The fact is: people trust people more than they trust brands. Which means the external communications and visibility of a company’s leaders play a huge role in building trust and loyalty among audiences. But how does that translate to an executive’s personal social media strategy?
Thought leadership is all about providing insights and knowledge in a thought-provoking way that helps others learn and grow. Social media — channels for sharing and exchanging ideas generously and often — were made for this kind of content. Leveraging social platforms to frequently publish ideas and commentary creates opportunities for executives to demonstrate their company’s expertise, build brand credibility, and help guide their industry forward.
To take a deeper look at the role of executive social media in a robust thought leadership program, I spoke with two of INK’s content experts in a good old fashioned roundtable discussion. Both have helped tech and energy executives strengthen their social media presence and grow their reputations as industry thought leaders.
What Makes a Great Thought Leader
Kersa Haughey, Marketing and Business Development Director: Let’s address the buzzword in the room. How we define thought leadership, really?
Paige Buescher, Content Director: Thought leadership is going below the surface. A good analogy would be getting an interview with the White House Press Secretary versus getting an interview with the president. They will both probably hit on the same talking points, but one is going to be more impactful.
To be a good thought leader, knowing your audience is critical because then you know what questions you need to answer. Thought leaders give people information they can’t find from a million other places — they don’t go broad, they go deep.
And it may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that great thought leaders are first and foremost great leaders. Yes, they are visionaries in their dedicated fields and expertise, but they also inspire and lead by example.
Abby O’Connor, Senior Content Manager: Yes, exactly. A thought leader needs to have more than just expertise — although that’s crucial. What sets an industry thought leader apart from a subject matter expert is perspective. They layer analysis, opinion, and personal experience on top of expertise and share it generously.
Social Media as a Strategic Channel
Kersa: So what is the significance of social in a company’s larger thought leadership strategy, then? For B2B companies, what is the value of using social media for executive thought leadership compared to other channels like earned media?
Abby: Social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter can provide a level of flexibility, timeliness, and familiarity in executive thought leadership that is more difficult to achieve through earned articles or speaking opportunities. Those channels are still effective but have different strengths.
With social, thought leaders have total control over their message and publishing. They can share a wide variety of content types (short-form text, long-form analysis, documents, articles, videos, infographics, etc.), provide in-the-moment perspectives, and — most importantly — exchange ideas directly with others via comments or replies.
Paige: Right, I see engagement as the most obvious reason to turn to social media. It gives leaders the opportunity to react or comment in real time versus having the delay that’s inherent with content like an op ed. I also think social content can be more humanizing. And that’s what people want out of a good leader.
Grabbing the Attention of Those Who
Kersa: We all know social media is crowded. How can executives break through the noise with their thought leadership and make a meaningful impact on their company’s goals?
Paige: A true thought leader is also a seeker of knowledge. They should always be looking to learn more and grow in their field. So, with that mindset, look for opportunities to be a guest speaker or panel participant, grow your network and influence — then write about it. Share learnings or new insights through your own unique and personal lens. Take your audience on the journey with you instead of relying on static messaging.
And, I can’t say this enough, have a purpose. Executive thought leadership shouldn’t just be regurgitating a corporate social post. Yes, share those posts, but add your own commentary as well. Have an opinion and lead with that opinion. Back to my initial analogy, be a president, not a press secretary.
Abby: And really, success can be defined in a lot of different ways in an executive social media strategy, so it’s always a challenge to determine if you’re truly “breaking through the noise.” But one key indicator is whether you’re building trust with your target audience.
Do they look to you for insight when there’s an industry shift or advancement? Do you get feedback that your insight was helpful or appreciated? Then you broke through to those people. My next question would be: are they the right people? If you’re resonating or influencing the wrong audience, that calls for some re-evaluation.
The Nitty Gritty of Building a Strong Presence
Kersa: Let’s wrap up with some tangible takeaways. What advice do you have for executives building their social presence as a thought leader?
Abby: There’s no single way to guarantee success with thought leadership, but there are handful of factors that can put you in the best position. First, but not flashiest, is consistency. Building up a social presence takes consistent effort: creating content weekly and engaging with other users on their posts and your own.
Second is adding value. A consistent cadence of publishing shouldn’t mean diminished value. Ensure that you’re providing new insight, commentary or stories with each share.
And third is personality. What about your social presence is unique to you? Maybe that’s personal anecdotes and experience or tapping into your sense of humor. People want to follow thought leaders who are insightful, inspirational and personable.
When ramping up your content creation, aim for a mix that showcases your professional expertise and your personal passions. If you aren’t sure what kind of content to be publishing, consider the following: industry news, research or events; your company’s news, research or events; team wins or projects; customer wins or activities; personal stories and advice.
Paige: I’d also recommend that you find some “executive social mentors.” Who has a voice and presence that you find particularly engaging? What makes them stand out? Consider how you can personalize and apply that edge to your own social content.
And then on the topic of consistent cadence, I’d just say pace yourself. Sometimes we see executives get super enthusiastic about posting at first, but after a few months, things start to slow down or other priorities take precedence.
So, we’ll see someone going from posting three times a week to once a month — that does impact credibility. That’s why creating an editorial calendar and figuring out content ahead of time is crucial. Things can shift and change as far as topics go, but having an established posting cadence and sticking to it helps solidify your social presence.
I’ll close with: if you aren’t sure what to share, go back to the basics of knowing your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Who are you competing with for their attention? Don’t think of social media as posting out into the ether. Be just as intentional with your content as you would be with any other business effort.