Thought Leadership Wins Social Media Votes in B2B

Did you ever wonder what builds social media audiences in B2B circles?

An empirical study of 171 leading influencers by Dr. John Gironda and yours truly found that thought leadership out ranks helpful advice, engagement, entertainment, inspiration, empathy and content credibility.

So what is thought leadership and what does it mean for marketing and sales representatives?

Aspiring thought leaders must champion groundbreaking ideas that provoke new mindsets around a different way of doing business. Think Steve Jobs and the way he fomented change. But for you to gain credibility for your forward thinking insights, the research suggests you must first earn your stripes with trails of content perceived as timely, relevant and useful (i.e., instructional tips that help buyers with their operational challenges).

This is where a lot of sales and marketing personnel bail out. After all, who has the time to brainstorm fresh perspectives and helpful tips?

But imagine the trust built if buyers see you generously sharing your digital content (e.g., blog posts, videos, live broadcasts, white papers, etc.). Your empathy speaks volumes. And don’t underestimate the confidence built as each shared piece sheds more light on your expertise and relevance to your prospective buyer.

On the thought side of thought leadership, buyers need original ideas or unique perspectives before they consider you a trusted authority. High on their list is your market foresight. How can you help them navigate through turbulent times or uncertain futures? In the social media world, this is often done by consultants who regularly forewarn their customers of risky technologies.

The combination of forward looking insights and operational helpfulness then sets the stage for showcasing your expertise. Without this, your claims for cutting-edge ideas cannot be validated. So start with instructional tips to show what you know. Periodically lay out some predictions for what is coming down the pike, and then provoke a new mindset that signals to your buyers that you are worthy of their selective attention and patronage.

On the leadership side of thought leadership, marketers with the most social clout are often known for their inspiration appeal. You have to be able to drive conversations that literally spark a movement. One way to do this is to edu-tain them. Our research showed no direct influence between entertainment and social influence. But it did show an indirect influence through inspirational motivation. The suggestion here is to dress up your content with humor and visual storytelling as a way to inspire your audience.

Why is this important? Imagine a buyer in total control of the sales process (i.e. inbound marketing). Most of the buyer journey is done digitally, and 60% of the cycle is complete before they contact sales. With over 850 million websites equipped for blogging, everyone wants the buyer’s attention. So who do they follow? Their go-to advisors are opinion leaders that could help in innovative brainstorming. This sounds more like helping than selling.

So what do you think falls next on the list of ways to build social influence?

James Barry, D.B.A., is an Associate Professor of Marketing in the H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship. Dr. Barry develops, teaches and consults on a variety of social media marketing subjects. He can be reached at

Social Marketing to 4 Types of Influencers

Brands and small businesses are quickly recognizing the power of marketing to their key influencers as their own thought leadership efforts stall out. Invitations to an influencer's podcast episodes, guest blogs and featured commentaries are arguably becoming the quickest and most affordable way to organically grow an audience. Unfortunately, few recognize the distinct characteristics of influencers that impact our ability to get on their radar.

An exploratory study of Top Social Media Influencers found 4 Archetypes derived from an examination of a content spectrum (educational to inspirational) and a communication spectrum (insightful to engaging). The resulting archetypes include analytical pundits, evangelists, mentors and motivators.

Notice from the table below how the approach to attracting each archetype varies across:

·         Content delivery formats

·         The way we interact

·         The method used to boost our influencer's audience

Analytical Pundits seek research to support their vision. They prefer round table forums in a debate oriented setting. Consequently, marketers can get on their radar with empirical data, conference invitations, trend line reports and book reviews.

Evangelists seek more illustrious content that support their fresh leading edge perspectives. Their audiences of advocates often share their views in a storytelling format. Marketers can contribute to their causes or insights with heartfelt commentary and inspirational imagery.

Mentors are looking for ways to enhance their courseware with instructional aids for workshop settings. Their audiences seek enhanced performance skills through tactical tips in a Q&A format. Marketers, in this case, can support them with educational aids and expert commentary.

Motivators seek ways to stimulate their audiences often in an entertaining setting. Content contributions need to help them maintain audience energy so as to sustain a packed audience. This works best when the content includes audience participative exercises, humor and motivational success stories.

So where do you find yourself among these categories? Are you more of an analytical pundit, evangelist, mentor or motivator?

 James Barry, D.B.A., is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University. He develops, teaches and consults on a variety of social media marketing subjects. He can be reached at

Why Apps will Jump-Start “Friend-of-Mine” Marketing

You may know that over 1 million apps are downloadable on an iPhone. But did you know how businesses are counting on these apps to break the mold of traditional marketing? Just at the point where you may feel comfortable sporting your inbound marketing badge, you may want to research this new generation of Friend-of-Mine marketing. As explained further, smart marketers are finding clever ways to befriend consumers addicted to "self-help" apps while reinforcing their brand image in the process.

