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Thought Leadership Strategy - A Closer Look

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Social media provides an opportunity to engage audiences and develop relationships within and between organisations in a way that has never been possible before. However, some B2B organisations are hesitant to adopt social media or are unsure of how to best implement and develop a successful social media strategy.

In 12 case studies consisting of 47 interviews, this paper explores how organisations use 4 different social media strategies, namely Thought Leadership, Call to Action, Dissemination, and Co-Creation strategies. Through these case studies, we can see how B2B organisations are using social media to acquire relationships, build an online reputation and engage with business partners. In this blog post we’ll be focusing on the Thought Leadership strategy, discussing the benefits and limitations of this approach and how it is being implemented by B2B organisations.

Thought Leadership Strategy

This strategy was followed mostly by service organisations, who utilise the expertise of staff within the business to highlight their organisation’s capabilities to a wide audience, attracting customers through their portrayal of industry expertise. This is a decentralised approach, where employees are seen as experts in their field, producing valuable content that is widely reshared within the industry. In this strategy, social media is utilised as a collaborative tool, where employees proactively broadcast their expertise, developing relationships and networks through content marketing.

‘We do a lot of content marketing and there are certain areas where we want to be seen as leaders in the market, whether that is a certain type of technology or certain areas of business.’

This is an acquisition-oriented strategy, developed to attract audiences by presenting the organisation as an expert in the field. Audiences are carefully targeted; when content is produced and individuals show an interest in it, they are directly targeted with that content. Organisations consistently monitor engagement with their content and actively encourage further collaborations. However, the specificity of thought leaders’ posts is often lower than evidenced in the co-creator or disseminator strategies. Their content is less directly marketing-related and less centred on specific offerings.

Challenges of this strategy

Engagement between content creators and audiences can be limited due to large amounts of followers, which can prevent organisations from engaging in a dialogue. Additionally, there is a challenge in consistently developing high quality, valuable and relevant content. The creation of thought leadership content with the distinct aim of leading current conversations is very time-consuming. What’s more, thought leaders appear to create original content for broad audiences more frequently than can be expected of the other three strategies, which means there is a higher chance for negative comments to appear. Ultimately, whilst there is success with this strategy, there is no definitive end point as to how far organisations should continue in this direction.

Benefits of this strategy

Thought Leadership organisations have a strategic focus and the target audience returns and regularly engages with organisations’ social media content. Also, utilising employees’ online networks expands an organisation’s reach for little to no cost, increasing the formal networks in the business. Rather than using social media to simply augment their marketing activity, thought leaders are actively transforming it into a new space by outcompeting other organisations.

‘Externally we’re doing very well in terms of our competitors. We’re beating them all in terms of our organic growth.’

The thought leaders consequently need to keep pace with social media as it develops, in order to continue to position themselves as experts in their field. They also need to continue to monitor engagement online, as a larger audience ultimately carries a greater risk of losing control of the conversation, rather than leading it.

You can read an overview of the three other strategies here and read the full article here.

Cartwright, S., Davies, I. & Archer-Brown, C. (2021). Managing relationships on social media in business-to-business organisations, Journal of Business Research, 125, 120-124.

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