Digital Literacy for Decision Makers: Smart Messaging for Entrepreneurs

Understanding how a digital identity and an engaged audience can create powerful influence across industries

Learning to use social media technology to share opinions and expertise to engage readers is critical for business leaders and MBAs.
Learning to use social media technology to share opinions and expertise to engage readers is critical for business leaders and MBAs.
Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Laurie B. Davis

“I kinda love Etsy.” This four-word tweet sparked an 8 percent stock market spike for the online retailer in January 2021 because it was written by someone with an immense following on Twitter: business mogul Elon Musk.

When a tweet can motivate millions of people to take an action or adopt an ideology, it becomes obvious that gaining an audience equals power and influence.

In today’s digital economy, social media influencers promote everything from fashion to software while thought leaders comment on myriad topics from cybersecurity to sustainability. Learning to use social media technology to share opinions and expertise to engage readers is critical for business leaders and MBAs working to secure that perfect job.

Brett Martin, adjunct assistant professor of business, teaches students how to harness the power of social media through the innovative course Digital Literacy for Decision Makers. Students learn how to get their messages in front of the right audiences, just as marketing managers do when selling products.

“Being invisible is no longer going to be a safe place in the future,” says Martin. “If people look you up on the internet and they don't find anything, that's a red flag.” Individuals with an online presence possess the upper hand over those without a digital identity. The course, says Martin, “gives people a chance to build that identity that gets them hired. I think we are very much helping people futureproof themselves.”

Connecting the Dots

The changes that computers have introduced over the past 50 years have provided expansive business potential, especially for entrepreneurs.  Understanding the changes that digital technologies drive is critical for spotting opportunity, says Martin. His course offers three components that inform and engage students. Students learn “how the sausage is made for technology, how to use timeless principles and frameworks to understand the torrent of tech news, and the ability to participate in the change that's happening all around,” he adds.

Martin mines the tech news of the day to train students how to understand technology’s impact and its relevancy to the concepts he’s teaching. Searching the news cycle, they might focus on the semiconductor industry in Taiwan, or TikTok and AI, or self-driving cars.

“Once you have a little bit of understanding of technology, then you can make sense of the torrent of tech news and trends that you see around you,” says Martin. “You have a set of principles and frameworks to make sense of what seems like a barrage of disparate news.” That’s when students begin to see the connections and how major technology trends are driving that news.

“It's like the semiconductor industry increasing the power of chips, which enables more powerful computation, which is driving advancements in artificial intelligence, powering the algorithms for TikTok and the algorithms that are running self-driving cars,” he says.

In Real Time and in Public

Martin believes two characteristics of the course make it innovative: The material is in real time and students post on the internet. “A big portion of the class is meant to give people the tools to actively participate, whether that's on LinkedIn or on Twitter, or whether that's posting blogs on Medium,” says Martin. “All of their peers can interact with it, which is much more powerful than any sort of one-on-one dialogue between the professor and a student.”

Martin says many students have performed well in the course, writing about interests that relate to their goals. One student, Chris Harper, now a venture capitalist at Torch Capital, wrote about silver tech, or technology for older adults. That resulted in an article published in Forbes and a job as a venture capitalist focused on that area. “He connected the dots,” says Martin.

Anonymity is not an option; but pseudonymity might be. Either way, the more daring the message, the better, says Martin. Being reserved to refrain from potentially riling a prospective employer could have the opposite effect. Martin says that fear puts students at a disadvantage: “The internet favors the bold; social media favors people with interesting and controversial takes, not people who water things down or are afraid of offending someone.”

It's about developing a personal voice and finding an audience and the appropriate channel to distribute the message. “That is exactly what this class is about,” says Martin. “We are literally actively doing that, and the only difference is that you and your thoughts are the product.”

About the Researcher

More Features

Gabby Slome, co-founder of Ollie and Cooper
Entrepreneurship & Innovation

From Founder to CEO: CBS Alum Gabby Slome Shares Her Entrepreneurship Journey

‘For me, it’s definitely about finding my inspiration through things like personal pain points.’

Carolyn Butler entrepreneur startup circular economy
Entrepreneurship & Innovation

A Tech Entrepreneur Shaping a Truly Circular Economy

Carolyn Butler ’18 talks about creating a blueprint for the first truly circular business model in the US apparel industry.

Guave Kelly Ifill alum career Black and brown entrepreneurship startups
Entrepreneurship & Innovation

A Fintech Entrepreneur Bolstering Main Street Businesses

Kelly Ifill ’17 chats about career pivots, community, and her commitment to supporting Black and brown entrepreneurs.

Biotech Entrepreneur Nina Tandon EpiBone
Entrepreneurship & Innovation

Biotech Entrepreneur Grows Strong Bones and a Strong Business

Nina Tandon ’12 talks about the origin of EpiBone and overcoming the challenges facing women entrepreneurs.

Rise to the challenge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world of business, while bringing historical inequities and injustice into sharp relief.

Subscribe to Leading Through Change to receive the latest insights from Columbia Business School to help you navigate this unprecedented time.