Digital Thought Leadership – What is it and why is it important?

In the world of thought leadership, especially our “digital thought leadership” we need to be more conscious than ever about everything we have online rather than just our website or LinkedIn profiles.

In our recent surveys and polling of industry leaders, we have found on average 70% of professionals seeking new business lose referrals from lack of a consistent digital footprint. What does this mean? This means we must be aware of everything that we have online that includes our company's name or our name on it. When someone hears about our company or our people, the first thing they do is Google us. We are all one click away from rejection, and it happens more than we think. We are being judged and scored all the time based on what people find online. It truly is a brave new world.

We also now know the impact of things like user generated content, employee advocacy, digital thought leadership, social selling, influencer marketing and other areas that have evolved in our short digital lifetime.

But one thing that has not gone away is our digital reputation, which is built by our digital footprint. In fact, my first company was, launched over 12 years ago because we saw it happening then. We even saw our university students not getting admitted or losing scholarships based on what the admission offices found online.

My interview from 2010, this is not new, it’s just worse.

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And for those of us in business, it can impact brand credibility in ways we cannot even see, market share, recruiting, retention, sales and yes most importantly the one thing most of us rely on, referrals.

Digital Footprint – Definition

I thought it would be prudent to start with this since many people ask us what a Digital Footprint or Digital Shadow is. Not a new term to our world, but maybe to yours. (Thanks Wikipedia)

Digital footprint or digital shadow refers to one's unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications manifested on the Internet or on digital devices.[1][2][3][4] On the World Wide Web, the internet footprint;[5] also known as cyber shadow, electronic footprint, or digital shadow, is the information left behind as a result of a user's web-browsing and stored as cookies. The term usually applies to an individual person, but can also refer to a business, organization and corporation.[6]

There are two main classifications for digital footprints: passive and active. A passive digital footprint is data collected without the owner knowing (also known as data exhaust),[7] whereas active digital footprints are created when personal data is released deliberately by a user for the purpose of sharing information about oneself by means of websites or social media.[8] Information may be intentionally or unintentionally left behind by the user; with it being either passively or actively collected by other interested parties. Depending on the amount of information left behind, it may be simple for other parties to gather large amounts of information on that individual using simple search engines.

Tony Fish expounded upon the possible dangers of digital footprints in a 2007 self-published book.[9] The closed loop takes data from the open loop and provides this as a new data input. This new data determines what the user has reacted to, or how they have been influenced. The feedback then builds a digital footprint based on social data, and the controller of the social digital footprint data can determine how and why people purchase and behave.

Public vs. Private

Before we move forward, it is important that you understand what we mean by public versus private. In our definition, when we say public it means that anyone can find that profile or your data simply by searching on Google. It's open, it's available, they can read it, they can see it, they can find it. Private means you might have an account, or some data locked down someone either needs a password to access that platform or they need your permission to read it, keyword permission. It's important that you understand which accounts you and your employees have that are public or private.

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Facebook starting the trend in the cleanup

You might have heard recently that Facebook has activated the “Clear History” button. This is the beginning step to allow you to start cleaning up your digital footprint, but it's only the beginning as both Forbes and Facebook stated in the article: the best person in control of data is you.

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Article from Forbes: This New Facebook Tool Reveals How You Are Being Tracked Online

Next Beginning Steps

Let's take these steps in order so we can get in shape. When we start a new client account, the first thing we do is look at the digital footprint of the organization and what we call ‘customer facing employees’, which could be sales, customer service, operations, finance or however your company operates when interfacing with the outside. While reading this, you should even take an inventory of those most critical departments and or employees. This is why employee advocacy is so critical. We start with a scan, then clean up recommendations and then provide a step-by-step process of how to get it done. We continue on to train people on how to appear online and really be seen as thought leaders on behalf of the organization– even at the smallest roles.

Step One – Google Your Company

First, simply Google your organization’s name. Analyze what comes up, who's connected, which competitors come up, maybe even see which competitors are advertising with your name, what sites do you have that you forgot about, and so on. Take an inventory of these results so you are aware and can begin the cleanup process. This is the first critical part of your bounce rate on referrals. I bet most of you don’t even have your Google Business Page up to date, or maybe you don’t even have one at all.

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Also note if your content is relevant to what you are selling today, are your employees represented accurately  and are they relevant to how you're positioning them as experts to service your clients? Remember: this is what people are finding.

