Almost everyone who calls me for a consultation says, “I want to be a thought leader.” My not-so-joking response is, “Okay, but first, you have to have some thoughts.”
All kidding aside, thought leadership isn’t a declaration. It’s a distinction you earn through consistent quality content in today’s world. Most people think this requires a CEO or executive to write a book or even an in-depth white paper. While those things don’t hurt, there are six less time consuming ways to use social media for thought leadership.
What is thought leadership?
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly is thought leadership? While there are hundreds of ways to describe thought leadership, it comes down to this (semrush.com, 2023).
Thought leadership is the delivery of authentic and genuine content that uses the author’s expertise, insight, and experience, with the goal of sharing that wisdom with others. Thought leadership is all about you creating value, building knowledge, and taking a stand.”
According to a recent study by Survey Monkey and reported in nytlicensing, 68% of people say experts in their field are considered to be thought leaders. 70% of the same survey respondents thought that brands are as capable of being thought leaders as individuals are, and a whopping 77% answered no to the question, “does a thought leader need to have a large social media following?”
Why thought leadership matters
The recent 2022 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, considered the role that thought leadership will play in B2B companies given the uncertain economic climate of 2023. The report concluded that many B2B companies will likely extend their sales cycles – forcing decision-makers and C-suite executives to take a hard look at which partners are critical to running the business, and which are not.
With this backdrop top of mind, Edelman and LinkedIn teamed up to produce their fifth annual B2B Thought Leadership Impact Report. The report taps the collective perspective of nearly 3,500 management-level professionals to help marketers, communicators, and salespeople understand the value that thought leadership can provide amid times of great uncertainty. Five key learnings from the survey included:
- Most B2B companies are planning for an economic downturn in 2023. This will make it more challenging for providers to grab the attention of decision-makers.
- If a downturn does materialize, those products and services deemed non-critical will face a tougher buying climate and will need to be specific in proving how they can help a prospective customer succeed – especially in tough times. In fact, 65% of buyers say thought leadership significantly changed their perception of a company, for the better, due to a piece of thought leadership. In addition, 64% of buyers say that an organization’s thought leadership content is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competency than its marketing materials and product sheets.
- B2B buyers have reported that thought leadership is one of the most effective tools an organization can use to demonstrate its value to customers during a tough economy – even more so than traditional advertising or product marketing. 55% of decision-makers say that during an economic downturn, it is more important than ever for suppliers who do not offer products/services that are essential to their operations to produce high-quality thought leadership if they want to win the business.
- Decision-makers expect high-quality thought leadership to offer a strong, data-backed point of view on how to succeed during a downturn. They also report that it can make a difference in winning their business.
- Producers of thought leadership have high expectations for its ability to support their business during a downturn. Yet, many have low confidence in its quality. The report found that only 29% of C-Suite executives believe that the overall quality of their content is very good or excellent.
The bottom line is that thought Leadership is increasingly becoming a priority for organizations to potenital clients. However, there is a gap between where content marketers want to be and where their programs currently stand.
According to that same Survey Monkey report, two-thirds of marketers 66% consider thought leadership a “top priority” for their marketing org. However, only 26% consider their current program “very successful” and 65% say that it is moderately successful.
The unpredictability of 2023 can be turned into an opportunity for B2B companies to improve the way they deliver and measure their thought leadership impact.
What is thought leadership content?
While the importance of thought leadership is fairly obvious, what exactly constitutes quality content is up for debate. In an interview with 300 marketers and industry experts, SEMrush asked “What Does Thought Leadership Mean for You?” The responses were as follows
- 60.9% – Inspirational content that drives change
- 46.5 – Educational content
- 39.4 – Content exploring industry trends
- 36.9 – Industry research
- 32,7 – Opinion content/commentary
Too often CEO, executives, and experts define thought leadership as “taking a hard or controversial stand” on an aspect of popular wisdom, a contemporary event, or a political position. While occasionally this may be woven into a CEO’s or executive’s public declaration, it’s not the majority of what makes up the content of a thought leadership outreach.
What is thought leadership marketing?
If consistent and quality content is the essence of a CEO or executive thought leadership brand, how does that content make its way from an executive’s brain to a platform where it builds their personal brand as a thought leader? There are several key steps to take, including:
Knowing your audience
It begins with an understanding of who you are trying to reach with your content, and sway with your thought leadership. Understanding who you want to reach is the key to succeeding with any thought leadership marketing strategy. Ask yourself:
- What motivates or inspires your audience?
