Modernizing Thought Leadership: Are CEOs the Next Influencer Class?

Believe it or not, one of the most essential roles today’s chief executives can play extends far beyond the boardroom. In fact, as our lives exist increasingly online — from remote work to viral trends — one of the most impactful ways top executives can raise their thought leader profiles is to lead in the digital space. 

Executives looking to build their profiles and grow their impact need to build a following and spark conversation, becoming influencers in their own right. Today’s thought leaders cannot rest on their titles to develop a profile. Rather, today’s top executive awardees, keynote speakers, panel leaders and podcast guests are made up of those who have built substantial social platforms and used them to discuss and create change within their industries. 

Prestigious executive awards, such as Forbes Top CMOs, have even built out third-party data analytics systems to analyze social media conversations. They look for conversations spurred by or mentioning award candidates as influence has become a critical metric for choosing finalists. In our discussions with Forbes conference organizers, influence is becoming the primary qualification to even consider an executive as a speaker, with some organizers setting minimum follower counts as a way to narrow down prospective participants. 

But, the thought leadership landscape can feel a little crowded. Social media has already elevated the likes of Bumble board member and former tech CEO Jennifer Morgan, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to executive influence stardom. So how can today’s rising leaders build an audience and influence of their own? Here are four tactics executives can use to develop a strong thought leadership strategy. 

Have a clear point of view. People are already interested in your outlook by the nature of your position as a business leader. Be thoughtful and purposeful with your presence and share a clear perspective. More often than you’d think, a tweet sparks opinion editors from major publications to reach out and offer a larger platform to expand on an initial thought. 

Engage often, and do it authentically. Executives with engaged followings are vulnerable and personal, sharing their highs and lows as leaders and as people. Their content draws people in, discussing challenges and opportunities openly with customers, industry peers and stakeholders. 

Don’t just follow the social media news cycle — move it forward. It’s essential to engage with news that affects your industry. To stand out, today’s thought leaders have to use the current conversation as a starting point, not the end goal. Identifying the whitespaces in industry discourse, from growing a business to building teams, is what raises executive leaders to the top. 

Interact with your audience. Raise questions and start a dialogue. Respond to comments and questions. This practice is vital to growing an audience that engages with you. Social media provides the opportunity to democratize discourse and bring executives closer to their customers and employees. They want to know you are listening to them instead of just talking at them. 

And if all else fails? We’re here to help. We have assembled the sharpest minds across executive positioning, social strategy and public relations, and we’re ready to turn your thought leadership goals into a roadmap for success.


Written by

Tara Bauer

Thought Leadership

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