February 20, 2014 - by Cara Posey
This is the second part of a two part blog. Visit the ExpertFile Blog to view Ready to Be a Thought Leader? An Interview with Author Denise Brosseau (Part One) before reading this continuation.
Cara Posey: Creating a quality online presence involves many things, including content marketing and multimedia assets. What types of content and media are most valuable right now? What will happen to the organizations and thought leaders who don’t focus on creating a quality online presence for thought leadership this year?
Denise Brosseau: What is expected and even required seems to be changing rapidly. The bar is high and hiring managers, media outlets and other gatekeepers expect leaders to establish a quality online presence that showcases their expertise and a unique point of view. Yet many leaders still opt to stay on the sidelines. When you search for them, there is little information or what you do find online is actually harmful to their brand and reputation.
- Find out whether you exist online. Go to the major search engines and type in your name. Try the common misspellings as well and your name in combination with every organization you have worked for or presently worked with. See what shows up and whether it represents your best self. We all know we need to do this but rarely do it with any regularity.
- Find opportunities to showcase your value-added content. Write a white paper; develop a 10-slide PowerPoint; record a podcast or a video that highlights your best work. Post and link to it in multiple locations online where people can quickly learn about your expertise as well as your point of view on the issues of the day.
- Strive to be a thought leader, not just an expert. Experts are all about telling you how smart they are. Thought leaders are interested in making you smarter. You make your clients, customers or industry smarter when you crystallize not just what you know but why it matters. Articulate the trends and curate the best information so they don’t have to.
- Assess your followership. I have heard from clients that when they go for a job interview, they are asked, “what’s your following on Twitter?,” or “how many people are following your blog?” Those questions will be asked with increasing frequency. In addition, people are checking out your Klout score – a measurement of your social influence – before they hire you. If you have no idea what a Klout score is, and you’re not monitoring yours, you may have taken yourself out of the running for many opportunities. Track whether people are following and expanding on your ideas – retweeting, commenting or even arguing with your point of view. That resonance is what expands your reach.
CP: You bring up the concept of discoverability and how someone isn’t a thought leader unless people know about what they’ve accomplished and are able to build on those ideas. What are the best ways for thought leaders to make themselves discoverable?
DB: There’s so many ways nowadays to showcase your expertise. I know we all get a lot of email, but I still advocate that you create an email list and send an email newsletter to those in your ecosystem. This allows you to regularly connect with those who want to stay in touch with you and learn from your expertise.
We’ve talked about LinkedIn, but depending on if you are better at showcasing your expertise in writing or speaking and where your audience is online, a YouTube channel is another great starting place. Create a 90 second to 3-minute video that breaks down complex topics. This is a wonderful way for almost any type of product business to get ahead.
No matter what form factor you’re using – whether you’re writing or speaking – think through how you are adding value. This could be de-mystifying or ‘uncomplexifying’ complex information. Take out the acronyms, take out the jargon, and write or speak at a fifth grade level. Not to insult people, but to inform, educate, and add value. You also add value when you articulate trends or provide your commentary on what others are doing rather than just re-stating the same old information.
True thought leadership is adding information – sharing what you’ve done as a change agent – your lessons learned or your mistakes along the way. Those are the stories people resonate with. We want to hear not just about your expertise but how you came by your hard won knowledge. That’s what will really enrich the conversation.
CP: Your book was just released on thought leadership. Laura Ramos and Jeff Ernst from Forrester have also said that thought leadership is a top priority for marketers today. Why is thought leadership more important now than in previous years? What makes it an imperative?
DB: This may be simplifying things too much, but everything changed with the Internet. Think about how we shop – we immediately head to the Internet to find the best information and make a purchase. I know we hate to think of ourselves as something people “shop” for, but of course they do. We have to increase our discoverability quotient, which is the percentage of time that someone is looking for someone like us and they find us.
Even conference organizers, hiring managers, and board selection committees – they are all “shopping” for the right person and they select the A-list person with a large following over the invisible person with the exact same expertise.
To further complicate matters, when someone is “shopping” for me, are they specifically looking for me by name or even by what I do? Are they looking for a ‘thought leadership consultant’? No, they likely have never heard of such a thing. They go on the web and search for other terms, like ‘how do I build my following’ or ‘how do I get a seat at the table’. I have to assure that I am ‘discoverable’ when people do know what to look for and when people are just starting their search for help.
