Keri Toomey '09: Becoming a Thought Leader in Social Media


Keri Toomey

Class: 2009
Major: Mass Communications, Politics
Occupation: Senior Account Executive, PR
Chapter: Chicago

I’m in the business of helping professional and financial services firms raise their profile and promote their expertise. An organization’s best assets are their professionals, so we often build PR/marketing programs to turn executives into thought leaders.

You may not have an integrated communication firm to help you develop messages, get quoted in the Wall Street Journal, or secure speaking opportunities, but you do have a host of tools at your fingertips to build a social profile and become a thought leader. Here are some tips and best practices we recommend to our clients when starting a digital thought leadership program:

  • Focus – You likely have developed a broad range of skills and expertise throughout your career, but you can’t be everything to everyone. When deciding what you want to build a profile around, ask yourself the following questions: 1) Where are the best opportunities to grow my business or brand in the next year? 2) What areas of my work am I most passionate about? 3) Where can I add the most value?For example, an HR consultant may work with technology and healthcare organizations on their compensation plan design and career pathing, but it would be difficult to become a digital thought leader in both industries or on both service offerings. Narrow your focus so you don’t spread yourself too thin.
  • Listen First – We often have clients who come looking for what we call the “shiny objects” (eg: “I want to be a thought leader on Twitter” or “I want to start a blog”). While both of these platforms can be great for showcasing your thought leadership and building your brand, it’s crucial to do some pre-thinking and listening to find out where your target audience is talking.Search for blogs with an active (or engaging) community, dig around in LinkedIn groups and associations, and look for peers and influencers on Twitter and Google+ to see where your targets are and what they’re talking about. Then find opportunities to add your own perspective, without “selling” what you’ve got to offer.
  • Be Helpful – Some people think that personal branding is all about self-promotion, but if you’re in a LinkedIn group discussion to talk about yourself, you’re going to be ignored. It may be common sense, but the best way to become a thought leader and get followers and subscribers is to be helpful. I look at folks like Mark Schaefer and Jay Baer (who are thought leaders in my industry) and am always struck by how much time they spend helping others and sharing some of their secret sauce at no cost.
  • Be Patient – Social media may be all about instant communication and feedback, but it rarely leads to instant ROI. It takes time to build a presence and an audience, and results (when they come) may be difficult to measure and quantify. Keep plugging along and avoid abandoning platforms or communities you create. Give it time to grow.

While you won’t become a trusted resource in a social network overnight, if you’re filling a niche and adding value, followers and subscribers will come more quickly. And importantly, in the road to becoming a thought leader, enjoy the process and the conversation – you may find opportunities and benefits you wouldn’t have anticipated.

Keri Toomey (’09, Mass Communications & Politics) is  account supervisor at Bliss Integrated Communication.

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Perspective Types: Advertising, Marketing, Communications, & PR, Digital Communication & Social Media
Industry Tags: Social Media, Public Relations
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