Executives frequently ask, “How can I strengthen my thought leadership through social channels?” Communicators often receive this question from C-suite executives looking to establish a social presence from scratch or business leaders seeking to raise a global profile via establishing authority and credibility through existing social channels.
Before beginning to help these executives, we must ensure they understand what “thought leadership” means. Executive thought leadership is when C-suite members use their voices, visibility, stature and decisions to enact change inside the companies they manage, within the industries they lead and across society and culture at-large.
To start, encourage executives to make a list of ways they have influenced business operations, decisions, and large-scale outcomes within their companies. From there begin story mining for ways to promote these successes through thought leadership articles, engagements and social posts.
An approach to establishing thought leadership through social channels should have roots in four key factors:
It’s important to be clear that social media is not the only path to success. Social media is only one part of a thought leadership strategy. On the other hand, social is a useful tool to leverage alternative modes of content in a regular posting cadence. Content remains king on social platforms and it’s important to have a presence. Creating meaningful content means providing value to consumers through unique and thoughtful insights and relevant announcements. Through social media, business leaders can link to original content and share relevant news stories that inspire and influence their colleagues and industry peers. That said, it is recommended to use 60 percent original content and 40 percent repurposed material (e.g., reshared, retweeted, used previously, etc.). In addition, social content should:
- Use links to encourage engagement: Users are more likely to repurpose content containing links.
- Use hashtags: Hashtags streamline conversations from different users, increase a post’s reach, and give users the opportunity to connect with a global audience. Users with related interests frequently search and monitor hashtags. Including relevant phrases or keywords will help the user connect with an audience. A note: use hashtags on Facebook only when a hashtag is associated with an event. Otherwise a hashtag distracts users from content.
- Leverage earned media: Before resorting to self-publishing, look for opportunities to submit op-eds to industry trade publications and/or pitch publications. Choose outlets that will generate discussions online and increase user and company presence in the news. Also be aware that many publications prefer content that’s exclusive to them. It is worth your time to know which ones do, and offer your content to them exclusively.
- Include external events: Delivering presentations or speaking on panels at industry or industry adjacent events should be part of the executive’s thought-leadership outreach. Events present a great way to increase name recognition and enable the executive to be seen as an industry leader. It’s also a prime way to engage with other pros.
Impactful executives are carefully transparent in public aspects of their businesses. This means finding ways to offer followers a unique perspective without exposing areas of potential risk. For example, the executive can do more than reiterate the company’s corporate messaging. They should avoid seeming overly scripted. The executive, if possible, should create the content. When a PR pro creates material, they should keep the executive’s voice in mind. It’s important for audiences to hear the executive’s voice in real-time. Live social broadcasts are a great vehicle for this. As noted above, all this exposure needs to be done while also protecting the company’s financial specifics and intellectual property.
Related to the above, authenticity is social media currency that can be exchanged for opportunities to engage in conversations outside of a company’s wheelhouse. It also can open the door to corporate advocacy. Leaders should create original content that links back to priorities, amplifies ideas related to corporate mission, vision and values and connects to offline activities. Adding unique perspectives to online conversations can bolster authenticity online. Additional tactics include replying to @ mentions and sharing relevant content via retweets.
When communities are discussing something that relates to the company or its interests, executives seeking to become thought leaders should engage in those conversations. Do so in a timely manner and with a personal touch. While executive views should track with their employer’s, they also should not parrot corporate talking points. Post content and monitor relevant accounts, hashtags and topics to stay on top of germane online conversations. Posting and monitoring will facilitate timely engagement.
The link between corporate reputation and C-suite engagement is at its peak. This is due to increasing public focus on corporate leadership, demand for transparency and the rise of social media and digital channels. Out of fear of alienating or angering customers, brands have historically avoided taking stances on issues. This same practice once extended to a company’s leadership team, creating a delicate and apolitical ecosystem with relatively quiet executives.
Research from APCO and others, though, shows stakeholders expect companies to take stands on issues. Elements of the public see executives are representatives of corporate values. They are supposed to be the faces of their organizations and engage with key stakeholders.
As a result, it is increasingly important to create a meaningful, tailored plan that works for the executive’s desired engagement, strengthens reputation and allows them to reach stakeholders in a genuine manner.
They will not be able to accomplish their goals alone, even with the best of plans. To build an impactful thought leadership program on social, the plan must strategically leverage tools tailored for each channel to build a public presence, connect directly with stakeholders, and share company news and information in an authentic, human way.