Executive Branding is About Executive Substance

9 Steps to Digital Engagement

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The biggest marketing mistake executive spokespeople make is asking their PR people what they should think. I’m the place you come to help make it all make sense through the art of good storytelling. I’m also the place you should come to make it stick through words that resonate and quotes that make people think.

None of these PR tools work without the substance of authentic new ideas behind them. It’s why I cringe when I hear the term “personal branding.” I prefer to call it “executive thought leadership,” because it gets us closer to what works. We’re not trying to be self-promotional through a persona we think the market wants. We’re trying to connect real ideas to the people who care about them. Your ideas are the subject of this exercise, not your personality.

The best executive thought leadership programs follow these steps:

  1. Know Your Goals. Are you launching a company, introducing a new product, convincing Congress to protect the environment, debuting as the new CEO or division head of an organization? The goals of executive thought leadership should mirror your organization’s goals — otherwise, it’s all just vanity and press clips.

  2. Understand Your Audience. Almost every decision a human makes is driven by an emotion. I can guarantee your audience isn’t motivated by finding the best cloud-based marketing suite. It’s got a lot more to do with what makes him or her feel pride or fear, the two most powerful emotional drivers. Empathy will get you everywhere.

  3. Use Your Personality. You can’t be anyone other than yourself, so lean on your best qualities. Steve Jobs didn’t catapult Apple by dressing like a billionaire and Oprah didn’t become an icon by tweeting articles about herself. How you create personal connections in the real world is how you should do it online. In writing circles, we call this “voice.” It’s in the types of images and words you choose.

  4. Create Content. Ideas can’t be shared unless they have a digital home. You don’t need to become a Twitter or Facebook warrior, but you do need to participate. This looks different based on your goals and your personality, but it almost always involves a series of content around your central ideas, and supporting pieces that tie them to the news and market trends.

  5. Tailor Content to the Channel. Pick your main content hub, such as your website, and work out from there. Syndicate to LinkedIn and Medium, turn the best quote into a beautiful card for Instagram, talk about its significance for your corporate culture on your company Facebook page. Never copy and paste. Customize and engage.

  6. Know the Purpose of Your Social Networks. In general, Twitter is for opinions; LinkedIn is for professional articles and accolades; Facebook is for articles, events, video and ideas; Instagram is for inspiration and creativity. Snapchat is kind of on its way out unless you’re in high school. Post and share your content accordingly.

  7. Know Your Tenor. Do you want to inspire or shame? Transform or tear down? These are important questions that tie back to your goals. My general advice is to focus your content and your social posts on what is possible, as opposed to the easy slide into what’s not working and who’s at fault.

  8. Ignore the Trolls. I’ve been called Satan for championing equal pay for women. Internet trolls are either bots or angry people looking for a fight behind the anonymity of their screens. You can waste a lot of energy fighting with them, but that only encourages more. Ignore them and if that doesn’t work, report them.

  9. Don’t Back Down From Honest Discourse. If you believe enough in an idea to post it, you should stick with it long enough to defend it to someone who’s not a troll. Before you engage in any kind of thought leadership, ask yourself this: What are the five hardest questions I could be asked and what are my answers?

Bottom line: be you. Online, in-person and on paper. Unless you’re an authentic evil villain trying to take over the world, authenticity makes everyone look better. Real people, after all, are the best sales people for ideas.

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