Why is thought leadership so important for a modern organization? Because it’s at the very core of social selling and attracting the best candidates to work with and for us. It’s employer branding at its best! And, ultimately, it’s the foundation of an organization’s success and growth.
Thought leadership strategy is not just part of the content marketing strategy, although it is also that. Thought leadership strategy and its execution require you to help your employees become the personal brands they already are, even if they don’t consider themselves to be brands, or the employee advocates that you want them to be but that they don’t necessarily want to become.
Remember, the best employer brands are built on employee brands!
I’m not talking about influencer marketing here, but a move to a much more strategic approach and overall strategy rather than content marketing with internal influencers. It’s about building long-term image strategically as an organization that consists of the top minds within our industry and beyond. No campaigns, no external influencers, but internal, long-term commitment to building personal brands for our top specialists, helping them become the brands they already are and enabling them to reach larger audiences in a more strategic manner.
Start by asking yourself, “If I were a customer, what kind of information would I be looking for? What would add (value) to my knowledge and influence the decision-making process?” And there it is, the foundation of the content part of your new strategy! Answering this shows you know what kind of information you need to focus on. That’s the quick and dirty approach.
Choose your media, where you will reach your potential target audience, what they are interested in, and how to attract their interest and reactions. You might even want to build buying personas for your target audience.
But the Internet is full of noise. We could produce huge amounts of material that no one finds or is interested in. It sometimes seems as though half the world has gone crazy on content marketing, creating enormous masses of content, just content.
Instead, put your effort into distribution, that is, how and where people find your content! Remember, it’s not quantity, but quality, that builds thought leadership, but even the best content is worthless if no one can find it.
Content is always more credible when it comes from an employee, a specialist, rather than via corporate official accounts or the CEO. It needs to be personal and one’s own creation, not written by a ghost writer or the comms team. The author needs to stand behind the content.
Focus on these four things:
1. Content – visuals and quality of thinking, but also confidence and risk-taking (visionary content). And it’s quality over quantity.
2. Reach – networks or media? Should you build your own following and media or use existing communities to build your brand?
3. Consistency – requires time and dedication. Quick wins are rare but possible.
4. Novelty – your content must (often, not always) provide new insights, ideas, provoke readers’ thoughts in a way that hopefully makes them react – like, share, comment or follow – and eventually buy your services or consult you when making decisions.
Thought Leadership Strategy Leans Heavily on Employee Advocacy
Thought leadership strategy needs:
- Buy-in from top management, as it requires a new kind of openness and sharing of content that some may consider business-critical. It also takes time – it doesn’t happen overnight. And it helps if the top management leads by example.
- Buy-in from employees, as they need to be the ones creating the content – with help, support and even training from the marcomms team. Passion and true love for the line of work and the company never hurt thought leadership. It’s employee advocacy on steroids!
- A certain type of company culture. In an organization where talking about customer cases or showcasing personal expertise are prohibited, or where communications have been strictly reserved for those at the top management level or in the comms team, it takes time to create a culture of openness, employee advocacy, and engagement. Culture is grown. It can’t be brought in just like that, ready to roll when we say so.
- Collaboration within the organization to make it count. Specialists, our top minds, can’t make it alone. Even if they have the credibility, they often don’t know the right media for sharing the content, may not understand the strategy and reasoning (the big picture), or don’t have the budget or opportunity to work on content creation. The marcomms team doesn’t have the credibility, but it does have the understanding of the media, and often has the budget for it. The sales team is driven by numbers, not image, so they need instant feedback in the form of leads and customers, and they don’t have the budget or understanding of the media. The top managers aren’t credible, as they don’t have the skills, nor do they understand the media, but they sit on the budget and understand the strategic value of thought leadership. Therefore everyone needs to collaborate to build an efficient thought leadership strategy for years to come and markets to conquer. None of them can do it alone.
- Thought leadership strategy feeds on ideas, innovation, novel ways of working, processes and technologies. You can’t be a thought leader with ideas that your competitors have recycled year after year. You need to think out of the box and dare to say it out loud.
- Last but not least, thought leadership strategy needs to be aligned with overall business strategy: what do we want to sell, to whom, when, where, at what price, and what next?
Thought Leadership Is All about Building Pull Instead of Having to Push
ITSMA came up with great metrics to measure the thought leadership impact: Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue. That’s all. Easier said than measured, but doable.
Have you noticed that some of the top brands have already started implementing thought leadership strategies? Some of them already do this, though not from the employer branding point of view, but for social selling.
So now let’s take full advantage of it. Employees are the true foundation of an organization’s growth and success.
About the author:
Tom Laine is considered to be one of the most visible and experienced social media and digital recruiters in Europe, having founded his first social media startup in 1999, and a social recruiting agency in 2009 – the first ever in the Nordics. Before founding his own agency, Tom worked as a Channel Campaign Manager for Oracle in Denmark; previously, he lived in London, where he worked at a variety of recruiting agencies and search firms.
After successfully selling his agency to a market leader, Tom has written and published several books on social media and emerging technology. He currently advises a global portfolio of clients on social recruiting, employer branding and recruitment marketing as a consultant and trainer. You can learn more about Tom by visiting his personal website, http://www.TomLaine.com.
Follow Tom on Twitter @LaineTom or connect with him on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/tomlaine