  • Understand cultural and behavioural impact

The McKinsey paper explains and illustrates each of these skill dimensions.

The authors see lots of upside in this, with manageable downside risk.

We are convinced that organizations that develop a critical mass of leaders who master the six dimensions of organizational media literacy will have a brighter future.

What’s your view on this and what suggestions do you have for leaders who want to accelerate their learning and skill building in social media?

Image credit: The historic Rathaus (“Town Hall”) in the main square of Meppen, where my patience, persistence and very limited German were greatly tested in endeavouring to deal with the local bureaucracy.  Picture by Allie Caulfield via flickr: CC BY 2.0)

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).