Step Two – Google Your Employees

This is probably one of the most common pieces we find that is overlooked. We spend a lot of money doing head shots and writing bios for employees that we list on the website, especially the customer facing ones; However, we don't go to the next step and actually Google those employees to see how they look online or even if they show that they work at the organization. We find that 75% of employee profiles are outdated both in position and representation of skills on behalf of the organization.

We once had a prospect that came to us and lost a 4-million-dollar project they were in the final running for, and the last critical step was that their employee profiles on LinkedIn matched the website but did not match the proposal. I'm writing this at the beginning of 2020, which means we are probably all launching new products, services, programs, and maybe even new divisions of our organization. That means we have talent or our talent has been updated to service those areas, is that being represented accurately, rather than like everyone else?

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In our digital thought leadership courses, we train how important it is that we are all individuals that have stories, skills, and experiences that make us unique. When these qualities are towed properly and properly connected to the brand, it will not only accelerate the credibility of the brand but humanize the brand so that it's more approachable. Please note: we discussed this in great detail in our webinar called “7 Steps to Rock Your Personal Brand Online” on our Social Jack platform that you can access it for free by going to Social Jack and searching for content. There are hundreds of relevant classes and materials here to help.

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Linked to this recording: CLICK HERE

Step Three – Take Inventory and Score

It is important that once you know this information, you take inventory and even score or rank your findings. We have a scoring system for this, and if you would like to contact us we can coach you on how to do this part. The important thing is to keep it simple, this is a true awareness exercise for your brands overall credibility.

There are many apps today that can be used to track, score and will fit any budget or level of sofistication. The screen above is an Employee Advocacy Platform that scores the engagement and interaction of your employees online as an example. This platform is called GaggleAmp..

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Step Four – Game Plan

Now that you are aware, it's time to set a game plan to create a more credible digital footprint. We have a process we call the “Rapid Launch Plan” when we do this for companies. You may have your own planning system, but keep in mind that now what you want to do is understand how your organization is sharing content and representing themselves from a digital footprint perspective, ultimately inserting this newfound knowledge and awareness into that plan.

As you can see below, the net effect of this isn't just referrals and new leads, but it affects retention, market share, recruiting, culture, and many other things in either a positive or negative perspective. This is your opportunity to really put 2020 on a great track for you and your organization.

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Step 5 – Training and Coaching

In the diagram you'll notice at the very bottom it says training and coaching. We have this as Step 5 as part of the cleanup process because many times, marketing will take over and just clean things up without involving the individuals, and all they're trying to do is help the brand. This is great, except people have to take ownership of their own personal digital footprint or this will never work. It will also create failure in any attempt to implement employee advocacy programs, which we have seen time and time again.

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Now, we can have an entire blog just on training alone and what you should train on, however, we have listed some of the common areas above that are covered in our employee advocacy programs and areas that we know that are important to increase necessary digital skills for your employees, collectively helping the brand.

Summarizing Digital Thought Leadership

The most important thing is to involve your people in the entire cleanup process. Have them take ownership in their story, personal brand, influence, and their digital thought leadership. This process alone will allow you to not only have a stronger more connected culture, but really increase the credibility, visibility, and viability of your brand in the marketplace. It will also humanize your brand and make it feel more approachable to those considering doing business with you.

I hope you find this useful, and please leave comments below that you believe will help readers to learn from your journey so we can continue to help each other and make this a healthy digital business world for all of us.

To learn more about digital thought leadership as well as other content, blogs, videos, training and classes check out Social Jack.

It seems that in today’s increasingly digital world, you have anyone on the planet within a click’s reach. So many social media platforms are designed to make communicating and engaging with others as easy and fast as possible. So, with all this immediate contact at our disposal, why not use it to our advantage?

As a Business Influencer (and yes, you are in fact an influencer), your impact on others is limitless— if you implement your influence correctly. LinkedIn, the leading professional networking and job search app, is a necessary tool for taking social media by the reigns and using it to build business. Yes, connecting with professionals in your industry, whether you know them or not, is great for building your network. But what’s the point of your large network if you are not taking the extra steps to convert these connections into clients? With each accepted invitation to connect comes a whole wave of opportunity. Watch this Social Jack Flash Class!

What is Social Selling?

