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Making Thought Leadership Matter: A Sharing Manifesto

Imagine this scenario: one of the smartest people in your company has just published a blog post on her area of expertise. Some of her direct followers on LinkedIn like or share the post. It eventually goes out on official corporate social feeds and gets the usual degree of engagement. What was the point?

This scenario is not hard to imagine, because it’s what happens almost all of the time — I don’t have hard numbers, but we all know it’s true.

Let’s take a moment and be idealistic instead to think through what needs to happen to change this.

Create content that people are proud to share.
People share on social channels as a way to signal something about themselves: their values, their skills, their mindset, etc. You’ll always have a few people who specifically want to signal loyalty to your company by sharing a press release, but the rest do not. Creating engaging, authentic content that they are proud to share and sends a signal about their personal brand is vital.

Build mechanisms that make sure people know they can share.
Internal communications can certainly help prime the pump by broadcasting available posts to share, but imagine taking this one step further. Create a dashboard on your intranet where people can easily find, filter, and post the thought leadership worth sharing. Regularly message the fact that sharing is encouraged. Start cascades of communication from the top down so that people are hearing it from their direct supervisor.

Foster a culture of personal brand building.
Having visible advocates who regularly fold your corporate thought leadership into their social media mix is very powerful. It reflects positively on your brand to their current connections, and often fertilizes their ability to do business with their peers and clients. If you’re haunted by worries that they may find a better position elsewhere by doing this, just don’t be. Do the opposite, and offer regular mentorship and training on personal brand building.

Get policy roadblocks out of the way.
Create as open a sharing policy as feasible and communicate your trust in employees to advocate, on the one hand, and do the right thing acting with good faith and good judgment on the other. Make sure there is a clear policy that people understand, with appropriate dos and don’ts identified. Go even further by setting up an inbox where people can ask if they have questions about whether to post something. Chances are, if you already published it through other channels, there would be no reason to disapprove. Think about Mary Barra, CEO of GM. She eliminated a multi-page dress code with the simple guidance to “dress appropriately.” On that model, make your social policy “Share appropriately” and be done with it.

Remove technical barriers, too.
Some larger, established companies still have network policies that block traffic to the open Internet. Aside from sites that pose legitimate security risks, these are largely based on twenty-year-old biases. No, employees will not use your network resources for personal or illegitimate reasons. True bad actors will find other means, first of all. Second of all, if you genuinely believe they will take undue advantage, your efforts are better invested in the underlying fixing people and culture issues rather than making their symptoms with a firewall.

What’s funny about these is that, as radical as they may seem to what I would call an “institutionalist hardliner,” none of them are particularly difficult to implement. In fact, they are hugely simplifying because they streamline policy, reduce overhead, and eliminate blockers to throughput.

Best of all, these principles dramatically increase the reach and impact of your thought leadership–which is the very reason you’re doing thought leadership in the first place.

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