Potential customers read articles and blogs, watch online videos, and check out social media posts to help them decide whether they want to do business with your company. Because they typically are more than halfway through the purchase decision before contacting your company, you have to find ways to reach out to them earlier in the process. The best way to do this is by turning to your employees.
IBM is one business that is using this strategy. The company understands that its potential customers are spending almost four hours a day on social media, so it’s developing its employees as thought leaders. IBM employees run at least 45 different blogs, hold online training sessions, and help maintain massive social media followings.
Your employees might be some of your best untapped resources. You can empower them to become respected thought leaders in your industry and build ties with your customer base simply by being themselves. In turn, customers will appreciate the authentic voices and feel closer to your brand.
Thought Leadership Is a Marketer’s Secret Weapon
Savvy brands know that thought leadership is the key to establishing relationships with customers and delivering value throughout the buying journey.
By answering customer questions and sharing educational content that supports your brand’s marketing and awareness goals, employees can be the human face of your organization and build connections with prospects.
Developing thought leadership from within can help you do three things:
- Differentiate your brand: Putting a human face on your company goes a long way toward differentiating your brand in a crowded marketplace. For example, a study of social media and the travel industry revealed that 92 percent of consumers said they trusted earned media above all other forms of publicity.
And the credibility that comes with original content created by thought leaders can have a direct impact on the bottom line. In one survey, 56% of B2B marketers noted increased sales as a direct result of content marketing.
- Retain top talent: Working with employees in this way is mutually beneficial. While you get to engage your audience with authentic content, your employees get a sense of value from being entrusted with this responsibility. Your employees will see their thought leadership as a long-term investment in their personal brand, and they’ll be less likely to look for work elsewhere.
- Create a culture of collaboration: By supporting thought leadership, your company demonstrates that it’s open to new ideas and collaboration. This positive attitude can spread to every aspect of your organization. The result is increased productivity, a stronger sense of teamwork, and a culture of empowerment.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, has recently put a major focus on thought leadership. The company’s blogger program encourages team members with strong voices to contribute content, and this allows employees at all levels to get involved in solving customer problems.
How to Develop Your Thought Leaders
To start developing thought leaders, look for employees who are passionate about their work and vocal and opinionated on social media. Many of those employees likely have an attentive audience already.
Once you’ve identified these key individuals, you need to provide training and guidance on thought leadership best practices. Give your employees strong content, and make it easy for them to share it with their audiences. Finally, be sure to reward early adopters and active participants.
Although employee thought leaders come from within a company, potential customers trust them much more than traditional advertising or PR efforts. Rather than waiting for customers to come to you, start nurturing thought leaders within your company to bond with your audience, differentiate your brand, and increase employee loyalty and collaboration.