Lee Odden

The Power of We: How to Build Personal & Corporate Brand Thought Leadership Through Social Content

Mari Smith & Lee Odden

Mari Smith exemplifies personal brand through social content

Building personal brand online is easier than ever. It’s also underrated and misunderstood by many companies trying make sense of where personal and brand social media engagement fit in the marketing and communications mix.

For myself, blogging, speaking and becoming an author have been less about becoming a “brandividual” than to serve as a proxy to the consulting that TopRank Online Marketing offers.  This approach has served us well, resulting in creating awareness internationally and keeping customer acquisition costs extremely low.

Alternatively, many companies focus solely on brand promotion without any real people behind those social media interactions.  This generic brand approach often finds social content efforts lacking. Engagement tends to be low, attention spent by the community superficial and the momentum of community growth is elusive.

What’s the solution?  Companies that realize there are amazing stories to be told by internal brand advocates and that scalable social media is more meaningful when there are real people behind it are investing resources into supporting a digital presence for key executives, subject matter experts and even sales or customer service staff. 

In order for everyone to win in this scenario, there are two essential considerations:

  • Which of your personal goals can be facilitated by an enhanced online and social media presence?
  • How can your online thought leadership advance the corporate brand?

When a company has a clear vision about what role social media and content will play in providing value and growing the business, then incorporating a combined personal and brand focused social content effort will help scale the social brand presence, Rather than being seen as mechanical, social interactions combine individual personalities with a common brand narrative resulting in a more meaningful online presence. This presence benefits individuals by creating more awareness of their thought leadership, which in turn reflects positively on the overall brand.

I know from experience there can be some uncertainty and even a little fear of “going social” for many executives. Drawing from my own experience and from many years of consulting with companies, here are some basic steps to get started:

1. Decide: What do you stand for? – What is your unique selling proposition? How do you want to be known in the context of your core values and your expertise within the company?

2. Discover who you’re trying to connect with and how you can help them.  Who can benefit from your knowledge and expertise? In what situations? What are their preferences for information discovery, consumption and action with social content?

3. Develop a social content plan  – Reconcile your personal value and USP (unique selling proposition) with the information needs of those you’re trying to reach. Distill the message of your own thought leadership value into statements. What are the key topics, phrases and words that best support your message? Use those concepts to support your social content plan.

4. Pick a channel and commit – Find an online home or hub for your content, whether it’s a blog, podcast or video channel. Pick spokes that will serve as channels of distribution. Commit to spending a small, but consistent amount of time growing your networks by sharing, engaging and being useful to your community.

5. Schedule participation – “No time” is the number one objection to social media participation and the simplest way to become more efficient is through planning. Networking, content creation and engagement should be scheduled in your daily plan of activities.

For example, spend 15 minutes daily finding useful resources to share and schedule that sharing to publish throughout the day. Find an hour or two, once or twice a week to create content.  Take 5-10 minutes mid-day to review social channels, answer comments and interact on your social channels.  Making social engagement and content party of your routine will ensure consistency. More time practicing these skills will also make you more efficient.

6. Borrow to build – Seek others that already “have” the thought leadership that you seek in specific areas. Find ways to interact with them through social channels, commenting and co-creation of content. Find ways to create value that existing thought leaders want. These interactions can lead to connections that result in collaboration, cross posting of content and by proxy, increased thought leadership for yourself and your brand.

7. Leverage software – Efficiency is key for time and resource starved executives, so tools are essential. In particular, tools for:

  • Monitoring social news and communities – trackur, sproutsocial
  • Curation – scoop.it, storify
  • Social engagement – hootsuite
  • Social publishing  – tumblr, wordpress

I’ve always been a fan of using a hub and spoke model for implementing this kind of approach with a blog as the hub. It doesn’t have to be your own blog either. It can be as a contributor to the corporate blog or another community blog. You don’t need numerous spokes to begin with either. I started with blogging and LinkedIn in 2003. Then I added other social networks, public speaking and more industry involvement over the next 8 years.

