Harnessing social media for thought leadership

Maggie Whitley | September 8, 2020

Using social media on smart phoneThought leaders are often found through social media, but they can also be fueled by it. Leveraging social media listening is one of the best ways to inform innovative insights that can elevate your brand and grow your influence.

There’s no doubt that influence is born online

Consumers tend to make purchases and form opinions based on what they see and hear online. For almost every industry — from healthcare to utilities to food service to banking — there are hashtags, social media influencers, and forums that are outlets for sharing opinions, giving praise, and reviewing products or services. Social media listening allows you to capture what’s being said, liked, and shared online, then analyze it to make decisions that drive meaningful business change.

Thought leadership is not just about showing off

Thought leadership is any action, communication, or publication that provides relevant and forward-thinking insight. It can help you gain new customers and improve perceptions of your brand in the marketplace. By developing an informed opinion based on social listening, you can address consumers’ evolving preferences, anticipate client requests, and demonstrate to prospective customers that you are one step ahead.

Don’t fear the unknown — track it

We understand the trepidation many traditional research teams feel when they hear social media listening — especially those in B2B companies. It can sometimes seem like a leap of faith. You don’t know what you’ll find or, sometimes, even what you set out to understand. However, that’s the beauty of social listening — there’s always something to learn when done correctly. It all starts with:

  1. Defining your social strategy and
  2. Choosing your tool

As with a survey, IDI, or usability test, you’ll want to narrow the scope, cut out the noise, and pinpoint metrics relevant to your research goals.

Let the numbers drive the learning

Using social media listening to generate ideas and follow industry trendsIf you are having trouble understanding the black hole that social listening often resembles, remember that you are dealing with data (something all researchers should be familiar with). Rather than thinking of social chatter as a black hole, think of it as a lighthouse, a beacon on a distant shore, saying, “Look over here — we found something worth talking about.”

Let the trending phrases or viral comments show you where to dig deeper. The volume of likes, shares, and mentions can illuminate conversation peaks, correlations, or upticks in specific categories of interest. Following social trends reveals consumers' problems, interests, and future needs. Tracking these organic, unfiltered comments not only gives consumers an outlet for being heard, but also gives businesses an opportunity to act on what consumers are hinting about the future.

Learn to ignore the obvious

Sure, you’ve collected responses from surveys or analyzed support cases, but social listening allows you to examine the layer below the obvious. We know that certain words will always pop when we explore spaces like clean labeling, impact investing, and online delivery. But what happens when you exclude those words and look at what else is being discussed online? Which words or phrases are mentioned over and over again? Are there any that you hadn’t seen before? Becoming curious about unexpected conversations can reveal surprising insights about where an industry is heading. Leveraging those trends for website content, sales campaigns, or product innovation demonstrates thought leadership to your clients and customers.

From social listening doubter to advocate

My favorite part of working with social listening to drive thought leadership is when we present the first wave of insights to partners. It only takes a few slides before there is a visible shift in the energy of the room — people sit up, lean in, and begin asking deeper questions because they’re intrigued by the insights we’ve uncovered.

Over the course of one presentation, I watch social doubters become social advocates. No one expects social to become a new stream of insight and inspiration for their business, but it does, every single time. Social listening has become a proven method for building influence and establishing companies as leaders within their industries.

Reach out to us or check out our social analytics offering to start driving revenue growth with your social listening journey — we’d love to partner with you.