Social selling is the process of developing relationships as part of the sales process. Today, this often takes place via social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, but can take place either online or offline. Examples of social selling techniques include sharing relevant content, interacting directly with potential buyers and customers, personal branding, and social listening. Social selling is gaining popularity in a variety of industries, though it is used primarily for B2B (business-to-business) selling or highly considered consumer purchases (e.g. financial advisory services, automotive, realty).

Social selling has become more popular since companies have looked to increase their return on investment of social media interaction. Sales teams within organizations frequently mine data from social media that may help them connect to customers in order to create a more genuine sales lead. The technique frequently focuses on approaching potential clients in a less direct way, meaning they don’t interrupt their daily lives with cold calls and hard sells. Koka Sexton stated that the art of social selling is said to speed up many sales processes, while also improving relationships.

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Let’s take a look at some statistics from the International Data Corporation:

75% of B2B buyers and 84% of C-level/vice president (VP) executives surveyed use social media to make purchasing decisions.

Online professional networks are the number one information preference of buyers in the final stage of the purchase process.

Social buying correlates with buying influence. The average B2B buyer who uses social media for buying support is more senior, has a bigger budget, makes more frequent purchases, and has a greater span of buying control than a buyer who does not use social media. B2B buyers find the greatest benefit of social media is gaining greater confidence in and comfort with their decisions.

How Many Contacts Do You Have That You Cannot See?

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When we think about our social reach, you may be connected to someone directly, through another person or through many different people. What happens is, information gets passed down a line. One person may see what you’re doing online, believe that it may be of value to someone else they know, then connect you to their connection. This opens up an array of networking opportunities

The LinkedIn Network

Even with 500, 400, even 300 industry-related connections, this puts us within degrees of millions of possible connections. When you look at someone’s profile on LinkedIn, you can see how many shared connections there are between you and them. This is the beginning of the formation of “clusters”. It is essential to know how to talk with the people within these clusters, more specifically, find the ones that matter.

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Goal: Prevent Clicking Roulette!

What we want to prevent is “clicking roulette”. It’s normal to go onto social media and begin clicking on every possible prospective client you see, but it’s not efficient or beneficial to us. We may log onto LinkedIn with one goal, but soon find ourselves buying gadgets from the Amazon trending list, or making trades on Draft Kings. This lack of focus is not going to generate appointments.

Personal Challenge: Make it a goal for yourself to set five minutes (and only five) to go on LinkedIn, and make your sole intent to leave with one appointment. Whether it’s a phone appointment, a Zoom call, or just a coffee date, make that your one goal for five minutes on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn Power Moves- Let’s Get Those Appointments!

1) Your Profile = Your Professional Brand

Think about your ideal target and whom you want to start conversations with. Take the time to identify your target audience, then make sure your LinkedIn profile speaks specifically to that group.

Your profile photo should represent who you truly are. It should be current, welcoming, and you want it to portray how you would look if a client were to be seeing you at a meeting or an event. If you put a tie on for professional headshot photo day at work, but you don’t usually wear a tie, that is not a good representation of your personal brand.

Ensure that your profile headline is clear and communicates to people what you do and how you can help them. Putting where you work is unnecessary because it is already located at the top of your profile. You want to answer the clients’ question: “What is your solution that you are bringing to me?”. Your headline is what the potential client will see first when they land on your profile, meaning it should be packed full of keywords (within LinkedIn's limit of 120 characters, of course) relating to your specialties and services. If they were to search for a combination of keywords pertaining to the service you provide, you want to be first on the list of profiles after they press enter.

Joseph has a clear & concise headline of exactly what he can provide to his potential clients. His profile photo represents him well, for if we were to meet him at an event, this is how he would appear. You can see he included speaker and author in his headline-- While this may not be his primary job, he included this service in order to be found via keyword search.

2) Home Page Scan (UNE)

Remember that personal challenge from earlier? When you log onto LinkedIn, use part of those five minutes to scan your homepage. This step is where you literally scroll through your LinkedIn feed. If you’re noticing a lot of content and profiles that don’t apply to you and your goals, you have the wrong network. You can hide this unwanted content, or even unfollow/disconnect to these people that don’t belong in your circle.

Example: If you are hosting an event and have 500 people you know, but 50 of those are the decision makers, those 50 people are the ones you want at your event. LinkedIn, and social media in general, is one huge event. Invite the people who belong, and drop the ones who aren’t benefiting you or your business.

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Above is what your LinkedIn home page looks like. Time to scroll and see who is helping you reach your goals— and who isn't. Remember: Social Media is like an event. Invite those who should be apart of it.

