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Does Thought Leadership Need Social Media?

The natural reaction of most business people and certainly anyone in marketing, communications or social media these days is to label those companies and individuals not using social media as dinosaurs.Does Thought Leadership Need Social Media

But are they?

Thought leadership is content on steroids.  It stands out from the crowd because it is different; it offers something new and the good campaigns deliver information or insights that address a client’s challenges or issues.  In some cases really brilliant thought leadership shifts paradigms of an entire industry.

Thought leadership is no ordinary content but rather content that sets one brand apart from the competition and, in the process, leverages a phenomenal platform for trust and engagement.

Good thought leadership content is sophisticated and intelligent and should be packaging and delivered appropriately to a defined audience.  And herein lies the key.

Do you know where and how your audience consumes content?

In our recent book on the topic #Thought Leadership Tweet 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign, co-author Dr Liz Alexander and I  ask in tweet #32:

Have you clearly defined who you want to reach with this thought leadership campaign and why?

If for example your market is a small universe of 30-50 senior decision makers at listed companies in a certain sector and they are not using LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and the like, why on earth would you need to be on social media?

Great thought leadership goes to the very heart of your markets’ issues – think

  • Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty
  • IBM’s Smarter Planet
  • GE’s Ecomagination
  • Phillip’s Health and Wellbeing campaign
  • Booz&Co’s Global Innovation 1000

The planning for these campaigns had a very clear why, as Simon Sinek says in our tweet# 26:

It doesn’t matter what you do.  It matters why you do it.

Why are you embarking on a thought leadership campaign?

I have been in the public relations game for 23 years.  There was an industry expression back then – “Spray and pray” – it meant sending a press release to as many media contacts as possible hoping to generate coverage.  Of course the results were always poor because three critical questions were not clarified up front:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Who are we trying to reach?
  3. What do they read?

Content planning today is no different. We merely have a host of other channels to use and social media is one of them.

Social media is a conversation

Let’s skip ahead.  You’ve done your research and you know that a lot of your market is consuming social media.  At this point it’s probably worth considering SKM’s Dale Bryce’s question in tweet# 120:

Are you ensuring your thought leadership facilitates a dialog?  Think of it as a conversation.

One of the most critical aspects of any content is whether it facilitates customer engagement and acquisition.   I am singularly and cynically commercial in my view of thought leadership and content – if it is not driving engagement or acquisition why do it.

Tips to succeed with social media as a thought leader

If you are using social media platforms to share your thought leadership content you may want to consider the following to ensure its success:

1. Identify your prospect’s buying cycle

Have you identified the various stages of the engagement and customer buying cycle and are you modifying your content for each stage and using the appropriate channels at each stage? For example what formats do your customers/prospects want – are you offering more than one option e.g. a powerpoint, a pdf, audio, video, etc

2. Leverage your content

Do you have a process to make sure you’re sharing your content and leveraging it appropriately across all the relevant social media channels and are you optimising your content.  Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has changed and now it is all about targeted content using the key words people search for when looking for information on your topic and, more importantly, gaining links from authoritative influencers.

3. Go visual

All trends indicate that the visual mediums of YouTube, Slideshare, Pinterest, Instagram and using things like Infographics is the way people are trending in their consumption of content.  Are you graphically interpreting your content to take advantage of this trend?

4. Gear your content for earned media

Are you paying enough attention to making your content shareable?  One of the greatest powers of social media is the ability for people to share your content.  Are you designing your content to be shareable and to make it easy for people to link to it?

5. Quantify the revenue impact

There is tons of content on this topic but one stands out – businesses will only allocate big money to your social media campaign if they understand which of your social media channels is truly working.  This means you have to find ways to gather feedback and data that better informs your understanding of your prospects at the various stages of the buying cycle and then critically what impact your content is having on them.

Your metrics may show how many back links you have, how many eyeballs you attracted, how many retweets you received, how many downloads you had, your click-through rate but the bottom line is whether your content enables you to capture these visitors, convert them into leads and ultimately nurture them into customers?

