On the value of thought leadership

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 23 June, 2011 at

It is no secret that anyone working in the social business world struggles daily with how to measure value and return on their investment (ROI) in the space. If we can figure out how to effectively measure our work and translate it into monetary value, we’re golden. Come up with a nice easy formula in the support space to show avoided cost, something like: “total clicks to payload x success indicator x %clients who would call = avoided call ticket x cost per case = avoided cost”  and you’ve got your end of story, right?

Well, not so fast (you knew I wasn’t going to let you go that easily right?). What about measuring those intangibles I spoke of in my earlier post here? How can you effectively measure thought leadership and eminence in the industry? Or rather, and perhaps more importantly, is the value of being a thought leader more important than the simply monthly indicators of engagement and content consumption?

I’m fairly certain you can see what I’d argue here…. that thought leadership, that digital eminence is actually the primary purpose of social business, everything else we do is secondary to supporting that higher goal. Sharing our high value content? Sure, that’s an essential part of what we do…. which goes to support the end result of raising our place in the digital world and the ultimate perception that we are indeed the thought leaders in our industry.

Let me take an exampled approach here, and bear with a few assumptions along the way:
You all know I am passionate about whiskies. No arguments from any of you on that point I’m sure. Amongst my friends (outside of the actual industry) you may possibly consider me as a burgeoning thought leader when it comes to topics surrounding whiskies. But why is that? Is it simply because I consistently post a measurable number of links to quality whiskies related content? Or is it because over time I’ve consistently provided quality content related to specifics of whiskies in conjunction with other efforts I make in other spaces to learn and help teach others about this water of life? I’ll bet you’d tell me the latter of the two choices. But which of the two is more important to you? Is just receiving the content enough to warrant me as a thought leader when it comes to whisk(e)y? Again I’d wager to say, no, it isn’t. Thought leadership is critical to what my boss recently described as “compounded interest”. Which makes perfect sense to me.

Continuing with the example…  let me ask; is my thought leadership in the whiskies world of benefit to you? My guess here is that it is, but only when you need it. I am often asked by friends and family for recommendations of whiskies to give as gifts; and I am happy to oblige, especially since answering those questions typically helps me learn and stay up to date on pricing changes and allows me to hone my skills at choosing decent drams. But it is only important to you because the issue on your plate is what bottle to buy for your friend. If you weren’t in that predicament, my thought leadership in the space wouldn’t be of value to you. This exemplifies my point about thought leadership; that there is value there, possibly great value, but only in a ‘just-in-time’ ad hoc model. Right now, as I write this entry, my eminence (bear with me on that assumption) as a whiskies subject matter expert is irrelevant since I am neither posting specifically about whisky, nor is anyone presently utilizing my knowledge about the topic, so I’m not seeing value right now, nor have I over the course of this month. Last month, however, my thought leadership WAS valuable as I was able to recommend a moderately priced bottle as a gift, making a big impact upon the recipient from what I hear, but also not breaking the bank to do so. In that case, I’d say my eminence could have a direct monetary value had I not been asked and had a higher priced bottle been purchased.

My point in this is to show that thought leadership can only be built over time, and the value only seen at the whim of the client with no way to predict how or when that value will be recognized. Perhaps, in the technical support world it will be in avoiding a call ticket because a client remembered a blog post on the topic which included the answer, or perhaps it will be during a sales call when a client signs a maintenance agreement because they recognize our eminence in the space and know we can help them effectively and efficiently when they encounter difficult issues….

Thought leadership is potentially VERY valuable in these instances, but (like the above example), is not solely a product of just work in social business, rather it is a holistic drive connecting all sorts of activities which combine to build that eminence over time. Eminence which can show value in varied, unexpected ways, which can often skirt any potential to accurately measure and connect effort to value.

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