- What questions do they want answers to?
- What pain points move them to action?
- Where do they consume most of their information?
Create a top-notch social media profile
With a clear idea in mind of whom you are creating content for, it’s essential to make sure that when they do land on your social media sites, your profile is congruent with that of a thought leader. Sadly, most CEOs and executives who reach out to me for help with their executive brand, have profiles that shout barely keeping up, way more than I’m a thought leader. Your personal brand needs to represent your thought leadership in everything you do. Having a power-packed profile that is up to date and integrates all best practices is the foundation of your thought leadership.
Post consistent, quality content
Posting once a month (or even once a week) and thinking you can check the thought leadership content box is, well ridiculous. According to research from Hootsuite, posting as follows is the most effective.
- On Instagram, post between 3-7 times per week.
- On Facebook, post between 1 and 2 times a day.
- On Twitter, post between 1 and 5 Tweets a day.
- On LinkedIn, post between 1 and 5 times a day.
Keep in mind that every social media account is unique, so testing and analyzing your results is critical. In addition, depending on your audience, it’s not necessary to post on all social media platforms. For example, for most of my clients and potential clients, LinkedIn is the key social media platform.
Consider writing long-form content
Almost the first thing everyone does when they have a question today is open the Google search on their computer (or phone), and say “hey Siri…” Many of the questions we ask are suited to short-term responses that can be answered in a sentence or a paragraph. However, other inquiries require more than a pithy response, they are better served by a deeper dive into the subject. The same is true for social media. There are several types of long-form content to consider, including:
- Extended posts. While these are not exactly “long form” content per se, instead of writing a short post, turn it into a longer 500-word mini-article. This provides a bit more depth on the topic.
- Articles. Perhaps the most common form of long-form content, a written article consists of 1000-3000 words. In general, long articles cover a single subject in some depth and offer valuable content to readers.
- Pillar Page. This is a deep-dive piece of writing that covers a subject extensively. The difference between an article and a pillar page is the length, but also the use of URLs and other resources on the topic. One bonus. They offer a great opportunity for SEO. I have several pillar pages on my website. This blog post is an example of a pillar page.
- Online eBooks. As discussed later in this article, eBooks are an excellent asset.
for gaining emails for your contact list.
- Case Studies. Showing a potential client, a situation similar to their own, how you solved it, and what the positive outcomes were is a great way to engage with long-form content.
No one expects a 500-word piece, or 3000-word anchor article, to be posted on LinkedIn three times a week. However, writing occasional long-form content (once or twice a month) garners significant attention for your authority in a specific space, and demonstrates your thought leadership.
Create a webinar
A webinar is a great way to position yourself and your brand as a thought leader within your industry. You can be the star of your own webinar or the host who interviews a panel of other thought leaders. Either way, a webinar gives you a wide variety of opportunities to push the message out on social media.
Be a guest on other social media
One of the quickest ways to build your CEO or executive thought leadership is to bring your expertise to others. With a little research, you can identify places where you might contribute your thought leadership. For example:
- Podcasts. What podcasts exist in your space or industry that you might be a good potential guest for? Podcasts are always looking for guests with specific expertise, and strong speaking skills. Being on a podcast allows you three chances to show off your thought leadership. You can promote the upcoming podcast on your social media. You are exposed to a whole new audience when being interviewed on the podcast, and you can create a post once you have appeared on the podcast, with a link to the podcast.
- Guest blogs. Depending on their policy and preference, certain blogs accept guest posts from highly credible sources. It’s worth taking the time to check out the top blogs in your field of expertise and see if they are interested in having you write a piece for them.
- LinkedIn live, webinars, and other types of video. There is an abundance of opportunities in being interviewed on other expert video platforms. Find out who in your field is producing regular videos and reach out to see if you might be a good fit.
How to become a thought leader
Social media is a highly effective way to become a thought leader. However, that does not mean limiting the delivery of your content to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Becoming a thought leader requires expanding your view of what social media is, and the six ways to use social media for thought leadership.
- Repurpose your content. Imagine this. You start by writing an original long-form article for publication on LinkedIn. Next, you record that content as a podcast episode, and finally, you do a short YouTube video based on that content. Develop content once and repurpose it to use on social media for thought leadership.
The same holds true for books and white papers. I will often take the books my clients have written and turn them into a series of posts, with a link back to the book page on Amazon.com. This promotes the CEO or executive brand, and at the same time, creates potential buyers for the book.
