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Thought Leadership and Communicating Your Personal Brand: Six Steps to Success

Expertise, experience and personality are all key parts of what makes thought leadership compelling. Reflecting the authenticity of your own personal voice makes for engaging content, and with that comes building trust and a relationship with your audience. From a business perspective, it is this trust that can make all the difference in winning and keeping clients.

iResearch Services’ Editor in Chief Rachael Kinsella spoke with financial services platform Octo about her experiences of creating quality thought leadership campaigns and content – and how personal branding plays a key role from day one.

She shared her thoughts and practical tips on how to get started with a personal branding strategy that really resonates with your target audience, and six key areas to consider in building your own profile and content strategy online.

1. Be yourself

Trying to define authenticity conjures up different answers for different people – and keeping sight of these human differences is important when building up a personal brand. Personality and being personable with our clients and colleagues is going to look different for everyone – so don’t lose that sense of who you are and how you communicate in your branding.

“It might be that you want to have a very informal tone, or it might be that you’re more comfortable with a more formal approach – both can still be professional,” Rachael said.  

She continued: “Your clients will have an understanding of you already, and you don’t want to deviate from that. But if you’re feeling like you’d like to lend a little more of your true self, then there are steps you can take.”

Weaving topics that you are passionate about into conversation and what you write about is a good way to get started with showing who you are.

Rachael also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic taught us that glimpses of everyday life, whether it’s pets intruding on Zoom calls, or kids being unintentionally hilarious, can be a welcome relief.

She said: “We’ve all seen that over the last few years! People appreciate that, and it fosters a connection that you wouldn’t automatically have in the office environment and the ways we used to typically conduct business. It’s become more valued by clients.”

2. Pick your platforms

Social media is vital in designing any marketing or branding campaign these days. But picking the right medium for more personal thought leadership efforts can be tricky.

While LinkedIn continues to be a popular choice for professionally minded connections, the more “social” of the social media channels might seem a bit daunting for businesspeople.

Rachael said: “Traditionally Twitter has been a very good platform for building community. There are issues with Twitter with the trolling – but there a number of communities on there on a wide range of topics looking for particular advice and guidance.

“Instagram from a more visual perspective is one to consider, and to get the more human, personal elements of the brand out as well. Ideal for customer or employee attraction and engagement.

“If you’re looking at financial advice, for example, there are different ways you can present that visually that I don’t think have been fully explored. I think there’s a big opportunity there, showing real people.”

Coming back to keeping true to your own preferences and strengths, she added: “I would counter that with, if that is not your thing – then don’t worry about it! Or get someone else on board to help you with the visual presentation.”

Unfortunately, being a woman on the internet is still stressful for a lot of people. Cases of harassment against (usually female) writers, journalists and bloggers – and the discussion of Twitter’s corporate responsibility – are often in the news, and may well provoke anxiety for anyone thinking of cultivating their own online presence.

Rachael said: “The nature of Twitter has evolved over time – I think potentially we could see it coming back round again where there is a backlash. Particularly with women who have had a hard time. I think it’s starting to go the other way, where people are starting to come together to say no, that’s not ok.”

Her advice affirmed that women and other people who are often overlooked in online conversation have something valuable to add – and to try to keep focused on that.

She said: “ From a professional business perspective, people shouldn’t let that put them off engaging online. If you are speaking from a place of authenticity and authority on your subject matter, you are providing information and guidance, you are providing something of value to the people you want to get in front of. Keep that front of mind. Don’t get distracted by the horrible stuff.”

3. Do the work

Posting consistently on any platform takes time and effort, and some people might like to consider outsourcing that work to professionals. There are some key points to consider when you are deciding if you should handing over your personal branding efforts to another person, however.

Rachael said: “There are people who are really skilled in this and just focus on social media. It’s always good to get advice from the experts. It’s often good to sit down with someone and look at your strategy overall: how do you want to reflect yourself and your brand – and how does that support your other activity as well? There’s no point in doing anything in isolation. It’s got to be integrated with everything else you’re doing. It’s well worth planning that together in advance.”

Keeping hold of your own personal style is important for authenticity.

“You have to be careful not have that disconnect, it’s vitally important if you’re going to outsource it. You need a connection with the person who is doing it. They need to get you, to get your tone and your style. Keep a close eye on that and make sure it’s aligned – be very clear on that from the outset. It’s worth doing your homework on who you’re going to work with.”

4. Start with content

“I’d suggest you start with content,” she began. “Whether that’s a blog, microblogging through social media, or doing both and making sure they’re aligned. Content is that crucial first step.”

Cutting through the swathes of content already out there may seem like an intimidating thought, but Rachael had some words of advice.

“Yes, there’s an awful lot of content out there already across different channels,” she said.

“Have an informed opinion, and don’t be shy or scared of having an opinion. Make sure you know your industry and you know your subject matter – and get that out there. That’s the first step.

“Then comes integration. Use as many channels as you have at your disposal. The website, blogging, social media, PR activity. Research and publications. Make sure it’s reflected in campaigns across all those channels, look at it as a whole.”

5. Know your audience

Personal thoughts and reflections don’t automatically constitute thought leadership, no matter how well you know your field. Knowing your audience is crucial in producing worthwhile and stimulating content.

“What are the different ways you can find the right people to talk to and engage with? What are the topics that are meaningful to them? Make sure you’re writing about those and have an opinion on them.

Secondly, she added: “Give them something different. It might be tips on how to navigate certain challenges, or it might be where you think things are going to go next. Any number of topics – but make sure it’s relevant to your client base and potential clients.”

She also gave some practical ideas for really digging into what both existing and potential clients are talking about, and ways of creatively using the insights you glean.

As well as looking at and listening to what people are saying across different social media platforms, simple tools like Survey Monkey and straw polls through social media can be very effective.

Rachael said: “You can get insights through various methods. Compare and contrast – look at what people are saying on different platforms. What are potential different client types saying, and how does that differ? How does that compare to existing clients?  There are different ways to cut it, but you can look at that research and start to form a bigger picture. “

6. Find your frequency

Most of us have felt the disappointment of seeing that a favorite blog hasn’t been updated for months on end. On the other hand, some Instagram influencers seem to churn out endless streams of content every day. There has to be a happy medium. Getting a hold on frequency is important, but not at the expense of quality.

She explained: “From a business perspective, consistency is key. It doesn’t really matter how frequent, as long as it is regular. Don’t worry about pumping something out daily or weekly for the sake of it. Look at quality over quantity. Just be consistent – if you commit to something monthly, do it monthly.

“On social media, you are rewarded for how frequently you are engaging. So, you do need to gather some momentum in the first place and keep that consistent. But – do you have the support in place to manage that on a regular basis? Figure out what’s feasible at the start. Just make sure that you consistently do something that provides an opportunity to talk and engage.”

Find out more

You can watch the full, 30-minute video interview on Octo Members:

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