If just a handful of executives or public facing figures for a company become savvy about social content and building simultaneous individual and corporate brand thought leadership, the effect on scaling the company’s meaningful social presence can be substantial.

So what’s holding you back? What’s stopping you from taking a leadership position with your brand’s social media approach and activating your internal thought leadership?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Great post Lee! I like the point you make about truly identifying the people you want to connect with and what is important to them.

  2. This is a seriously tough area, and many companies that are trying Social Media are running face first into (repeatedly), and often then quitting.

    But, is the “Brand Ambasador” approach the only way?
    There have been numerous questions raised over the concept of Googles AuthorRank and hte promotion of the Individual over the Brand/Company profile. Many have fears that personal profiles will outweigh the company presence – and the potential problems that may arise if the individual leaves the company.
    (Similar issues exist regarding “content”, ownership and where the “value” goes as well)

    If you’re an independant, or the owner/partner etc. – then it’s a non-issue in many cases. But for many, this is a thorny problem.

    Yes, the Brand Ambassador approach works – but are there hidden costs/risks?
    Are there other routes available?
    If so, what/which/where – and what are the trade offs?

    • Thanks for your comment Lyndon. While it’s tempting for many to see particular advice as the best way or only way, the reality is that online marketing and PR is multi-dimensional.

      For companies that employ individuals with unique expertise, the idea of surfacing that expertise to build both individual and brand credibility is an effort worth exploring. Rather than singling out one individual, the ideal would be to encourage multiple subject matter experts to become more visible online.

      In this way, customers, peers and the media get a more personal sense of the people behind the brand.

      The approach outlined in this post is to outline basic and easy to understand/implement steps towards helping those individuals create more of a meaningful professional presence for themselves in a way that builds their own credibility and that of the company they work for.

      The cost is time. The benefit is scaled social presence in a meaningful way. The con is that some people might get “too good at it” and leave. But I suspect those people would leave anyway. Even if they do leave, their success is reflects positively on the brand, especially if they continue to be an advocate.

      Should they leave as a detractor, that is a risk. But it’s also one that can be mitigated if such corporate sponsored brandividualism is well managed and supported. I think the pros far outweigh the cons.

  3. I have learned a lot from this post, thank you, Lee. How many channels for distribution should there be? Or it depends on a type of content and audience you appealing to? Because trying to cover as many channels as possible may result in pour engagement, I suppose.

    • Thanks Sergey. I think it’s important to start out practical and maybe focus on 1 or 2 channels. A blog as the hub with LinkedIn and Twitter for promotion can be a good start for B2B. Switch LinkedIn for Facebook if you are B2C. You are right, it does depend on the audience and type of content. For B2B, I would add Slideshare if at all possible and Pinterest for B2C if content supports it.

  4. Avatar Sheetal Sharma says

    Social media is a good medium to build personal and corporate brands, given the coverage these days and growing number of individuals on social media. At Synechron, we are committed to develop realistic workable plans for social media which not only increases our brand visibility but also builds credibility online.

  5. Avatar Rachel Kreutzinger says

    As you’ve said, social media and other forms of online presence have to include real communication with customers. What is your opinion on engagement advertising – do you think participation-based rich media has a similarly positive effect (if care is put into the interface)?

    • Hi Rachel, that’s an interesting question. I’m not sure interacting with an ad has the same effect as with a person functioning as a brand advocate.

      However, from a quantitative scale of engagement standpoint, I agree CPE could elevate effect. If a brand advocate creates content that resonates on a social channel like Facebook, I think that is an opportunity for promotion to a broader audience.

  6. Thank you for the great post. I really like how you described the borrow to build idea. I am a strong believer in collaborating during every step of the process. Whether it is with the client, the customers or the community in general, it is a great way to create value for everyone involved!

  7. Social media is only good when you can communicate with your real audience efficiently through it. Right content thus is necessary for that. Create a link worthy content. It is a great platform to place your back links.

  8. stunning post! ) and useful tips)