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The Six Social Media Skills Successful Defense Industry Execs Need Now

Defense industry executives who harness the power of social media can build more agile and responsive organizations, a capability that will soon be a critical source of competitive advantage.

photo credit: 96dpi via photopin cc

Social media has changed the world like the printing press did over 500 years ago. Just much faster.

Social media has touched nearly every aspect of the business world, including the defense industry. Many companies have responded by tapping into the potential of social media to transform and better run their businesses.

And while the mention of social media brings to mind externally facing networks like Twitter and LinkedIn, there is also a tremendous growth of social media within companies. Examples include internal wikis, blogs and other collaboration networks. For instance, in my marketing agency, the primary internal communication is done with Yammer. Yammer is a social network service for private communication within organizations or between organizational members and pre-designated groups.

Internal social media has enabled companies to collaborate horizontally with unscripted conversations that travel randomly across management hierarchies. But the nonlinear, viral and horizontal nature of social media can be at odds with companies where a more traditional, top down hierarchy still exists.

In a McKinsey Quarterly article, Roland Dreiser and Sylvain Newton argue that a new type of leader is required who can capitalize on the transformational power of social media while mitigating its risks.

The authors outline a study of GE officers from various business units and regions. Based on the study, the authors developed a "six-dimensional set of skills and organizational capabilities leaders must build to create an enterprise level of media literacy—capabilities that will soon be a critical source of competitive advantage."


Here is a recap of the six social media skills that successful executives need to have:

  1. Producer - To lead and transform organizations, successful executives are using things like internal blogs, wikis and video. Whereas in the past a speech or internal memo might have been sufficient to get the word out to employees and stakeholders, executives now need to be able to do things like concept, write and produce their own videos. And this type of communication can't be too slick - it needs to be authentic and motivational.
  2. Distributor - The non-linear nature of social media can appear to be at cross purposes from the traditional "command and control" method of communication. With social media communication, the initial distribution is only the starting point. The ensuing discussion, both internally and externally, must then be monitored and responded to when appropriate. The C-Suite needs to become comfortable with and harness the positive energy that can occur in a horizontal communication and collaboration environment.
  3. Recipient - Executives today are drowning in a flood of e-mails, tweets, LinkedIn updates and RSS feeds. With the aid of software tools, executives must develop filtering skills to filter the important from the unimportant. And, executives need to participate in the ongoing social dialogue which is where acceptance or resistance to ideas will be built.
  4.  Adviser - At most defense contractors, social media is still in its infancy. Transformational executives must play a role in raising the media literacy of their subordinates and stakeholders.
  5. Architect - Traditional communication tends to be vertical like a military chain of command. Social communication is more horizontal and less linear. The social media savvy executive needs to "marry vertical accountability with networked horizontal collaboration in a way that is not mutually destructive."
  6. Analyst - Executives must keep their heads out of the sand and stay abreast of emerging trends and innovations. In a world of accelerating technological advancements, executives need to be sensitive to competitive and marketplace implications. But more importantly, executives who experiment with new technologies will be able to act faster and reap the benefits.

What do you think? What challenges do you see facing the defense industry's adoption of social media? Please post your comments below or email me.

Click here to read the McKinsey Quarterly article,  "Six social-media skills every leader needs."

The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

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