There is plenty of information online about using social media for thought leadership. The returns and values have been well-calculated and, in some cases, well-articulated. One great example is our friends over at Bloom Group, who are the thought leaders for thought leadership.
Few seasoned marketing professionals would argue that online thought leadership is a waste of time or money. Most would say it's an imperative. But while the "Must dos!" on this topic are whizzing past, the instructions on "How?" seem to have been left behind. To help with the how, I work with thought leaders within enterprises via a social media immersion program. The program's goal is to help marketing and other thought leadership executives make the shift away from traditional to online and social thought leadership - cuz it ain't easy! It means rethinking the "how."
Here's a personal story about rethinking "how." I was at a holiday party when the wife of my colleague gushed about how I must go on this amazing European tour with her and a few other people...for 3 weeks. I smiled politely -- it did sound lovely -- all the while my thoughts screamed "How in the world can I do that? I have responsibilities, staff, mouths to feed and a thousand things that must be done!" The activity seemed frivolous, and the list went on and on about why I couldn't participate. But as it turned out, conversation and comradeship on that trip gave birth to a new company, one that succeeded and where I would have wanted to work. In fact, I could have figured a way to make the trip work if only I had put my mind to rethinking the "how I can" instead of the "why I cannot."
So it is with developing a thought leadership platform using social media channels. It is both temptingly exotic and long, scary step away from the status quo. The toughest part about thought leadership online is inverting the behaviors used for thought leadership off-line. Consider these old school vs. new school comparisons:
Old school: A thought leader dominates that stage and takes questions after - if time permits
New school: A thought leader engages online with other people's ideas from the start
Old school: Ideas become seasoned through the publishing process, massaged by many people and presented in edited form
New school: You can have a choice on timing. Either you are instant, blogging-tweeting-updating and -- please! -- remember to spell-check, or you work it over a bit and release it in a timely way
Old school: Your detractors are hanging out at the bar after the presentation, but you have no chance to talk to them about what worked and what didn't
New school: Instant feedback -- positive and negative -- plus new ideas, alternative approaches and support are all available online for you to use
This is just a sample of the differences, but they illustrate how a modern thought leader cannot apply his previous knowledge and experience with traditional thought leadership to this new social world and expect it to work the same way. Indeed, it's likely to backfire badly. To succeed as a thought leader online today, I believe you must be accessible, open, collaborative and patient. This means:
- Show Up Online: The old saying "Fifty percent is just showing up" should be raised to ninety percent in the online world. If you aren't visible online, you are not accessible, and being inaccessible will thwart the best social media intentions.
- Support Knowledge Exchange With Others: Once you share your ideas online, encourage healthy discussion and knowledge exchange about them. Use your social tools to invite discussion, broadcast your openness to engaging with and rewarding people who interact with you.
- Enable Access To Tools And Resources: As a thought leader, you are very knowledgeable about your subject matter. Share openly and help others to gain insight too. Collaboration does not devalue your years of expertise but rather, broadens your influence by helping others become better at what you all are doing. This also builds personal ties and make valuable contributions to your profession.
- Wait For It: Real thought leadership needs time to take hold, for followers to arrive and build support. Sustaining the initiative takes patience and perseverance, but good ideas always find their audience and grow from there.