When it comes to thought leadership, expert knowledge in a certain area plays an important role. But how important is the person behind the knowledge?
Thought leadership requires knowing what you’re talking about. Readers will quickly notice whether what the author is writing is just a bunch of hot air. People often assume social media can hide true identity, but as a personal brand and thought leader in business networks, you have to face numerous followers, including other experts. Constructive criticism and conflicting opinions on articles are common, but you should be able to focus on your topics and reflect on them. Broad background knowledge is required, but can vary from topic to topic. For example, one can position oneself as a LinkedIn and Xing thought leader without being an expert on Twitter. It does make sense, however, to have a good overview of social media as a whole, to understand it, and to be able to impress people with in-depth knowledge in one’s area of focus.
Do you have to be a well-known expert in a specific field or a successful CEO in a well-known company to be seen as a thought leader?
Not at all. All experts and even CEOs started out small. Via social networks, even initially unknown thought leaders have the opportunity to position themselves with their topics. A good example of this is Céline Flores Willers, Top Voice 2018, who has gradually developed into a successful personal brand with her own great interview and video style on LinkedIn and is now enjoying popularity among a large audience. You need luck, too, of course. Networkers like Prof. Harald Eichsteller or Dr. Winfried Felser can help relatively new thought leaders reach a broader audience. It helps to have a well-maintained network, and in this respect well-known experts and C-level managers usually have a head start in terms of time and volume.
Leadership is to a large extent communication and this also includes using social media. How can social media support leadership measures in a meaningful way?
This is a platform decision. A content hub is needed to publish longer articles and ideas. This can be one’s own WordPress blog or even a business network like LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides an excellent initial opportunity for beginners, because most of them already have contacts here and the LinkedIn Pulse articles offer a good alternative to your own blog. Once the content hub has been chosen, it is time to share your ideas and articles across all social media to increase your reach and impress followers with your opinions. Ultimately, social media activities are a must these days, because it is very difficult to reach your audience offline. Each channel has to be chosen carefully, however, because they differ widely for the thought leader with regard to user relations and behavior.
To what extent is it important to engage in dialog and, above all, how should it be conducted and who are the dialog partners?
One has to engage with one’s followers, and dialog about one’s own opinion often provides the first occasion to do so. In business networks, one often meets dialog partners at eye level and rarely has to deal with Internet trolls. The dialog partners are all those who are interested in the subject and want to discuss developments and topics in the respective industry. It does not matter whether these are C-level readers or simple employees. Thought leaders should pay attention to each follower and discuss all arguments or deal with them critically.
My most successful articles on LinkedIn were those that were based on a discussion, those that constructively explored different opinions, and those in which I could defend my own opinion in a multifaceted way. Paying attention to every single one of your followers shows your appreciation and paves the way to successful dialog.
The content of well-known executives is often created and published in the company’s PR department. Is this the right way to do it in light of the credibility issues digital media is currently having?
Definitely not. We all know that executives often lack time, so I fully understand the idea behind the PR department preparing the content. However, the PR department cannot play the most important part, which consists of the person’s own experiences and opinion. This has to come from the executives themselves. I strongly advise against publishing generic articles. People are interested in opinions and experience. In my own experience, PR articles that are too obvious are quickly scrolled past.
Which channels are suitable, for example, to motivate, inspire and lead your own employees?
You have to choose the channel very carefully to connect with your employees. For internal company insight, it is best to use the Intranet or enter into personal dialog. A text intended for the public is seldom tailored well enough to employees, because it is usually aimed at informing multiple stakeholders including potential new employees. The mood among employees is usually a little more critical and therefore managers can only manage to address both external and internal employees unerringly in exceptional cases. I also find channels like Facebook too private for such purposes and therefore recommend the Intranet or short live sessions/townhall meetings including a presentation followed by a question and answer session. The aim here is to keep the audience small and create a feel-good atmosphere, in which employees feel valued.
Especially in times, in which information and communication technologies are developing more and more rapidly, the human-emotional component can quickly be neglected. Do you see this as a risk in digital leadership?
No, because digital leadership is just one component of today’s leadership culture. Digital leadership cannot function without genuine leadership qualities within the company. For me, digital leadership is the opportunity to enter into dialog with external parties, the competition and new ideas, and to broaden one’s horizons. The human-emotional component in the digital world is represented by one’s own opinion. A text in digital media can be quite emotional and a lot can be conveyed using images and videos, especially in today’s world. I am convinced that digital leadership is impossible without humanity, because there are thousands of opinions on a single topic and only one of them is your own. Hence my recommendation: don’t hesitate to present your own opinion to the world and become a thought leader on your own subject. You will be surprised how many like-minded people you meet and how much you will learn from the experience.