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Three ways to lose credibility as a thought leader on LinkedIn

Earlier this year, I interned with a local PR agency that wanted to expand its business by teaching people how to become thought leaders. This summer, I interned with Fortune 500 company, Lockheed Martin, where thought leadership was not only a  regular topic of discussion, but where there is even an entire integrated project team (IPT) devoted to incorporating better thought leadership practices throughout the company.

Why is thought leadership so important right now? Is it important at all?

“Thought leadership can elevate a company’s expertise or authority on a particular topic or within a specific industry, and it builds trust between a brand and its audience. When used effectively, thought leadership is compelling, providing built-in expertise and a clear vision,” said Erica Tierney, Program Communications and Media Relations Lead at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®.

In June of 2017, Edelman and LinkedIn published a research study detailing how thought leadership directly impacts B2B demand generation. The study shows thought leadership influences customer behaviors across the entire purchase funnel.

No wonder everyone suddenly wants to be a thought leader.

There are currently hundreds of articles all over the internet trying to teach us all how and why we need to become thought leaders. But perhaps thought leadership isn’t something we should rush into.

Not all thought leadership is good thought leadership

As the Edelman and LinkedIn study points out, thought leadership can do even more harm than it can do good. The study's findings remind us that we should be cautious when approaching thought leadership. For example, we learn from the study that negative thought leadership can lead to loss of respect and admiration from executives and decision makers, which in turn can lead directly to business losses.

Clearly, thought leadership is a double edged sword. But, the question remains how do we wield this sword? What are these companies doing wrong?

Without further ado, here are the three ways to lose all thought leadership credibility on LinkedIn, the platform most known for promoting thought leadership.

#1 Focus on selling, not providing value

LinkedIn is a platform for networking and building professional relationships. Just like offline relationships, virtual relationships require both give and take.

As a thought leader, your job is to lead thought and innovation in your industry—to provide value and insight to lesser experienced professionals. Yes, thought leadership does lead to sales and benefits for your business, but to receive those sales and benefits, you can’t make your presence on LinkedIn all about you and your business.

 The best way to get people to stop listening to you is by talking only about yourself.

#2 Forget who your audience is

 LinkedIn is full of current, trending and often controversial topics. As a thought leader, representing your brand and company, it’s crucial to use caution when choosing what topics to chime in on.

The internet is permanent. One wrong comment, no matter how quickly detracted, can result in permanent loss of respect and business from a customer or partner. Pay attention to what your audience members are saying.

You can’t be a leader without a following. Remember that your audience comes first.

 #3 Make sure your content is inauthentic and unapproachable

 It’s likely that many big brands and companies will have communications professionals write articles on behalf of their business leaders and executives to make sure the content is well written and appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with doing this, but it’s important to keep the tone of voice consistent with the thought leader’s voice. It’s also important to make sure that the content is free of jargon and corporate speak that would make audience members less likely to engage and interact with the content.

Writing like a corporate robot is a fantastic way to lose credibility and traction with your customers.

What we’ve learned

Hopefully now you’ll be more careful before rushing to jump on the thought leadership band wagon knowing bad thought leadership can do more harm than good.

To be a good thought leader, remember to avoid selling, be mindful of your audience and deliver authentic and approachable content.

“Users will begin coming to you as a source for trusted solutions, information and ideas, instead of just seeing your brand for a specific product you create. Built on a foundation of credibility and trust, thought leadership can take your brand to new heights,” said Tierney.

Read the full Edelman and LinkedIn study to learn more about the importance of thought leadership and voice your opinions in the comments below!

Madison Harman is a senior studying public relations at Brigham Young University.

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