Personal Digital Literacy: Building Creative Competence and Technical Proficiency

In my last post, I promised to break down a new McKinsey Quartely article that’s about as hollow as it is helpful on the six social media skills every leader needs to develop.

Chock full of lightweight findings, the report is a summary of alleged interviews with “GE officers of various businesses and regions” and toplines intellectually lazy claims such as “More than a few executives have started to incorporate video streams into their blogs” none of which were easy to find via Google or YouTube.

What is helpful though is that it adds McKinsey to the long list of name brand consultancies espousing the critical importance of social media skills at work.  The article groups the necessary social media skills into two categories: individual and organizational social media literacy, which is also a helpful way to break digital literacy down.

On social networks, your personal profile serves as your reputation. So you have to develop your social media literacy at the individual level first.  Before you are going to be seen as a credible online representative of your organization, you need to have some kind of verifiable history on your profile.

If your Linkedin profile is incomplete, your Twitter profile has no picture (like one of the authors of McKinsey article) not only is your credibility at stake, we can’t even be certain your account is real.  On social media, no one knows if you’re a bot.

In this post, I’m going to tackle the first skill set the authors say you need, but I’m going to write more specifically about how to acquire them, starting with…

Creative Competence
Learning to capture your audience’s attention through a Google search or an activity stream like the Facebook newsfeed is how you communicate on social media. Obviously, you need to be able to share something of value.  But if no one can find it, no matter how creative or compelling it is, the message dies and you fail.  To learn how to get found, it’s important to understand the difference between search and social optimization, the key components of creative competence in the world of social media literacy. To master them, you must…

Learn Basic Search Engine Optimization
When it comes to search engine optimization — or creating content most likely to get found through web search — wit, irony, humor or style are the enemy.  Search engine optimization matters because when we click on a search result, we select the link we perceive to most likely have the information we seek.

In this environment, a clear, straight-forward description will always lure more traffic than clever wordplay.  You can share valuable information all day long, but if no one can find, it doesn’t count. The approach is to tell them what you’ve got in the exact same words they’d use to search for it.  So if everyone else calls them “windmills” but you insist on calling them “wind turbines,” you’re not going to get found.

Everyone, including leaders, ought to learn basic search engine optimization. It’s central to creative competence. You can’t learn search engine optimization of you don’t study search engine optimization. Some organizations, particularly those with a high digital literacy rates, are starting to teach search engine optimization internally to their employees. We help many of them do it.

Remember, search is an activity with greater commercial intent than social networking.  Once you’ve got the key concepts of social media down, the basics of keyword research, keyword validation and embracing popular language are important steps to building creative competency.

Learn Basic Social Media Optimization
Sensationalism, in the other hand, lures click-throughs quite well on social networks. But do it too frequently, and it’ll kill your credibility.  Mashable has a reputation for tweeting out sensational headlines.  Yesterday I clicked on the one below, which suggested a drop in traffic at Google may be the result of Facebook’s new Graph Search.

But after reading through the actual Nielsen report Mashable referenced, I realized the headline was much more than just sensational. It was reaching so far, it was pretty much a lie, which is why I editorialized my retweet of Dave Armano‘s tweet the way I did.

Most people learn social media optimization, without relying on sensationalism, in the trenches. Through the experience of sharing on social networks, they learn the ropes. So everyone knows a little of this and a little of that. But few have comprehensive knowledge.  Most suffer from severe knowledge gaps.

The thing to remember about social media optimization is that reach is a factor of engagement. If no one likes, comments or shares, few see will see the message.  So be interrogative, not declarative. And ask easy to answer questions likely to provoke a response.  Ask where and when rather than why or how, according to the research.

In addition to asking questions, send as many notifications as you purposely can in each and every share you make. On Twitter that means @mentioning other Twitter accounts, on Facebook it means tagging in the body of your status updates and in Google + it means +1ing other users. Tags generate notifications that serve as invitations to those mentioned to chime in.

Hone Your Technical Skills
The McKinsey article says leaders should learn to “master the basics of digital-multimedia production, including how to shoot and, if necessary, edit videos.” I’m all for live-action production.  I covered live streaming to the web via mobile device in my online course on Social Media for Business. But assuming video is the best format without considering what it is you need to communicate is sophomoric.

If there’s no visual information to convey, why demand your listeners to give up their eyes and ears? If you do, you’re limiting their consumption options. Why not let them listen while they commute or sweat at the gym? It’s easier and quicker to record audio than shoot video.  Don’t let the media shape the message.  But whatever format you leverage, before you delve into developing your content creation skills, it’s much more important to learn to listen first.

If you want to be able to spot conversations that lead to purchasing decisions, you need to learn social media monitoring. Next to understanding social media strategy, there is no skill more important than social media monitoring. As Clay Shirky wrote years ago, “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” If you can’t actively filter social media, you’re at a marked disadvantage, so hone those skills first.

There are free social media monitoring tools and services you can use to find almost anything that moves online against a complex, boolean keyword query. So before you master online video production, learn to listen to what’s being said so you don’t embarrass yourself or your organization by speaking out of turn.

The alarming lack of detail in the McKinsey report aggravated by the sensational headlines from outlets Mashable is at least partly why there is so much confusion about social media.  It’s unrealistic to think you going to build these skills without some kind of comprehensive social media training program in place.  Build social media skills requires social media training workshops and programs.  When you’re ready to develop a social media training program, keep in mind that online social media training programs outperform live workshops.

In my next post, I’ll provide tangible ways to build the second skills mentioned in the McKinsey report which is “leveraging dissemination dynamics.”