There are lots of people who claim to be thought leaders in their B2B industry segments. Some of them even are thought leaders. Whether their outlet has been traditional trade media, a blog or even speaking engagements, it takes work to reach the status of a thought leader. It takes years of actually thinking about issues surrounding your industry, writing about those issues, talking to people about them, learning what others think of your ideas. One cannot claim thought leadership. It is bestowed upon someone by others.
So having laid out the parameters of thought leadership, how is it possible to get a head start and speed up the process using social media monitoring? There is no way to avoid the hard work of thinking, writing, speaking and listening, but social media monitoring can let you set up channels of influencers and understand what the issues in your industry are. While you can certainly set up RSS feeds of blogs, searches and alerts in a tool like Google Reader, it is much harder to discover trends across the results manually. A monitoring dashboard can reveal information within all those sources that may not have been visible when viewed separately.
Before we go any further, I will assume that you have been in the industry for at least three to five years and that you are in a position where you have a reasonable network within that industry. It is also assumed that you have the ability to use the information you find in new and thoughtful ways and can clearly communicate that to others.
Even though you should have a pretty good sense of what you should be thinking about, start by searching for the following people and organizations in your industry:
- acknowledged thought leaders
- leading bloggers
- trade publications, including their writers and editors
- trade associations
- trade show management groups
- analysts (if appropriate for your industry)
Now that you have identified reliable sources in your industry, and are using a monitoring platform to make some sense of the data, you need to do something with this on your way to thought leadership. But first you have to identify some goals around this. The process needs to be tied to your business objectives, even though it could be a very long term prospect. It is unlikely that you can truly establish a company as thought leader, so you will have to focus on a person, and in this example it is you. However, with the proper dashboard setup, the information can be passed along to anyone in your organization who is thinking about the industry trends and ideas, and providing their thoughts on how things fit together, where the industry is going and what high-level issues should draw a company’s focus.
Your company promotes the existence of the thought leader as a way to build awareness of the company at trade events and other speaking engagements. It can also drive traffic to the thought leader’s content, by sharing their ideas with the industry. Thought leaders can also help close new business because they may be a recognized name in the industry, but be careful about holding up your first team of experts if they will not be working with a client or customer. Companies like to say they are working with industry experts, but they are more interested in actually working with them and getting the benefit of their high level thinking.
The most obvious use of the industry information is to create a blog where you, or your thought leader, publishes at least weekly. But you can also use this information to create white papers, email newsletters, trend stories, case studies and shareable presentations. A thought leader speaks from a platform of education and helping people, and the content needs to reflect the right tone for people to follow it and find it useful. Once you start creating this content, and have an understanding of what sources are the most helpful, go back to your monitoring dashboard and refine your influx of information. Adjust the sources you are following if some don’t really provide enough value, but also add more general industry topics, things associated with these sources, to discover additional sources to be included.
A social media monitoring platform will not make you a thought leader, but it will give you new insight into your industry from online sources. Having this insight is the first step, and every journey begins with one step.