From "Top-of-Mind" to "Frame-of-Mind" to "Friend of-Mine"

Let's first rewind. For years, marketers counted on Top-of-Mind awareness to reach audiences. So after constantly hearing AFLAC!, AFLAC!, we would remember them if and when we become a prospect. This assumes a great deal of consistency, channel breadth and cash.

But along came search engines and social content marketing. This shifted "Top-of-Mind" to "Frame-of Mind" awareness. The goal here is to align your problem solving content (e.g., webinars, eBooks, blogs, etc.) with targeted audiences precisely when and where they are in their buying cycle. This inbound marketing approach is less intrusive than Top-of-Mind and is based on the generous giving of helpful content.

Enter the "app" generation.

Big brands see the move toward mobile apps as a way to engage in Friend-of-Mine marketing. The concept works like this. Charmin's "Sit or Squat" app allows you to download a map of rated restrooms in your area.

Why would they do this? Hopefully, you will associate Charmin's brand with helpfulness while inviting them into your circle of friends. Okay, that may be a stretch. But imagine seeing only this brand name at the time of need.

The Geek Squad is often questioned why their self-help electronic repair videos don't jeopardize their own repairs. Instead, they find the typical overextended gadget fixer searching for a bail-out. Upon witnessing the Geek Squad's expertise, they make the call. This "Let me Help" form of marketing" is not employed as a sales tactic but as a way for the Geek Squad to become a friend. But in the process of helping, they undoubtedly generate new demand.

A widely downloaded app for stain removals is sponsored by Clorox. Although much of their researched advice goes well beyond the scope of their offerings, they can actually stimulate new demand as users consider new possibilities for stain removal. Similarly, Ortho has an app that will help you identify and treat harmful weeds in real-time. Whose weed killer and fertilizer are you going to remember?

Friend-of-Mine Marketing Offers Entrepreneurial Advantages

Small businesses are also capitalizing on low cost app development to offset the high costs of top of mind advertising. Consider how Columbia Gear has an app to explain the various knots to tie when engaged in outdoor excursions. Rather than sporting ads for their outdoor clothing, they are banking on your befriending them at a time when you might consider their products.

So what cool apps do you think can qualify as an exemplary use of Friend-of-Mine marketing?

James Barry, D.B.A., is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University. He develops, teaches and consults on a variety of social media marketing subjects. He can be reached at or 954-262-5134. More About the Contributor

Inbound Marketing: Give Me FREE Stuff Plus Your Secrets?

Did you ever imagine a world without cold calling or interrupting ads? How about one where marketers share secrets for free? That's where we are heading with social media and inbound marketing. Do you buy this?

Inbound marketing implies that our blogs, webinars and eBooks do the talking. Arguably, we can even post and tweet our way to a sale. In the process, we share valuable advice in order to build trust that is worthy of an invite. This makes sense given our aversion to pushy advertising. But why would marketers spend for us to download their FREE content only to wait for an invite?

Get Your Audience to Know, Like and Trust You

When marketed correctly, useful content can leave a trail of expertise backed by a likable persona. If delivered free, we can even be credited with acts of benevolence. What? Mother Teresa and marketing in the same mix? Yes, if you think of benevolence as blogging about solutions to your target's pain points but without wanting something in return.

Now imagine doing this with ads and cold calls. Where is the trail of expertise and trustworthiness? Let's face it. Today's consumers hold little trust in our promises and will demand a trail of trustworthy advice. What's more, they have the power to ignore unwanted emails and unidentified calls while fast forwarding through commercials. Instead, they conduct their own online evaluations and consult with social networking friends on who to invite to the cocktail party.

Show All of Your Cards for Free

So why not join them? And don't forget to bring a dish. You can start with a free blog that fits the conversation. Then reveal your secrets on how to help them. Before you know it, others will join the conversation. Some may even think you know what you are talking about. Finally, lighten up the dialog and even tell a story. Drop the PR and legal speak, and sound like a human. Better yet, say something funny. Who knows – they may grow to like you.

The same applies to inbound marketing just without the cocktails.

Wait for the Invite

So let's get this straight. We are asked to:

1. Share competitive secrets

2. Provide free content

3. Entertain if we cannot educate

4. Wait for an invite

Is Inbound Marketing Really Here to Stay?

With over a billion on social networks, consumers choose who to hear and who to ignore. But do we really expect to become blogging journalists and comedians to gain their favor? What happened to professionalism and timely savings broadcasted on your favorite channels? I would like to know what you think.

Is inbound marketing:

1. Here to stay for most businesses?

2. A mainstay for some businesses?

3. Likely to fade away?

James Barry, D.B.A. is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University. He develops, teaches and consults on a variety of social media marketing subjects. He can be reached at or 954-262-5134. More About the Contributor