Since shifting from a manufacturing to information economy managers and leaders have seen their job descriptions and annual reviews include the phrase “The ability to influence others” – sometimes without authority. Developing trusting relationships combined with good communication skills and a healthy amount of emotional intelligence has helped manages and leaders sway opinion, gain consensus and collaborate on difficult issues.
Today our “friends” and contacts have expanded beyond the four walls of our companies, to the world of social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, making the pool of people we can potential influence exponentially larger. We might have a few hundred people to influence within our organizations, and maybe a few hundred more with people we know in professional associations and acquaintances. But, in cyberspace, the number of people to influence could easily be in the tens of thousands.
According to Thomas H. Davenport and Bala Iyer in their contribution “Wielding Digital Influence”, in the Harvard Business Review article “3 Skills Every 21-Century Manager Needs”, “As companies become less hierarchical, the effective use of online networks will be crucial to success.” Savvy digital influencers are adding great value to their careers and their organizations. Let’s say Dave has an impressive online network, and during a hiring push, he tweets about his company’s need for talented engineers, and quickly receives hundreds of candidates, several of whom he hires.
Most of us understand how to use online tools to build and expand our digital networks, but few know how to gather information and wield influence. Davenport and Iyer say we need three things to build an effective online network; reputation, specialization and network position.
In the virtual world you build your reputation by offering interesting content, drawing attention to your web presence and inspiring others to circulate and act on your ideas. Services like Klout, Identified, PeerIndex, and Empire Avenue will score you on the basis of how many people you influence and how influential your contacts are.
Like in the real world it is important to focus on key areas of expertise. A “Jack of all trades” doesn’t get noticed, but a specialist, does. Overseas supply chain management, hotel revenue manager learning leadership skills and using performing arts to boost innovation in companies are examples of specialization. Demonstrating deep knowledge, establishing links with other experts and offering relevant information and referrals are keys to specialization on the web.
The best online networks build their position by acting as a bridge between unconnected groups. This can increase your influence, because it gives you a change to identify potential collaborations and to accumulate quality information. For example, Janet could connect her group of IT outsourcers with an association of young entrepreneurs.
In the near future, the authors predict, “… organizations will begin to seek out employees with demonstrably strong online connections and a track record of wielding influence through them. The best networkers will become even more highly valued.” Imagine that at your next job interview you’re asked what kind of digital influence you have?
Dean Newlund is President of Mission Facilitators International, Inc. He can be reached at www.missionfacilitators.com