How to Apply Thought Leadership to Social Media

Social media is all the rage and rapidly evolving in both technology and techniques. Interestingly, what it demands—whether communicating a product, service or political cause—is listening and offering constructive ideas valuable to a particular network’s participants.

Guess what? This is precisely the same attitude and behavior that’s been applied for decades by people who have been gaining awareness and credibility in the offline world. Social media participants with a business objective or strategy in mind would do well applying what’s been long known and well used before Twitter and Facebook: thought leadership.

As social media experts consistently advocate, if you’re going to tweet or blog effectively as a brand, you need to come to the social media environment after having listened well and offer information people can truly use. Helping totally trumps promoting. This is why social media participation begs for a thought leadership perspective. Why? Would-be marketers in the social media scene must refrain from direct product promotion. They’ll certainly burn any acceptance they may have achieved. When participating they can help their brand or cause by demonstrating expertise and providing information value to existing and prospective customers online.


An effective social media effort isn’t so different from speaking at industry forums or professional gatherings. When invited to these traditional, face-to-face events, blatant promotion is obviously unacceptable. A brand or reputation benefits specifically from educating the audience and bringing informative, valued content. This is—and has long been—the essence of thought leadership: demonstrating awareness of what’s occurring in your industry or market segment and communicating about what you know and feel people will benefit from. This is done without any expectation of demand generation or product sales. You’re participating in the conversation and are truly focused on adding value as an expert.

In turn, a social media campaign can be another facet of a thought leadership program. There are many techniques for applying thought leadership when communicating socially with your market. Blogging, tweeting or posting to LinkedIn interest groups are obvious. In the traditional media realm, contributing articles or speaking opportunities are typical tactics. At its core, your output is about advocating new, inspiring—or at least thought-provoking—ideas.


What’s essential to adopting a thought leadership strategy online or offline is an attitude and a policy that there’s much more to talk about than just the product or service that’s driving revenue. As should be well understood, merely blogging or tweeting about your product (or yourself) will generally get you nowhere or, worse, turn off the people with whom you desire to connect.

When incorporating thought leadership into your social media efforts, consider the following tactics:

• Go beyond the company bio and product sheets. Share information about things other than just your company.

• Create relationships by reaching out to co-marketers, allies and perhaps even competitors.

• Know your customer base or the social network attitudes in your industry.

• Develop ideas into articles and speeches. A speech can be a potentially good article or a blog post and vice versa. (This article started life as a presentation.)

• Listen to the market and connect with trends by following your trade media and relevant social networking conversations. This provides a constant stream of ideas and thoughts to feed your program.

• Write a book. This still creates instant perceptions of domain expertise. Perhaps after you’ve created a series of blogs, articles and speeches, the material can become chapters of a book. Collaboration with an allied expert may be another way of creating critical mass for this tactic. Publishing has become much easier and faster—consider the e-book option.


Social media strategies that support organizational or business communications programs can readily employ thought leadership tactics used for decades. Engaging in and embracing open public discussions in your market is at the core. You’re having a conversation, not preaching.

Before opening the door to new media, read what’s going on in your blogosphere for a few months. Then, if it works for you, dive in and begin applying well-proven thought leadership strategies and approaches to social media engagement. PRN


This article was written by Ford Kanzler, managing partner of Marketing/PR Savvy in El Granada, Calif. He can be reached at

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  • jean kirshenbaum

    This is terrific insight and advice, especially for someone who has been out of the formal corporate communications environment and working as a consultant. Thanks for covering this topic