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How to Galvanize Your Reputation through Thought Leadership

Trust is a vital factor in convincing a target audience that your thought leadership is solid and credible. In this panel fireside chat, we went into the various angles of reputation to discover the best ways to convey authenticity and ethical behavior.

Aligning your thought leadership strategy with your desired reputation

Can organizations ensure their thought leadership activity will result in an ideal reputation? It’s a great question to start off the session, but panelist Scott Addison, Director and Head of Corporate at Infinite Global, raised a concern about it.

“I do want to point out a little bit of a flaw in the question,” said Scott. “An assumption, which I think is quite dangerous, is  that all organizations really understand their reputation – because my view is quite often that’s not the case! Either that they think they do, or they have no data to back it up, or they have loads of data and they don’t know how to understand it!”

It’s certainly a valid criticism, but moving on from that observation, Scott’s advice was that reputational goals should be rooted in, or at least adjacent to, the business strategy, otherwise, your thought leadership output risks being viewed as ‘vanity content’ by stakeholders.

Knowing when to override

Anders Erlandsson, the Head of IndustryLabs at Ericsson, gave a nod to the company’s former B2C presence as a producer of mobile phones. Though they are no longer involved in that market, he was part of that era and recalled being asked “How long should the antenna be?”

This was a time long before smartphones, when manufacturers had visible antennae on their products. Anders felt the size question was irrelevant – “it should be zero!” – and that there was no need for a market survey. He recalled how this led to quite a verbal battle with the technology-driven engineers who believed a longer antenna would be better, but eventually Anders got his wish.

This anecdote about defying market survey activity does conjure up Henry Ford’s famous quote – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Anders attributed the move to Ericsson being driven by thought leadership, stating how everything the company does is rooted in expert-led ideas. He credits thought leadership for showing the right direction.

The Vice President of Marketing at iResearch Services, Shabnam Gangar, gave her view, stating that looking through her lens, it’s about a conversation with internal stakeholders.

“It’s really important to understand it’s not just about revenue,” said Shabnam. “What’s your purpose, and what’s your goal?” She raised it as important to align all stakeholders internally before activating any thought leadership initiative designed to enhance reputation.

Thought leadership as the fuel for reputation

Panel moderator Rachael Kinsella spoke of her belief that thought leadership can take an organization’s reputation to where it should be. Anders agreed, pointing out a previous panel brought up the thorny issue of greenwashing. He was keen to say that ethics were “super important” in such a situation.

Anders extolled the virtues of peer-reviewed research, describing it as a vital “safety net” for environmental claims. 

Scott suggested transparency as crucial for aligning thought leadership with commercial strategy. He warned of there being a lot of shoddy material out there that doesn’t even reach basic market research standards, that any good journalist could “blow holes through in a heartbeat”.

The imprisonment of insights?

The practice of gating content was brought up by Scott, who is not a fan of gating everything. He said, “Are you arguably putting those ideas into the public domain then, if you’re gating those insights?”

Shabnam, our voice for Marketing, had a different view on this. She stated that collecting information is really important for marketing, but acknowledged that for thought leadership to spread, it has to be public. Authenticity has to be the backbone. 

A slight defense of gating was brought up by Anders. He likes to keep things gated, but only for one month, then have them  released to the public.

Balancing thought leadership made for broad appeal versus niche audiences when building your reputation

In Anders’ experience, it’s the internal stakeholders who tend to push for niche content. This can be difficult, as in many situations a niche campaign may face ‘an audience of one’, which is hard to attribute budget to when compared to content aimed at 180 interested companies.

Shabnam’s approach to building a reputation is through sustained campaigns, which she regards as highly important. When sitting down with colleagues to understand the goals she said you must be ‘on the same page’ to push a coherent message through various channels.

According to Scott, the focus on niche markets has been very recent. He took a contrasting view to Anders, stating the ‘audience of one’ is going to become a lot more important, when it can drive more commercial value in conjunction with hyper-targeting.

However, considering the reputational angle, Scott accepted that the more niche and more focused content becomes less relevant to broad external audiences. He believes reputational thought leadership will remain focused on broad issues and insights aimed at key vertical markets.

Anders also stated that he tends to use a lot of internal stakeholders when it comes to forming thought leadership campaigns. Such a process is started a long time before publication by having dialogues in workshops around the content.

What role can social media have in strengthening reputation?

Social media is the world’s best, most open sentiment platform, according to Scott. He’s impressed with the current set of tools to understand issues with specific audiences, especially to identify conversation leaders.

“It is miles ahead of where we were two decades ago,” said Scott. “You can gain tremendous insight on the front end of an ideas project.” He believes it’s a great way to tell stories and produce an emotional impact with your target audience.

Shabnam agreed with these points, adding that audiences resonate with human storytelling, which in turn strengthens reputation and thought leadership. She emphasized how this style of content is transcendent, yet pointed out that you should not create too much ‘fatigue’.

Engagement is what Shabnam valued over vanity metrics such as the number of likes. Comments and sharing are signs of your audience conveying trust in your thought leadership.

One key concern was highlighted by Anders, that you shouldn’t aim all your content at all social media channels, and it is important to select the most appropriate platforms for certain audiences.

Who dictates your reputation?

A salient point was raised by an audience member, who asked how much control a company really has over its reputation.

Scott felt the word ‘control’ was wrong to apply to reputation management, as “it’s largely out of our hands” – but pointed out that we do have a lot of influence. He made the point that your reputation is really formed when a customer contacts you, and is based on the experience they have, and the media doesn’t come into that. He also emphasized that behavior is linked to a brand. He stated there are many ways to influence it and much of what shapes a brand is driven by internal values.

Another audience member quizzed Scott on key challenges clients face in reputation management.

“Most organizations are actually not as prepared for crisis as they think they are,” opined Scott. He stated that internal cultures need to be shaped to handle critical incidents and external relationships. 

This neatly led to another audience question, on how senior leaders can express their personality without saying the wrong thing.

Shabnam tackled this concern, stating how important it was to have a social media policy in place, while conceding many people aren’t keen on them. She once experienced a situation where such a policy wasn’t in place, resulting in a senior leader having a battle of words with a competitor. This concluded with the advice to always have a ‘sense check’ on your policy and periodically review it as cultural norms are always shifting.

Anders brought up an incident where a company report about resilience was due to be released on social platforms. The image used for it featured a big fire, which unfortunately coincided with a tragic real-life incident, the wildfires in Greece over Summer 2023. Naturally, the social media team stepped in to delay the launch, for which he was grateful.

“It helped to have professionals looking into these things all the time,” explained Anders, “because we are part of a research organization, we’re not part of Marketing, so we do the research and someone else, we leave it to them to make the decisions when to publish, for example.”

Scott’s perspective was that stakeholders expect to hear from leaders on issues. He pointed out that not every leader is going to excel in building an audience or in public discourse.

This was an eye-opening session on strengthening corporate reputation. Our audience left feeling enthused about the future directions of thought leadership. While most reputation building depends on collaboration and transparency, we certainly learned of new angles and interesting experiences from all on the panel.

Interested in watching the People Always Talk About Reputation session on-demand? Click here

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