Thought Leadership and Social Media

A Guest Post from Craig Badings.

The traditional levers which we have pulled as marketers, advertisers or PR practitioners to sell products and services or change behaviours, advocate causes or build brands have changed. Brands are facing significant challenges in engaging with their consumers more effectively. Word-of-mouth is by far the most powerful form of marketing a company can access and its greatest ally is the internet.

Brands today need either to be part of or to create their own conversations online. It is becoming just as important as driving media coverage. Why? Because the internet has accelerated and amplified public opinion – rumours and, worse still, crises start and spread online.

Moreover, while newspapers, magazines, TV and radio are here today and gone tomorrow, online coverage can potentially remain accessible for a long time.

Online is the domain of new, powerful content created by consumers for consumers. It is competing for our attention and trust against traditional media sources, and in many cases it is winning.

Depending on your target audience, it is my belief that a thought leadership campaign should be doing everything it can to maximise the use of the online world. If you want to make your thought leadership campaign successful you should be making your point of view easily accessible to your audiences – to do so you should be sharing it online. This could be via a blog, your website, pod cast, social networking sites, twitter, vlogs – you name it! There are so many options and there are more proliferating every year.

The objective is to inject your brand’s/company’s personality into the debate and to give a human face to your company’s point of view. It is the place where you can engage with your online audience – a forum where you can ask questions, your audience can ask you questions and you can have discussions with other interested parties.

If the web is appropriate for your thought leadership campaign, I only say this because some thought leadership campaigns are specifically targeted at a particular audience and delivered directly to them via other methods such as roundtables or one-on-one meetings, your aim should be to supercharge your thought leadership content online. Ultimately your objective should be to engage the company with relevant online communities and help facilitate conversations in the digital world.

Any online thought leadership campaign should deliver four key things:

  1. Knowledge about what is being said about your brand/company in the digital space and the ability to track it and take part in it.
  2. Productive engagement with customers, stakeholders and influencers in the digital space.
  3. Optimised content, in order to attract the search engines and increase your ranking.
  4. Measurement of your digital influence campaign’s return on investment.

But there are a few key things you need to consider before embarking on an online thought leadership campaign:

  • Senior management buy-in is critical. They need to understand the importance of the task. This point cannot be over emphasized
  • Engagement online is done in a collaborative community: it is about marketing with rather than marketing to an audience.
  • Commitment – there has to be a commitment to communicating on an ongoing basis.
  • Honesty and integrity are key. Untruths, half truths and misrepresentations are cruelly exposed online and can be damaging to your brand.

Consumers are changing how they research and buy products – they form their own opinions and share them online. Technology has afforded customers the ability to tune out of the cluttered traditional media space and find their own answers online, basing their decisions on what they see as authentic insights and answers from other people like them – people who do not have a hidden agenda; people who share their views on brands with anyone who wants to listen.

This is the world of Web 2.0, and while marketers are compelled to pay attention, a lot of companies are taking a long time to adapt.

The change is profound and it is clear that most marketers and, as a result, their brands are struggling.

For those grappling to come to terms with the role social media should play in a brand’s communication strategy and even for those who have jumped right in, I highly recommend David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing and PR

Craig Badings is the author of Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership you can view his blog at www.thoughtleadershipstrategy.net