Thought Leadership – A New Social Currency


Share on LinkedIn

Social media is a tremendous environment for B2B companies to establish competitive advantage through compelling thought leadership.

In a social environment, thought leadership allows companies to frame and stimulate conversation and collaboration around important and sometimes complex ideas and real-world business and socioeconomic problems – where their solutions are uniquely positioned to help address.

Through social media, companies can reach highly targeted audiences by role (CEOs, CIOs, developers, etc.), industry orientation and geography through any form of generic or specialized social network or community (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter,, YouTube, etc.).

If compelling, people will contribute, share and internalize the thought leadership – giving companies a tremendous opportunity to influence agendas and establish standards in the market.

As outlined in a recent post by Rob Leavitt, in order to make an impact – thought leadership requires focus, depth and continuity.

For many companies this represents a big challenge due to a lack of skilled and trained staff (in house) to produce good, deep and continuous thought leadership – on their own.

Where resources are limited (in-house) many companies rely on external ‘thought leaders’ and influencers such as high profile academics, analysts, consultants and industry experts to help shape industry conversations.

Every company is a media company

Tom Foremski has made a passionate and compelling case for why every company is now a media company – in the wake of a disrupted and distributed media industry.

The cascade of the strengthening forces behind the disruption of the media industry (that Tom outlines) has forever changed how corporations manage their communications, reputations, brands and execution of business strategies.

On the positive side, companies now have the ability (and forced accountability) to communicate directly with its key audiences – giving them greater reach and more influence than traditional media has ever offered as a primary channel in the past. 

On the flip side, success in a new media environment requires a shift in how companies use their cadre of resources including employees, customers, partners and external influencers to be successful.

As every company is now a media company…every person is now (also) a media entity. 

Those companies that maximize and mobilize its employees and external stakeholders around important ideas and issues – will be successful.

This is where thought leadership can play a powerful role.

Multiple forms of thought leadership

Traditional marketing and communication programs at many companies have grown out of the purpose to inform and educate people and communities. 

In a social environment, thought leadership gives companies an ability to engage their audiences through high impact content and ideas that can fuel growth and execution of business strategy.

There are many forms of thought leadership that companies use today.  Such as:

  • Owned: Produced and managed in-house
  • Endorsed: 3rd party generated and/or influenced
  • Community generated: Open sourced and created through communities and/or think tanks
  • Collaborative: Combination of all the above with shared ownership of ideas and content by multiple stakeholders

Companies like IBM (Smart Planet), SAP (Business Network Transformation) and General Electric (Ecomagination) have masterfully orchestrated all forms of thought leadership (noted above) in recent years as part of their marketing, communication and business development efforts. 

In each case, IBM, SAP, and GE successfully used multiple channels to create and syndicate highly credible, focused and deep thought leadership that has shaped industry conversation and created strong competitive advantage and growth.  They orchestrated this through the  publication of books, compelling videos, academic curriculum, research, customer case studies, blogs, events (online/offline), online communities, think tanks, social media peer groups, etc. 

The technology and services of each company are so powerful that they can be used to solve many business and social problems.  Through thought leadership they have opened up new routes to market by framing key issues and problems (under the banner of each respective campaign) where their solutions are uniquely positioned to address.

They also involved many of their employees and external stakeholders to contribute, participate and take ownership – providing great scale of the powerful content and ideas.

Without question thought leadership has strengthened their brands and given them a powerful platform to effectively sell their innovations without selling (or selling hard).

Supporting research

Vanessa DiMauro and I recently collaborated on a study for The Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) called the New Symbiosis of Professional Networks to understand how business professionals (in a B2B environment) use social media to support and inform their decisions. 

The study was administered online to 356 participants with age well distributed – greatest proportion in the 36-45 range.  Twenty-five countries were represented, with 58% of respondents living in the U.S. and all respondents were either the decision makers or influenced the decision process within their companies.

Through the research we found that sophisticated business professionals are becoming very active in social media to support and inform their decisions. They rely heavily on social networks for access to content and thought leadership that they cant find elsewhere. They are also contributing by sharing their experiences on a continuous basis – adding credibility and trust to information available in various social media environments. 

Following are a few charts from the research highlighting how B2B decision makers use and value social media to support their decisions.  A comprehensive report of key findings and analysis of the research is available for purchase at Barnes&Noble and Amazon, with all proceeds going to SNCR (a global nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education foundation and think tank).

Chart 1

Chart 2


The last three columns in the above chart reflect a cross tabulation of the question (what are the primary reasons you visit online networks and communities?) against the number of professional online networks respondents said they belong to (in a previous question).

As you see, the more networks people belong to the greater they value the corresponding reasons to visit online professional networks and communities.

With the below chart we see that decision makers visit company web sites almost as often as they do search engines – to support and inform their decisions.  In a digital world, this reinforces the point that ‘every company is a media company’ and how important (among other things) it is to have strong and compelling content and thought leadership to engage your audience. 

We also saw a relatively high inclination for decision makers to use various forms of social media to support their decision-making.

Chart 3


In summary

Compelling thought leadership is a new social and business currency!

B2B companies should take heed of the opportunities open to them through traditional and social media environments to collaboratively generate and channel compelling thought leadership to shape and advance (with scale) important industry issues of great social and economic importance…where they are uniquely positioned to address. 

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Don Bulmer
Royal Dutch Shell
Don Bulmer is Vice President of Communication Strategy at Royal Dutch Shell.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here