A couple of things that most of us wouldn’t normally pay attention to are social listening and thought leadership. In this blog we take a look at how these two constructs are connected, and why that connection could be important to organisations and to us as a community.
Social listening is the process of tracking conversations around specific phrases, words or brands, and then leveraging them to discover opportunities or create content for online audiences. Let’s be clear, that online audience is you and me - anyone who is concerned or interested enough to be reading this, and more importantly contributing content for this site.
We need to further define our roles, because unless you choose to watch and listen passively you are not an audience, you are a community empowered with a voice. We would really love to see our members participating, because we are a platform designed to take its cues from the ground up, which means that you have the power to drive the content.
By now organisations and businesses know that social media isn’t just a broadcast platform, they understand that social listening can give them a sense of what their target audience likes and dislikes. In turn this can help ensure that they don’t miss out on opportunities to help existing customers and gain new ones. They can also discover ways to delight customers and collect valuable feedback. Businesses might also want to track the feedback of their competitors, because if the competition lacks awareness of social listening, that could provide new-customer insights for everyone else.
Businesses that aren’t paying attention could be missing a huge group of people that are talking about them, their brand or their product. Listening actively means picking up on patterns, tracking sentiments and drawing conclusions based on where and when conversations happen. The objective is to have more conversations happening with you than about you, to identify not only your influence, but who out there are going to influence on your behalf.
Listening to what your customers are saying and what they may feel they need from you, or even contribute to your organisation, may not be high up on your list, but marketing to an audience of influencers is similar to powerful word of mouth marketing.
Two key reasons why influencers are important to your social media strategy:
- 74% of consumers rely on social media to inform their purchasing decisions
- 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations, while only 33% trust ads
Simply Measured 2014
Influence typically stems from an individual's expertise, popularity, or reputation. Bloggers have become important influencers because they are seen as authentic and have loyal followings. When a blogger talks up a product or service it comes across as being more credible than traditional advertising. By appealing to influencers, organisations can avoid much of the resistance to the bias that is inherent in straight forward marketing messages.
With that much value placed on the opinion of another individual, it’s in your best interest to have influencers and taste-makers in your corner. Engagement is the key to strengthen those relationships; however it is essential to understand that while it is entirely possible for influence to be coerced, what we are talking about here is support from loyal influencers that is authentic. When businesses can encourage people to talk about and recommend them online, they can gain a unique advantage over their competition.
At its core, thought leadership is where you tap into the talent, experience and passion inside your schools and businesses or from your communities, to answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic. The source is not as important as the content. Thought leadership doesn’t mean a big name from a big organisation, it means you provide the best and deepest answers to your customers’ authentic questions in the ways they like to consume them.
What is a thought leader?
Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success. They create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale those ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an entire ecosystem.
They are changing the world in meaningful ways and engage others to join their efforts. They create evolutionary and even revolutionary advancements in their fields not just by urging others to be open to new ways of thinking, but when they create a blueprint for people to follow – they provide a method, process, guidelines or a set of best practices.
There is power in change because we are always compensated for what we do. If we consider cause-and-effect in terms of events, then strictly speaking, no one event creates another event, but is merely a preceding link in the great chain of events. The problem in most people’s lives is that they are not on the cause side of the cause-and-effect equation. Most people are on the effect side of the equation.
Can anyone be a thought leader?
Thought leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and from any background or community. Thought leaders are people who believe they can make a difference, and that’s not just anyone. It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new.
Becoming a thought leader is much easier if you have already built a great product, service, program, initiative or company because you will then have a natural community and something to talk about. Thought leaders can become rainmakers and attract visibility and standing with the people who matter - customers for their products and followers for their blog.
Thought leadership leads to exposure for your ideas both inside and outside your company. Done well, it will give you access to people who can help you make things happen - leaders in your organisation, your profession or industry. For some, thought leadership can answer the deeper question - “What is the meaning in my work, in what I do and in what I believe?”
Risks to being a thought leader
Thought leaders are real people with real faces talking to real communities, so yes, there will be some risks. You will be in the spotlight, which means you can expect some knock backs. Becoming a thought leader involves an inner dialogue - one that often requires some soul searching and the willingness to step up and share your passion.
Learning and referencing online is the new ‘normal,’ but in a crowded space you are going to have to differentiate yourself to get noticed. The idea here is to start showcasing your best practice and start publishing valuable content. As you build your authority this way, you’ll gain a reputation for being innovative, and customers will start recognising you or your brand as one that truly stands out.
The only downside to this approach is that it takes a while to build this momentum; you can’t just flip on a switch and expect to be taken seriously as a thought leader. But once you are established as an active participant in social media discussions, the community will start watching out for you. For instance, more people will start tagging you in their recommendations or conversations instead of just simply mentioning you.