There is a huge opportunity to use social media tools to market your products or services directly to customers, but there is an equally large opportunity to utilize social media to market yourself. Social media is an incredible way for small business owners to brand themselves as thought-leaders in their industry. Being seen as an expert by your peers has an amazing upside for small business owners for networking, for developing alternative revenue streams, and for broadening the reach of your existing business.
Social Media Changes the Game
Before social media, becoming a thought leader meant slowly building mindshare by writing articles in trade publications, speaking on the conference circuit, and writing books. Social media, however, has leveled the playing field, making it easier for small business owners to put their ideas out there and become respected industry experts. And the first step is to talk about everything but your business online.
Of course, when I say that, I don't mean to imply that by spending your time talking about your kids or what you ate for breakfast you'll instantly gain acclaim among your peers as an expert in your field. Rather, the lesson is that in order to brand yourself as an industry expert, you need to keep the noise level to a minimum -- and when your goal is to have your peers look to you for ideas, industry news, analysis, and commentary, then marketing related directly to your core business can come across as noise. Instead, you need to focus on providing value to others in your industry.
Why Become a Thought Leader?
Becoming a thought leader isn't easy and it won't happen overnight. So why should you put in the time necessary to build your personal brand (or that of your business) into a trusted source of industry information? The benefits are numerous.
- You can generate leads. Marriott Chairman and CEO Bill Marriott often uses his blog to share business wisdom he has learned over his years running the hotel chain. Through the blog, Marriott has established himself as a thought leader in the hotel business, and as a result, the blog has been worth over $5 million per year in hotel room bookings.
- You can make money from your ideas. Jason Fried, the founder of web application developer 37signals, uses his company's blog to push his ideas about small business and position his company as a leader in business innovation. 37signals has been able to repackage those ideas as a book and a series of conferences that have pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- You'll gain access. Thought leaders are often invited to speak at conferences, which has the dual benefit of giving you access to amazing networking opportunities and increasing your credibility as an expert in your field.
- You'll attract top talent. Who you would rather work for, a CEO you've never heard of at a business that remains obscure outside of its core group of customers, or one whom you look up to at a company known for its innovative ideas about its industry? Thought-leadership attracts cream of the crop talent.
- It's rewarding. Sharing your expertise and knowing that you're having an impact on how business is done in your industry is a rewarding experience.
Four Places to Share Your Expertise
The only way to become known as an expert in your industry is to start providing your peers with a fairly steady stream of useful, relevant, unique, and timely advice. Here are four places you can share your expertise in order to start building your or your company's reputation as a source of industry leadership.
- Your Blog - You do have a blog, right? If you don't, start one; and don't just use your blog to provide updates about your company. Balance the marketing with lessons about how and why you make certain business decisions, analysis of industry trends, and editorials about the future direction of the type of business you're in.
- Twitter - Twitter offers an amazing way to quickly build a following and connect with people on a daily basis. If you make it a habit to share useful information, such as links to worthwhile articles relevant to your industry, people will look at your Twitter stream as a source of expertise. And by engaging your followers in conversations about the things you share and about your thoughts on business, you'll begin to develop a fan base that turns to you for information and leadership.
- LinkedIn - LinkedIn is a great networking tool for keeping in touch with the people you meet at offline networking events, and keeping on top of changes in their careers. By reaching out through LinkedIn to people you've met, you can build mindshare among your peers, and by answering questions on LinkedIn Answers, you can grow your reputation as a thought leader.
- Facebook - Most people don't think of Facebook as a place for business, but the fastest growing demographic user group on the site is people over the age of 25, and specifically between the ages of 35 and 54. Becoming an industry expert is about getting your name, your business, and your ideas out there anywhere and everywhere that your peers are -- and that includes Facebook.