A thought

I leave you with this thought.  Research in a report by KPMG in 2011 “Going Social: How businesses are making the most of social media” found that regardless of industry group or ownership structure, business adoption rates for social media now average around the 70% mark around the world.  Perhaps even more tellingly, the report found that a high proportion of consumers now use social media to inform their purchasing decisions.

Guest Author: Craig Badings is a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications.  He is the co-author of  #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign.  You can connect with him on Twitter @ThoughtStrategy or LinkedIn


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  • Aha…Nice…I love when you said…indeed

  • There was an industry expression back then – “Spray and pray”” I had never heard thisn expression from that industry maybe the pest control industry. Social Media is a main factor in all my marketing plans, it is amazing the results it has generated but it has taken some time to get there. Don’t give up and stay ture to your cause. Excellent information and thanks.

  • Most of the business peoples are connected with social media. There
    are so many different features are develop for their business strategy
    and business marketing, To consult with leading authoritative
    influencers for the high consumers.

  • The leadership content are so cynical and creative for the packaging consumers. It brilliant and awesome things to authoritative influencers. It most concerns the people are with social media, to paradigms of the entire industries.

  • Totally agree with you.

    Content should be meaningful and worthy enough for people to share it. Nothing could be better than someone else sharing your post because it can help your niche. It helps in reputation building as well.

  • I like point 4, “Go visual.” I see the infographic as an eye-catching device in a sea of text and as a souvenir that I can download and tuck away (perhaps done a little faster than printing the post or webpage as a PDF).

    One caution I think is that the infographic isn’t the only format of information in the post or webpage. The graphic isn’t as easily SEO-indexed as text unless a lot of the its metadata is filled with keyword-rich text. Any thoughts on striking a reasonable balance between readability and SEO when using infographics?

  • Our organisation produces a large quantities of thought leadership that is targeted at senior decision makers within leading organisation in South Africa. I was particularly interested in your comment relating to whether you should share thought leadership with these individuals through social media. Based on our experience, most of the senior execs/managers we are targeting prefer email when it comes to sharing specific thought leadership. We find that the media will consume this type of content on social media which they use for publication purposes. We do have success with LinkedIn where senior managers/execs read LinkedIn updates and join specific groups. David Graham – Deloitte Southern Africa (@twitter-67603734:disqus)

    • Hi David, you echo what I believe works best which is to understand your audience, know what, where and how they consumer content and then deliver it through that medium. If using social media channels so that media will pick it us is part of your strategy then great.

      This brings me to a point I didn’t make in the article but one which goes to the heart of any successful thought leadership campaign – Have a strategy. Thought leadership is not merely pieces of haphazard content, rather it is well thought through strategy with clearly defined business objectives, a content and engagement calendar, measurement, kpis, evaluation and recalibration.

  • Amy Khuu

    I think this article brings up a good point that social media needs to be used to further the conversation for businesses to tell people why they do what they do. I am currently studying Social Media Theory and Practice with @dr4ward at @NewhouseSU We are learning to use many different types of social media to help us get ahead in the every changing media business. #NewhouseSM4 (@amykhuusu)

  • Brenda Gaines Hunter

    I’m just wondering if audience creation should be a goal? Not just finding the audience. By that I mean, creating a demand for a product. I’m in the fitness business. Consumers of fitness largely cannot tell one gym from another or one personal trainer from another. I’m trying to change that, or at least make it so that I stand out. My first goal has been to just let people know that I exist. I take every marketing opportunity because this is a word of mouth business. However, I do advertise, hang flyers, write articles for both online publications and for a local newspaper, do presentations and demonstrations, and hold free fitness classes for the community during the warmer months. I make marketing adjustments and design ad campaigns, add new initiatives, make program adjustments, and take continuing education classes during the winter. (I don’t do group exercises classes during the winter yet.) So I spend my winters working as a personal trainer and plotting the rest of the year. @fsftraining

  • A large number of companies are using social media websites and Social Media Marketing as a source for the promotion of their website. socialbakers, hootsuite and socialkik are great sites for social media where you can increase to your followers and fans.