- Comment on current events. There is probably no aspect of thought leadership that is more controversial today than when and if CEOs should speak out on social issues and current events. According to a recent Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 17,000 people in 14 countries, workers expected their employers to act on pressing societal problems ranging from vaccine hesitancy (84 percent), climate change (81 percent), automation (79 percent), the “infodemic” (79 percent) and racism (79 percent).
Many corporate leaders have begun to overcome their hesitancy about wading into divisive social issues, addressing subjects like voting rights, election integrity, racial justice, immigration, and gun violence. Prof. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld in Chief Executive Magazine offered some guidelines for when and how business leaders should weigh in. His advice included:
- Act in the national interest.
- Seek board guidance.
- Choose areas that fortify your brand and culture.
- Model your values.
- Examine the enterprise’s strategic needs.
- Point out the trends. The fact is that decision-makers are spending time-consuming thought leadership content and articles. In fact, 54% of Decision-Makers – and 48% of the C-Suite – say they spend more than 1 hour per week reading and reviewing thought leadership. Since trends and best practices are important assets for decision-makers, curating leading-edge stories and analysis pieces, and highlighting insights and trends from your industry or area of expertise is a strong choice to cultivate thought leadership.
- Give a shout-out to other experts in your field. Too often CEOs and executives are hesitant to link to or mention other competitors, or even experts in their fields. Here is the problem with that way of thinking. True thought leadership is about providing your audience with the broadest perspective possible. By promoting other experts who have posted something useful, educational, interesting, or worthwhile, you acknowledge their contribution to space, and they are likely to promote it to their followers. This gives you the side bonus of being seen by their audience.
- Network with industry leaders and influencers. One of the sacrosanct rules of thought leadership is remembering that it’s about your audience, not you. By being authentic and helpful, rather than promotional, other leaders and influencers in your space will take notice. By gaining a reputation for high-quality content, you can join the ranks of the top folks in your field, opening the opportunity to collaborate with them, and expand your network and your brand.
On the other side of the coin, as a thought leader, you need to stay updated on the latest trends in your field and be constantly upgrading your knowledge base. One of the best ways to do that is to connect with other industry leaders and influencers.
Doing so further enhances your credibility, expands your community, provides you with new information and new perspectives, and builds an even stronger base for your thought leadership.
- Write an eBook. While not traditionally considered social media, an e-Book is in fact one of the six ways to use social media for thought leadership. Simply put an eBook is a digital form of a book. Like traditional, hardcover, and paperback trade books, they come in all shapes and sizes. They are often self-published, and usually anywhere from 35-100 pages.
Because an ebook can be researched, written, designed, published, and promoted in a matter of months (instead of the normal 12-18 months for traditional publishing), it is an ideal format to discuss leading-edge matters of concern, current industry trends, and offer a unique, current take on a topic. What it is not, is a promotional brochure pretending to be a useful piece of content in book form.
When done right, eBooks have high conversion rates for inbound marketing with relatively high conversation rates. According to some research between 60-70% during the first six months of launch.
As I mentioned earlier, once written and published, an eBook can be broken down into a series of posts, which can be put in Canva with a photo of the book cover and posted with a link to buy the book.
For many CEOs and executives looking to develop their thought leadership, an eBook has proven to be a powerful path.
How SMG Helps Our Clients To Meet These Challenges
For more than 20 years, I have helped CEOs, C-Suite executives, entrepreneurs, and start-up founders create and implement business and personal brands based on their thought leadership. Much of what I’ve learned about this topic comes from up close and in the fieldwork with leaders from companies such as Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Marriott Hotel Group, Johnson, Johnson, American Express, and many more.
At one point, I had so much information in my head that I just had to get it down on paper. That is how I wrote my twelfth traditionally published book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, and gave a TEDx Talk on the unique contribution that underlies each of our personal brands.
As an author and columnist for Inc.com, I constantly search for studies, surveys, real-world examples, and techniques to help my clients achieve stronger brands that make them stand out for their thought leadership in the marketplace. In this article, I have aimed to share some of the most important things I have discovered about executive thought leadership.
If, after reading this article, you find yourself thinking, “yes, I get it, I need to do this,” but are in a quandary about how to get there, consider booking an initial consultation with me at no charge.
I will review your CEO or executive thought leadership before our call and give you at least one or two specific ideas you can use to build a better personal brand: no sales, just useful information and insight. You can book a session with me here.