Within two minutes of your homepage scan, you should be able to spot somebody worth starting a conversation with.

3) Network Diving – Level One

Find someone within your network whom you believe is reputable, is always making referrals, or who is just a good friend. Then, “dive” into their LinkedIn network.

Example: Tony is a good friend of mine who I KNOW would always be willing to introduce me to people in his network. Find a connection like Tony and try diving into their connections!

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Don’t be afraid to get in touch with your established network and ask them to introduce you to people in their network. Take the “social” part of social media literally, and dive right in to new opportunities.

LinkedIn has a feature where you can search specifically for a certain industry, seniority, or job title of that connection pool to ensure you’re reaching out to your preferred target audience.

Here's an example of a filtered search within Tony's network:

Customize the search on your friend or colleague's network to hone in on a target that meets your needs.

4) Conversation

Now that you took that leap of faith diving into a new network, it’s time to start a conversation. Think back to those first five minutes on LinkedIn, we’re at the point where times halfway up.

You have identified that new person whom you want to start a conversation with, now it’s time to engage. Isn’t engaging what social media is all about? Select a recent post that your prospective appointment has shared and start a genuine conversation with them in the comments. Something as simple as making an authentic comment is a guaranteed way to opening up new doors for you and this potential client. Put the sales aside for a second and really focus and touch on what matters to them. Start that dialogue, and be sure that you are all in on investing in them. This will establish a feeling of authenticity and trust before the actual conversation even begins.

Example: You found a potential appointment, Spencer in this case, from that nose dive into Tony's network. Now that it's time to start a conversation, head over to Spencer's activity to find something you can either comment on or include in your future messaging.

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5) Set the Hook – Convert

Now that you've done all that work (about 3.5 minutes into your 5 minute limit!), you're ready to get that appointment. Here are a few example strategically formulated messages you can send to your future client for your best chances of landing that conversion.

The “Catch Up”

This introductory message shows a genuine, authentic approach to breaking the ice with your target appointment. Writing this message needs to be done in a targeted fashion. Confirm that this person has a reason to utilize you and your services and that you as well are targeted in this initiative.

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The “Fresh Connect”

It is important to thank people for connecting. If you’re lost on ways to initiate that conversation, thanking someone for simply connecting with you is a great place to start. It’s personal, simple, and gets straight to business.

We want to include a specifics with formulating this message. Specify how you want to meet and let them know you’re interested in working with them. Don’t leave this potential client wondering why you reached out.

Always provide two times and dates you are available to meet! If their response is delayed, at least you ignited a dialogue that can get picked back up in the future. Don’t forget to insert forms of contact information so you are easily reachable. While LinkedIn does not allow for automated signatures on messaging, it is always helpful to keep a document handy with a custom signature you can quickly copy and paste.

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The “Continued Call”

One of the most important things about the continued call message is that you started the conversation. Remember that initial chat you had in the comments of the potential client’s post? It should be referenced here in this direct message. You can lead with language like “As promised…” or “Like I mentioned…” as an extension of that previous conversation. Make your intentions clear.

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The “Transition”

This message can be technically viewed as an email validation. Make sure you have that intent to go from this conversation, to the next.
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The “Referral Call”

Adding something relevant and specific to this potential client will allow them to feel like you truly care about them as a person, rather than just another possible conversion. Now, you are actually offering them referrals, letting them know that this connection will be mutually beneficial.

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All of these steps to creating appointments on LinkedIn are meant to be completed within just FIVE minutes after logging on. Ditch the phone, turn off the TV, and focus on using your time on social media to gain new business. Every message you’ve seen thus far has included a personalized touch, clear intent, specific times and dates, and contact information. Who knew that five short minutes could be amplified into creating appointments? It is essential that we utilize the ever-growing digital world to our advantage.

What did you take away from these 5 LinkedIn power moves?

About the Author

For over 30 years, Dean DeLisle, has demonstrated his ability to accelerate bank, financial, and insurance institutions to stimulate business development while in a compliant environment. As Founder of Forward Progress, Dean and his team have helped over 2,000 clients assess and improve their online marketing and social networking results and trained over 120,000 professionals in over 35 countries with their online programs on their Social Jack™ Academy.

Dean has recently launched his new book, FIRST, The Street Guide to Digital Business Influence, which also tell stories of leaders within banking who have changed their culture and brand impact online.

Watch this Social Jack Flash Class