Another challenge is there may be a lot of people with your exact same credentials. To stand out, you want to create more value and the possibility of a deeper connection to you by sharing what you know – and are known for – online. The more you amplify your thought leadership, the more likely you will not just be found, but you will also be chosen.
CP: Many of the tips you provide throughout the book are excellent for individuals. How can organizations use these tips to inspire experts to become better thought leaders through the lens of the organization and not just for their personal brands?
DB: I wrote Ready to Be a Thought Leader? for individuals because I know that it starts there. You have to recognize you have something worth talking about and overcome the naysayers and your own internal “itty bitty shitty committee,” as I call it, that might keep you from stepping into the spotlight. But once you have achieved a level of accomplishment and have something to add to the conversation, the power of a team of people working together to amplify each other’s voices can be amazing.
For example, I work a lot with a group called the Association of California Nurse Leaders. Last year, they invited me to facilitate a strategy session with their senior leaders. We spent a whole day working together on a shared messaging strategy that each individual nurse leader could carry out in the world – through speaking, writing and talking to the media. At the end of the day everyone shared how much more engaged they felt – both as nurse leaders but also as members of the organization. They also felt far more empowered to move forward when they all had an agreed upon set of approved messages.
While this is an association example, the same is true when I work with corporate teams. Any message is more powerful when there is an amplification strategy, when every voice in a company is sharing the same ideas, the same stories and case studies, reusing the same data points, etc. The reach and resonance of one individual can never be as powerful as a combination of voices all ‘singing from the same songbook’ as I like to say.
If you want to change the way people are doing things in your industry or reframe an issue or educate people with a new point of view, it takes a lot of reinforcement. One CEO or organizational leader speaking out is powerful, but their time and reach are limited. If we can empower as many people with that shared voice, we are far more likely to create sustained change or create a movement.
One last point here. I have noticed that companies that showcase the expertise of their leaders also help with their recruiting. Not only will more people learn about a companies products and services, but as individual leaders are deciding whether to go work at one company over another, they will chose the company where they know their voice will be valued. And those subject matter experts with their own following need to know that they can continue to grow that followership and not be stymied or shut down by a company or organization that just doesn’t “get it.”
CP: At ExpertFile, we have found many companies are working to build the thought leadership of their top talent to increase brand authority, improve awareness, and even develop key employees. What are some of the key things you advise organizations to think about as they build thought leadership programs?
DB: First of all, that’s great news! I really want to encourage that trend. There are a few skills that companies could develop among their employees – chief among those is training in how to be a good storyteller. Every employee – whether they are writing or speaking – they are the company’s public face. The more a company can empower them with good training on being a storyteller, the better.
Second, I think consistency is important. While you don’t want everyone saying the same three phrases and the same three data points in the same order, if you can carefully craft a series of messages and then help people to customize those messages in their own voice and adding their own point of view, that’s a winning strategy. As we spoke about earlier, the company wins when every employee is building on each other’s ideas and amplifying each other’s voices, rather than just parroting a canned speech.
And I think the third thing is to really be encouraging to everyone in the company – including women and diverse voices and more junior players – to believe they have a role to play. And don’t just invite someone once to become a thought leader (speak at a conference or write for the company blog). Often the first time someone is invited, they will say no. Or, if they do take their first step and they don’t get encouragement, they may not take the second.
I would really say that this is about building a culture of thought leadership. This is about expecting, respecting, celebrating and reinforcing the behaviors that are about enhancing the authority of that organization. I personally think that it should be part of the compensation structure and that those who are stepping into a role as a thought leader should be publicly praised. In addition, those leaders that are nurturing thought leadership on their teams – and not just taking the spotlight – should be recognized, too. It takes constant reinforcement to build a great thought leadership culture, but it is worth it in more engaged employees, customers, investors and followers.
This is the second part of a two part blog. Visit the post Ready to Be a Thought Leader? An Interview with Author Denise Brosseau (Part One) to view the first part of this interview.
Denise Brosseau is the author of Ready to Be a Thought Leader? recently published by Wiley Press and the CEO of Thought Leadership Lab, a boutique professional services firm that specializes in building the visibility, credibility and thought leadership of executives and CEOs. In 2012, she was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House. She is also the co-founder of Springboard – the startup launch pad that has facilitated over $6B in funding for women entrepreneurs.
See Denise on ExpertFile: