This post is an excerpt from my latest book, Social Media for Corporate Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Add Power to Your Innovation Efforts. Click for a free download!
Social media can help your company build a reputation as an innovation leader and this, in turn, can be used to leverage your open innovation efforts. More than ever, corporate innovators and entrepreneurs need to build strong brands not only around their offerings, but also around their own capabilities. This is important as companies compete to build the strongest innovation ecosystems in order to get better innovation to market faster.
Simply put, corporate innovators and entrepreneurs need to pay more attention to terms such as “preferred partner of choice” and “we are in the matchmaking business” and here you can get strong results fast through the use of social media and personal/team branding techniques. Everybody has a personal brand and so do teams. Taking control of this brand creates freedom and opportunities; unlocking these opportunities is imperative for you to achieve your goals. Of course, this is only possible if you actually have a platform that allows you to deliver on your promises of being a good innovation partner.
Whether you are a big corporation or an ambitious startup, your first step is to put the right foundation in place by developing the strategic reasons behind your desire to build an image as an industry leader in innovation before you start promoting and branding your innovation capabilities.
But once you have identified the strategic reasons underpinning your desire to “go viral” with your innovation brand to generate a reputation for thought leadership, how do you actually go about building that thought leadership, especially if you’re starting from square one? In other words, how do you go viral so that your company’s reputation as a thought leader in innovation spreads around the globe with the possibility of reaching all sorts of new potential partners who will be eager to join in on your open innovation effort?
Corporate thought leadership is built around having individuals who are seen as experts in their fields. They “lend” this credibility to the organization and thus help build a company’s reputation as the partner of choice. So the real question becomes is how do you and others within your organization build your individual reputations as thought leaders? In an attempt to answer this question, let me start with a few thoughts on a paradox I often see with thought leadership.
In his best-selling book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell stated that it takes 10 years to become an expert in any given subject. Many people actually reach this level. You might not be a professor or best-selling author, but you have probably worked long enough to become an expert in your given field – or you are on your way.
Yet, people having enough knowledge to qualify as a thought leader or expert do not get the recognition or credit they deserve – and often long for. This is an interesting paradox. You work hard and at some point expect/hope to be perceived as an expert or thought leader, but it does not happen.
Why? The clutter of information and knowledge that surrounds us makes it so much more difficult to break through even if we have great, original ideas and an impressive knowledge base. It is no longer enough just to qualify by knowledge to become an expert; you also need to know how to communicate and how to build a personal brand in order to become a thought leader.
Here are a few tips on what to consider if you (and others in your organization) want to overcome this paradox and be perceived as a thought leader or expert.
Passion is a must: You need to be passionate about what you are doing. I hope that this one is already in place for people who qualify as experts. If you decide to spend ten years on a given topic or business area, then I really hope you have a passion for what you are doing.
Actually, I would argue that you could not deliver quality work over such a long period if you do not have a passion for what you do. Nevertheless, I too often meet people doing things they do not really like doing. I just do not get this, but I’ve seen it too often to doubt that it applies to a good number of people.
Persistence pays: I remember when I started blogging several years ago. Sure, people will just come and read my thoughts. Nothing happened. Then, I got a couple of articles published in Strategy & Innovation, a respected newsletter from Innosight. Surely, I thought, companies will start looking into my services now. Nothing happened.
I started to engage with Twitter and became quite adept at social media in general. This helped drive some traffic to my blog. Sure, companies would now approach me. Things began to happen although slowly, which I attributed at least in part to the economic crisis the world faced then. Finally, in May 2010, Wiley, a respected international publisher, published my first international book, The Open Innovation Revolution. A book is a real door-opener, right? Not as much as some people think. Despite another book, Making Open Innovation Work, in 2010, I still have to work hard and be proactive in order to get my share of business. So the chief lesson I took from this journey is that nothing happens if you are not persistent.
Focus: Bright people have lots of opportunities, but you will only succeed if you are able to focus. This will help you be sharper and get things done.
Build a following: You do great work and you want to share this with the world. You might even want other people to help you spread the word on your work. Today, this starts by understanding how social media works and actively engaging in a variety of social media platforms.
At some point, your organization will probably gain enough momentum to go beyond existing social media platforms to build its own community through a destination website that positions you as the partner of choice. I urge you to not leap right into this immediately, however, without first laying some solid groundwork around your open innovation effort and your thought leadership. I have seen far too many destination sites that clearly were not backed by a carefully thought-out purpose and strategy. Leaping into this deep end of the pool without adequate preparation could do more damage than good.
Co-create with others: At some point I decided to open up my blog, 15inno.com, for guest author contributions on open innovation. The reason for doing this is two-fold. I really believe that sharing what is happening in the open innovation community helps this movement to continue growing. The other reason is that helping others get recognition most likely also benefits you in the long run.
Be honest and “share” yourself: On my blog, I share private thoughts and lessons learned. I do not have to, but I have found that what many people really like is openness and honesty as this reveals integrity, which again helps build authenticity. This approach also reflects my values of being open to helping others, working with a passion and being honest.