by Lisa Zone

May 28, 2024

Over the past couple of years, one of the most common conversations I’ve had with clients is about their desire to start doing more in the way of thought leadership – to differentiate from competitors, become an industry influencer, prepare for a major corporate milestone (such as going public) or add a personal touch to recruitment efforts.

But, what’s a thought leadership program without the thought leaders to fulfill it? And, exactly where will that thought leadership happen, or where will it live? Certainly, you can position your thought leaders through a variety of channels: media interviews, webinars, YouTube series, speaking gigs, award nominations and more. But all of those can take time to research, pitch, produce and secure.

That’s why we often start our thought leadership PR programs with an executive or subject matter expert (SME) LinkedIn strategy. LinkedIn allows you to mobilize and implement quickly, and you can have more control of the narrative and topics right out of the gate. Plus, if you’re trying to position an SME as a thought leader, one of the first places a reporter, customer or investor will often look is LinkedIn, if for no other reason than to make sure they seem “legit” and to put a personality with a name.

As you think about building a thought leadership LinkedIn strategy for your CEO or SMEs (or even for yourself!), consider these three Cs to get started:

  • CHECKING – Our best guidance for getting started is to conduct an audit of the LinkedIn profiles of each team member you want to position as a thought leader. This will provide a snapshot of how each SME’s profile is currently structured and performs against best practice. We like to use a scorecard or ranking system to give each SME a baseline rating (usually on a scale from 1 to 5), which allows us to quantify what feels somewhat qualitative, and also provides a benchmark to measure their efforts against in the future. (Scoring can also sometimes build a friendly rivalry among the SME cohort, which can make the process seem a little less daunting and a little more fun, depending on your company’s culture.)
  • COACHING – Once those audits are complete, you can then move to coaching your SMEs on how to optimize their LinkedIn profiles and activity. We prefer to do this coaching in one-on-one sessions, but you could also consider doing larger group meetings if your capacity is limited and/or your SMEs list is long. Here, it’s helpful to provide some best practice guidance on things like posting cadence and building engagement, as well as provide very specific feedback for each individual SME, which could range from updating (or adding) a profile picture or headline to assessing whether their LinkedIn presence aligns with those areas you want them to be known for as thought leaders.
  • CULTIVATING – At the end of your coaching deck, we’d suggest providing some written guidance or metrics to help your thought leaders build their LinkedIn presence over time. When initiating these types of programs, we often find thought leaders need to work on three areas: building their followers, increasing their posting cadence and upping their engagement game. We’d encourage you to provide specific quarterly and annual metrics (number of posts per week or month, growth in connections, etc.) for each thought leader to strive for. Of course, you’ll also want to focus on a content analysis as your SMEs continue building and cultivating their LinkedIn presence. Is each thought leader sharing insights or perspectives about the topics and trends you want them or the company to be known for? Set up quarterly check-ins with each SME to provide an update on progress, talk about challenges and opportunities, and just serve as a sounding board as they continue building their personal LinkedIn thought leadership brand.

Certainly, there’s a lot more that goes into curating a meaningful and effective thought leadership brand, but LinkedIn is a really solid way to get you and your team started. If you don’t have the time or expertise to work on this agenda with your executive team, let’s talk! We’d love to help you tackle the three Cs of executive thought leadership on LinkedIn.