By Davia Temin and Ian Anderson
Thought leadership – the purest form of content – is a valuable currency on social media. Done innovatively, strategically, and well, it can build brand loyalty for organizations and individuals, and help to attract new clients. Done poorly or carelessly, it can do the exact opposite, and turn off these same customers.
How does any thought leadership gain traction today? Social media’s increasing influence is now changing the entire game, compelling profound changes in content and sharing – affecting how, when, where, and why certain posts turn viral.
Over a year ago, LinkedIn announced its own thought leadership platform, INfluencers. Influential “thought leaders” were promoted to privileged status, and given a “follow” button and a personal blog on the site.
INfluencers is a clear effort to revive LinkedIn as a social platform, and the content INfluencers generate and share is at the heart of this effort.
Though INfluencers is unique to LinkedIn, this is neither the first nor the only place on social media where users can establish themselves as thought leaders.
Facebook’s Thought Leaders:
Facebook rolled out a “subscribe” button a long time ago that sat quietly in the top right section of a profile page. It has now turned into a “follow” button, and Facebook has even introduced “verified accounts” – taking a page from the Twitter playbook.
Most Facebook members didn’t think much of the “subscribe” option upon its release, but many bloggers have touted its potential (along with the introduction of the ticker feed, “promoted stories,” and now hashtags and trending topics) to make Facebook more like Twitter by improving reach and making it easy to follow and un-follow other users’ posts.
Since then, Facebook also rolled out its new Timeline, a “sharing” button, “lists” of friends, a different Timeline for brand pages and improved analytics, among other features.
Since these add-ons debuted, an interesting phenomenon has arisen: people have started to accrue followers in the hundreds of thousands.
These aren’t celebrities or athletes – though celebrities also possess massive followings on the website as well – they’re mostly bloggers, journalists, influencers (usually from the tech world for now), and a few owners and CEOs of important companies. Most of these people also possess “verified” accounts. In other words, the new features have attracted and created a medium for thought leadership, much like LinkedIn’s INfluencers.
By changing the way people connect to others, Facebook has created a new environment in which friends are not the only people who see these users’ content. The changes have opened up their feeds for people to follow, friend, comment on, and be influenced by.
There’s a clear opportunity that many are missing here: the changing policies of social media websites have made them more valuable, and have transformed the conversation on social media as we know it.
Content and Engagement Still Matter:
It remains true, though, that engagement and content are at a premium on social media.
With Facebook’s new functions, top influencers can put forth an interesting, human face for their company or their personal brand – which they can curate as they please. This will not only help them distinguish themselves from others, but distinguish their brand as well.
By simply opening up their Facebook for limited viewing and carefully selecting pictures, links, and other content to post publicly, major public figures like Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Nick Kristof, Arianna Huffington, MG Siegler, Jennifer Van Grove, Robert Michael Murray, Paul Tarjan, and Michael Arrington can give the average user an online window into their world and thoughts through Facebook with relatively low risk.
But do people really want that? According to the numbers, the answer appears to be a resounding “Yes.” Facebook users are now much more likely to “follow” people they don’t know, and news-gathering has become an integral part of the website’s culture. If you can get the content right – posting newsworthy, interesting information, with a touch of the personal – there is a lot to be gained.
Here are some ways to open the door to communication and begin to create your “voice” – while guarding your privacy – on Facebook:
- Use Facebook’s improved privacy features for Timeline, which allow you to block posts to your Timeline by non-friends or limit others’ ability to view friends’ posts on your wall. This limited viewing feature is also important for photos – don’t allow photo tags without your approval, but consider keeping profile pictures and cover photos open for viewing. This way you can maintain control, and make visible only the photos you want followers to see.
- Turn on the “approve” feature mentioned above that lets you approve or deny items’ (tagged with your name or image in them) visibility on your timeline. Doing this will allow you to dictate with whom you share content, and what you share with them.
- Utilize Facebook “lists” by sharing links or content with specific interest groups. For example, you could have a group of friends interested in corporate governance, with which you share articles and opinions on the subject.
- Hashtags on Facebook haven’t had the warmest reception. However, often trending topics will surround particular words (as on Twitter) so their usefulness cannot be fully discounted. Hashtags can help categorize posts and make sure they don’t get lost. They also help reach people who might not see posts otherwise. Even so, people are still warming up to the idea of this new feature, so use it sparingly.
Leveraging all of these features, one can use Facebook to re-post, like, and create interesting pieces of content for others to view, helping to create a unique “voice” and distinguish yourself from the pack.
