I spent last weekend at a college reunion with an endless array of incredibly talented people. A common theme in many of the wide-ranging conversations was, “What are you doing now?” However, the subtext was more along the lines of, “What do you intend to do now that you’ve reached the halfway point in your career?”
Much of the discussion was about constructing environments for a personal brand, extended consulting services, and what I would consider a “thought leadership” play.
Within my consulting practice, I establish thought leadership positions for many of my clients by creating content that delivers education about the product or service, creates a defined support structure, and promotes a passive emphasis on marketing messaging. Moreover, I focus on the core components of the proverbial thought leadership Venn diagram.
An equally important consideration is your channel selection when distributing the content.
Essential to establishing thought leadership for a personal or corporate brand, is creating an identity as the quintessential expert within your category. The only way to become the de facto expert is by regularly educating the audience about your vertical and the industry as a whole, and by forecasting the future of your category.
The best way to do this this by utilizing presentations on services such as SlideShare or Scribd, and distributing them through channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Remember, it’s not enough to construct content and bury it in one place. Once you construct its epicenter, you must branch out and distribute.
The Company You Keep
I don’t just write these articles to “sell the farm” of my own service set. I also do so in an effort to dispel misconceptions about what can be tactically right and wrong. That said, there are many things in the industry that we might do knowingly, even though we don’t advocate them as a best practice. One example is hijacking the brands of influencers and businesses around us in order to propel our own credibility.
Okay, Justice, you lost me.
So let’s break it down.
Imagine that I went to a conference and took a photo with Guy Kawasaki, and then liberally distributed it across my social graph, and supported that imagery with content implying my credibility. In that case, I get to hijack a little bit of Guy’s brand equity (see, we’re on a first-name basis). Create that multiplier by tenfold each and every time I go to a conference, do a speaking engagement, or even give a thumbs-up in a photo at a prestigious event, and it adds a notch in the bedpost — so to speak.
Other simple ways to do this at an event include:
- Checking in progressively
- Liking/following leaders and speakers, and then of course linking to them in your posts
- Dropping “pull quotes” – especially if it is done live, you get extra credibility
- Involving yourself in live Tweet chats or meet-ups
- Pictures, pictures, video, pictures
- Some folks such as @ProfessorJosh take their social prowess one step further by constructing illustrations from an event in real time
- Some overachievers even construct their own hosted video segments
From the Mouths of Babes
My last point is perhaps the most essential. I believe that when constructing a thought leadership/self branding position, you need to have a genuine opinion about the topics you intend to own. Just like how I opened the second portion of this article by “outing” what could be perceived as gray tactics. That also establishes my position as an influencer, because my content isn’t simply made up of re-packaged thoughts that can be found on any social media site.
The best part of this equation is that you don’t have to be right. Constructing an opinion is just that: your opinion. How you fortify that opinion is entirely up to you. Some people like to do any one of the following:
- Add additional charts and metrics to support conclusions. Sheeple love numbers and never seek to research your findings for credibility
- Reference additional white papers, newsletters, and presentations online
- Cite publications, authors, and related forums
- Use history to prove that repetition can be found within a particular directive
- Construct visuals to prove or disprove the particular position
- “Reverse engineer” a topical conclusion and then support or disprove
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston Churchill
I find it incredibly interesting when a client tells me they lack engagement within their social media channels. Upon reading their content, I can see that their aversion to risk is set so low, and their content so safe and sugar sweet, there’s really no reason to have a discussion about it.
I’m certainly not saying you need to be argumentative, combative or abrasive – simply that you need to give your audience something to bite into so they can engage. Do that, and then do yourself a great service by trying to anticipate any witty retort that may come your way. Because make no mistake – they will be coming your way.