Thought leadership in a digital world

So here’s the thing: I talk to tons of people every day. Some want to chat about community strategy; others want my grandmother’s recipe for strawberry mess. (It’s yummy) Community and cooking are equal passions of mine so people ask me about both…a lot. In either case, I never stop to consider: am I answering this question as a business professional or as a consumer. I just draw on the appropriate expertise and give my best advice and counsel. If I was having these conversations in a community, I’d gravitate towards places that congregate around community best practices or haul my virtual self to a foodie hot spot. Again, I’m the same person in either place. The only thing that changes is the topic and location.

So, I’m confused when I hear folks in the b-to-b world proclaim that social marketing doesn’t “work” in their industry, marketplace or environment. Huh? People don’t stop having conversations, seeking and making recommendations and taking the advice of known subject matter experts because they are in a b-to-b “place”. As a matter of fact, isn’t this the very essence of thought leadership, the core of b-to-b marketing? Business-to-business is not just selling auto parts to government motors. We live in a service economy where businesses sell high value services to other businesses. These businesses differentiate themselves through their human and intellectual capital and their collective thought leadership. The old-school thought leadership model was a three legged stool: conferences, publishing in third party journals and research/white papers.

Several factors have impacted this model: shrinking news holes, time starved people who can not ‘commit’ to the dense white paper you just published, dwindling conference attendance and younger decision makers who prefer newer, more social channels. This diagram shows how the thought leadership approach is changing.

Thought Leadership

Lead generation has always been and always will be a social activity. Think back to the old user groups in the tech industry that morphed into online forums and now are full blown online collaboration networks. Social media competence is a must for today’s thought leader. When was the last time you were at a conference that did not give out the conference twitter address or where the real action happened through tweet-ups? GE recently sought internal social media users to serve as mentors to others in the company. They teach each other how to set up a Linkedin account, upload video and comment on blog posts. The goal is to get people comfortable with social tools.

Today thought leaders need to think like a publisher. Content needs to be both smart and approachable. The voice should not be stiff, formal or corporate. Those days are gone. Remember, people are people whether they are reading an eBook or a recipe. Channels are a mix of traditional and new; some are even self-created. Smart b-to-b marketers have their own YouTube channel, LinkedIn groups, and Slideshare accounts. Content spreads virally through content syndication and aggregation. Giving customers and prospects tools to make this easy is a great way to deepen a relationship. Your people need to learn how to tag and re-tag content as well as create link juice. Many organizations have already figured out blogging, podcasts and webcasts, but have not figured out how to syndicate their content or grow their audience.

If done right, communities can be an ongoing research engine for thought leadership. You can use them to recruit people for surveys, gain invaluable insights and feedback that can be packaged for syndication across a variety of channels. You can use blogs and tweets for trend spotting. Many industry analysts signal what they’re working on through Twitter; ditto for reporters, trade groups, government bodies and academics. You can learn a lot about emerging trends and package your intellectual capital to leverage promising platforms.

This barely scratches the surface of how b-to-b enterprises can embrace social marketing and freshen their approach to thought leadership. If you’re interested, I have a deck on Slideshare that explores this a little more. Or, maybe you just want that recipe for strawberry mess. Here you go:

Strawberry Mess

1 pint whipping cream

1 quart fresh strawberries

2 TBS. sugar

½ cup mini marshmallows

½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Remove green stems from strawberries and slice thinly. Add the 2 TBS sugar and ½ cup lemon juice. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Whip cream until stiff (Don’t do too long or it’ll turn into butter!) Fold in the strawberry mixture and the marshmallows.

Fold into a freezer-safe container. My grandmother always used the metal tray of her ice cube trays, minus the metal cube divider. But, you can use a bread pan or a smallish plastic storage container.

Freeze until solid. Take out of freezer at least 3 hours before serving. Scoop out like ice cream and go, “yum”.

Tags: thought leadership, strategy, ComBlu, social marketing, social media strategy, business-to-business marketing,

Kathy Baughman
Kathy Baughman

Kathy Baughman is president and co-founder of ComBlu, a firm specializing in content strategy, community building and thought leadership programs. Kathy’s forte is content and community strategy, and influencer marketing programs. Her passions include bringing a fresh point of view to everything she does and helping organizations take their programs to the next level. Kathy is a frequent speaker at industry conferences. She has authored several ebooks including “Content Supply Chain” and “The Alchemy of Content”. She also co-authors the firm’s research report, “The State of Online Branded Communities”. Kathy can be reached at kbaughman@comblu.com.

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