For additional tips, here is a good guide to other, smaller tweaks that can clean up your Facebook Timeline, including high-resolution photo uploads, repositioning photos on your Timeline, and eliminating pesky posts by apps that automatically share what you read or what music you listen to.
But Proceed with Caution:
On the downside, Facebook is equally – if not more – treacherous than a website like Twitter simply because there are more types of content to share. And, there is a lot of “thought followership” masquerading as thought leadership. This is why our last article, “Don’t Confuse ‘Thought Leadership’ With ‘Branded Content’ or ‘Native Advertising’” is so important for those entering the social media world – you need to be able to recognize true thought leadership before you can create it.
Additonally, hashtags and graph search have made it easier to find individuals unaffiliated to you, and see what they share. If Anthony Weiner’s repuation was destroyed by one series of tweets, imagine the result if a full message thread, or worse, a “private album” full of inappropriate photographs would come to light.
Privacy settings are changing on social media at an alarming rate. And just because something can be made private today does not mean it will still be private tomorrow. So, even if one wishes to raise one’s visibility, executives, leaders, and influencers entering this sphere must be careful and intelligent about what they post – even if it is under the correct privacy settings.
Sharing and Interacting:
Remember that it is, always, about engagement. Share your best thought leadership content – articles, speeches, blog posts, etc. with your audience. Ask them questions, communicate with them, and engage them and other influencers in meaningful and thoughtful conversation, much like you might in a LinkedIn discussion.
It is important to humanize yourself as well.
No one wants to interact with you as a “brand” all the time. Providing peeks into your personal life – be it through reposting Instagram photos, revealing some of your music tastes, or publishing statuses that aren’t all-business – is imperative on Facebook. This is just part of the Facebook culture.
It is also important not to post too much. You don’t want followers to lose interest, or worse, find your incessant posts flooding their feed irritating. But, this limiting factor is also what makes Facebook a good place for thought-leadership content sharing – content must be high-quality to attract positive attention. (Although cute kittens still attract quite a draw.)
Finally, it’s important to remember that you are always a curator, not only a communicator. There is an awful lot of narcissism on social media – the medium not only allows it, sometimes it seems to demand it. Don’t risk annoying your subscribers with self-serving advertisements. Facebook is a social network first and foremost – and woe unto he or she who forgets this!
Why would executives, leaders, and brands join Facebook to become an influencer?
The conversation is going on all over cyberspace – and eventually, if you are not involved, your name and influence will become blunted. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are all ready for you to join the conversation.
Facebook is the largest of these websites, and though its influencer and subscription trend is still in the budding phases, Facebook’s network has the capacity to give you an influential reach that far exceeds Twitter or LinkedIn. In fact, many influencers actually have subscriber counts on Facebook that exceed their number of Twitter followers.
Reach and Engagement:
Facebook allows you the space for posts longer than 140 characters, mixes in Twitter-like sharing options, and ties content into a close-knit network of your friends and family. This network forms the basis of any successful Facebook network. Facebook also allows for more content flexibility – photos can become albums, links display nicely, and the network has made an effort to become more visual.
Facebook will also let you get in touch with other influencers. Find influencers with interests similar to yours. You can follow them, reach out to them, and even share ideas. It is often helpful to find these users on Twitter first, as those with influence there often carry similar levels of influence on Facebook.
There is a lot to gain from Facebook optimization, and the ability to curate your own feed has made Facebook an acceptable and dependable platform for thought leadership.
The Gains Outweigh the Risks:
Facebook has been known as the ‘immature’ social network. However, trends show that the network is aging. Facebook’s early adopters are growing up, and so is the website. Teens are flocking to Instagram, SnapChat, and Whatsapp. But it’s only a matter of time before Facebook continues to innovate in order to cater to its aging user base.
Done right, Facebook is a place where employers can leverage their employee’s personal brands, and vice versa. Through thought leadership and good practice, your brand can find its place in the social media world, and empower its employees and online constituents to interact with the voice it creates.
It’s also important to do this in a highly strategic manner. Do your research, and understand which kinds of content will work best at what time. Thought leadership, branded content, and your content marketing efforts should all be distinguishable in order to minimize risk and successfully navigate this new terrain while creating and distinguishing the “voice” you desire.
We will touch on this intersection of organizations’ and personal voices again in our next piece, Don’t #4: “Don’t Be Anonymous, Unless You’re Anonymous.” Here, we will examine the concept of online anonymity vs. the reality. We’ll explore the way that the façade of privacy and protection can lead to disaster – and suggest to organizations, leaders, influencers, and executives how they can mitigate these risks.
10 More Don’t of Corporate Social Media: