How to Create a Social Thought Leadership Presence for the C-Suite
The knowledge, experience, and guidance that a successful CEO can share is completely invaluable. As well as promoting their own skills and achievements, CEOs willing to put themselves forward as “thought leaders” on social media can raise awareness for their company, attract new business leads, and create a community of inspired fans who hang on to their every word.
— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) December 9, 2016
The hard part is making this holy grail of social media presence a reality. Encouraging a CEO who has natural credibility on paper and in a meeting room to embrace being a thought leader on their online personal channels is easier said than done – and those who are willing are pure gold.
Convincing Is Hard, Reward Is Big
It’s a big ask on top of all of the day-to-day requirements of running a business to expect a CEO to take part in a Twitter conversation on a company profile, or spare half an hour out to blog about a particular business challenge they’ve faced this year, or even just to spend some time updating their LinkedIn profile.
But if they can be sold on the benefits of social media as a crucial marketing activity, the individual becomes the heavy artillery in a firm’s marketing arsenal, and the rewards are bountiful.
Gripes, Responses, and Ghostwriters
One gripe we often hear when first suggesting the premise of a CEO building a thought leadership profile is “I just don’t have the time.”
But, the fact is, these high-profile individuals don’t have to write ALL the content – they just have to influence the direction and sign off on the end results.
At Tank, we work with many senior business leaders who want to have a presence on LinkedIn (step one, at least, they understand), but lack the time and know-how to make it happen. For us, the physical “doing” of creating a social media presence is much stronger if a CEO is happy and willing to articulate their vision or perspective on an issue. Someone else (like us!) can put “pen to paper” and push it out to the wider world.
Social Media Training and the Personal Touch
Another obstacle to becoming a thought leader on social media is confidence. You’d be amazed how many CEOs embrace Twitter once they know the ins and outs of using the platform. Providing social media training to boost their confidence is a big help, and suggesting they add a little personality to their social media feeds means it becomes more than just a corporate account, and a CEO is more likely to “own” it.
This personal element to a C-suite social feed is crucial. After all, we all like a peek behind the curtain every now and again, and the ability to understand the ethics and workings of a business from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, is a great way to build a sense of trust and respect in potential customers.
The Power of the LinkedIn Profile
Occasionally, you’ll come across a CEO who doesn’t even invest in the bare minimum, which, on LinkedIn, is a complete, “All Star” profile. This is important for a whole host of reasons.
First, if you’re looking for someone on LinkedIn, the platform’s search algorithm displays results in order of completion, and then in order of “degrees of separation” from Connections.
As such, if a CEO doesn’t have an All Star profile, it won’t matter how many people you have in common – you’ll be less likely to see them. In this regard, it isn’t just about “who you know.”
The second benefit of having a completed profile is the first impression it gives off when someone finds that individual on LinkedIn. Prospective connections might be someone from the media, a future customer, or another C-suite business associate, but if they are turned off by a poorly completed profile, the opportunity to connect and profit from that relationship may be missed. Having a full profile isn’t the be-all and end-all, though; a head honcho needs to appear as though he or she actually uses the platform, rather than just being present there.
Google a CEO’s name, and their LinkedIn should be the #1 result. Google loves LinkedIn when it comes to PageRank, and LinkedIn ranks higher than any other social network or website. Because of this – in addition to a complete profile meaning that an individual is more likely to appear in search results actually on LinkedIn – it has a knock on impact on Google searches too, even ranking higher than a Wikipedia entry.
If a CEO is somehow found on Google but their profile isn’t complete, that’s asking for trouble, too. A social media platform such as LinkedIn is a sure-fire way to control a reputation and message behind a high-profile business leader.
So, once a CEO is convinced of the benefits of having an All Star profile, it’s time to fill it in. Don’t feel obliged to stuff an individual’s profile with key words for SEO value. It might have an impact on search ranking for those terms, but when an individual finds that profile page, it just looks a bit spammy. It’s far better to come across as a genuine and credible company representative by effectively telling a story, and not playing the system. An engaging LinkedIn summary lets a CEO put their best foot forward and offers sincerity (which is what we’re trying to achieve). Even the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerburg do this.
Increasing Visibility on LinkedIn
There are some great organic ways to improve visibility for a company leader on LinkedIn, and hence building that profile of a respected, knowledgeable thought leader. Joining Groups, engaging in Discussions, endorsing and recommending deserved Connections, answering questions, and entering into debate are all helpful to the LinkedIn community. These actions position a CEO as accessible, approachable, and part of the conversation.
Creating original content as LinkedIn published posts is also incredibly successful. We do this a lot for our clients (but if I told you who for, I’d have to kill you), and also share daily relevant content from other thought leaders.
Curating a thought leader’s reputation is a long game. However, by working closely with CEOs and other C-Suite individuals to make social media easily understood, acknowledged as an influential marketing tool, and worth the time spent to build up a strong online presence – all this is the first step in establishing a robust, respected, and profitable thought leadership profile to create new connections and attract new customers.
If you’re looking for examples of CEOs who stand out, I follow a few who are good value. Try Virgin’s Sir Richard and Elon Musk (founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX). Take a look at Paul Polman from Unilever, founder and BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, Marissa Mayer from Yahoo, Jon Oringer from Shutterstock, and Jacqueline Gold CBE (Chief Exec. of Gold Group, Ann Summers and Knickerbox).
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Nik Hewitt is digital strategist at Tank. Throughout his career, he has developed creative strategy to achieve the digital marketing aims of clients including AT&T, PRNewswire and Speedo.