Personal Digital Literacy: Building Distribution Competence

This is the third in a series of posts analyzing a new report by Roland Deiser and Sylvian Newton on the six social media skills every leader needs. The article appears in the current issue of the McKinsey Quarterly.

I wrote a post about what it take to develop creative competence and hone your technical skills, earlier this week.  But once those skills have been acquired, leaders need to develop “distribution competence” the report argues.  Distribution competence is the ability to influence the way messages move through complex organizations.  Demonstrating distribution competence involves understanding “cross-platform dynamics and what causes messages to go viral” as well as how to “build and sustain a body of followers.” This are definitely important key concepts to grasp, and having them published in the McKinsey Quartely is beneficial to social media advocates.

As an example, the report profiles Lorraine Bolsinger, President at GE Aviation Systems, who allegedly learned to build and sustain an audience on a “360 blog.” But good luck finding her blog or any other blog she’s written for.  I searched backwards and forwards and came up empty handed.

When it comes to cross-platform dynamics, Boslinger has no link from her executive bio page to her Linkedin profile, no Linkedin profile picture or vanity URL and no presence on Twitter at all that I could find., So I thought I’d see if I could help flesh what it takes to acquire these important skills, in hopes of constructively advancing the conversation they started.

Start with the Influencers
The way in which we discover information is often more important than the information itself. It’s true. We operate in a pack mentality, and when someone we respect says something’s important, we pay closer attention than when someone we don’t says the exact sane thing.  A story in the New York Times is perceived to be more important than an article in some unknown, local tabloid. If your content gets shared by a social media influencer first, it’s more likely to get shared by others.  If you share it, and you have no influence, you’re unlikely to provoke much of a discussion.

In his now famous Ted Talk by Kevin Allocca of YouTube explains why videos go viral, revealing that almost every video that reaches critical mass gets shared first by a celebrity influencer first.  Who are you influencers, and how can you get them to rebroadcast your content first? As Deiser and Newton acknowledge:

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.

Cross-Platform Dynamics
Since popular social networks are designed to build impressions for advertisers, it’s always a little dangerous to build your strategy entirely on property you don’t own. When it comes to understanding how social networks relate to each other, I advocate a homeland embassy strategy.

Organizations should build embassies in popular social networks because there are valuable economic, political and social interests there they seek to tap. But try to cement the relationships at home, on your destination website, where you control the customer relationship and the conversion opportunity. It’s great to get a bunch of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but with if they change their terms of service one day in the future and charge you for access. Facebook’s already starting to charge to promote status updates.  Or what if someone at yor organization inadvertently violates the terms of service and you get locked out?  Better to get your contacts to register on your site. Whoever has the prospect’s email address controls the terms of the relationship.

Popular vs. Private Social Networks
You can only leverage distribution on popular social networks if your employees have the ability to differentiate between information that can be shared publicly and information that should be kept private. Equipping your organization to make these kinds of decisions autonomously requires the development of a social media policy followed by comprehensive social media compliance training.

But just because information needs to be kept private, doesn’t mean organizations can’t use leverage social networks for sharing. does an annual study on the impact of its internally social networking product and reports that organizations that network behind the firewall:

  • Have 28% fewer meetings
  • Send 32% less email
  • And 50% said they could find information faster

Johns Hopkins is redefining internal communications practices with a social network that facilitates dialog among more than 4,500 staff members spread across a 300 acre campus. Their most dynamic platform is called the Cooler (as in water cooler) and it’s powered by Elgg, an open source social networking engine. Because it’s internal, staff members can discuss proprietary ideas without making inappropriate intellectual property disclosures.  And still another, Avery Dennison, uses Lotus Connections to power their social networking internal communications plan. It’s a global company with more than 32,000 employees at 240+ facilities in 60 countries, and they’re using their private social network to time-shift and place shift conversations.

Neither Elgg or Lotus Connections have activity stream functionality like Facebook and Twitter.  But Google Plus does and they’re offering a pay-as-you go private version of their social network the empower private sharing in the workplace via Google Apps for Business.  If you’d like a demo of G+, I have one in my online course on Facebook for Business.

So there you have it. Concrete ways to develop distribution competence.  In my next post, I’ll explain how to create resonance via selective linking.