Executive influence has never been more important. As the marketing world continues to evolve faster and faster, business leaders with a voice will lead their companies further than those that don’t rise up above the crowd.
In part one of this series, we took a look at some of the top executives in the world, a list including such luminaries as Elon Musk of Tesla, Mary Barra of GM, Jeffery Immelt of GE, and more. We then analyzed the four initial factors that drives influence for CXOs like them: owning a topic, making the most of controversy, the finance corollary, and publish or perish.
Now, let’s round those out with the 3 remaining important habits of influential CEOs:
- 5. Know Your Audience
- 6. Be More Than A Brand Extension
- 7. Make Yourself Accessible
And to top that off, we’ll conclude with some very actionable next steps so you can get started right away.
5. Know Your Audience
If limiting your topics is rule number 1, consider knowing your audience the way to pick that initial topic. As an intelligent executive, you know that it makes sense to write about the markets and fields you and your company excel or wish to excel in, but as you’ll see, there’s more to it than that.
Who exactly is your intended audience and what do they want from your insight? Do you wish to keep your readership narrow and only go after your peers, or potential purchasers of your products? Do you want to be perceived as a thought leader? And if so, is that a wonky thought leader highly versed in the technical details of your field, or are you going for more of a “pop psychology” approach? There’s a lot to consider here, and once you pick an approach, consistency is key.
If you want to be known as your industry’s data wonk, it’ll confuse your audience if every once in a while you push out a piece with nothing but market-friendly platitudes. Similarly, if you’re trying to make your insights accessible to a broad readership, you’ll scare people away if they see you tweet a jargon-laced tech manual.
Let’s take a look at a counter-example: Micky Arison is the Chairman of Carnival Cruises and the owner of the Miami Heat, and he’s also nowhere on our list of thought leaders. A quick perusal of his very public Instagram reveals why. Photos of your shoes followed by shots of Brooklyn may be amusing, but they don’t exactly say “thought leader.” If Mr. Arison instead stuck to a humanizing, behind the scenes look at how his cruise ships work, he would have a much more engaging presence.
6. Be More Than A Brand Extension
The reason executives achieve prestige is because they are more than the brands they represent. If people want to just hear mindless fun facts about your latest product, they’ll follow your brand’s twitter. If you want them to follow you personally, you need to give them something more – a behind the scenes look at what’s really going on, something that will really make people think.
Let’s take Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, as an example. He’s in our top 20, so he’s clearly resonating with his audience; but what is he saying? You won’t find him going on about the tech specs of the latest MacBook Air, or crowing about the iPhone’s market share. Instead, he’s a voice for inclusion and thoughtfulness in the tech industry.
Take a look at some of his recent tweets:
Congrats to 5000 Apple employees/families who attended today’s Pride parade.Inclusion inspires innovation.#applepride pic.twitter.com/4DncX8F6fO
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 29, 2014
Enjoying the beauty of #Yosemite after hiking to Glacier Point. Amazing view of Half Dome. Perfect OSX name. pic.twitter.com/TP38dRIAz8
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 25, 2014
That’s a potent mix of heart-warming social inclusiveness, as well as just enough behind-the-scenes fodder to keep the fan-boys happy – a smart recipe that shows both he and Apple have brains and heart. It also keeps nicely with our previous rules, as Mr. Cook hews closely to a few topics. He may appear casual, but his thoughts are very calculated; don’t expect him to start tweeting photos of his kids’ softball practice any time soon. All in all, consider this a superlatively run internet presence.
7. Make Yourself Accessible
Often the very upper echelons of executives can seemingly isolate themselves and not respond to others reaching out to them, the result of busy schedules and conflicting deadlines. A savvy executive rising the ranks must avoid those habits, and acknowledge that taking the time to respond to questions and comments is an important part of their schedule.
After all, if you want people to listen to you, you need them to know that you’ll listen to them as well. So make the most of your platforms, and embrace the dialogue that’s inherently available in your blog’s comments, twitter replies, publicly accessible email address, and more.
If someone asks you a question, answer it. Not only are you providing obvious value, but by showing that you care about the community, you’ve just secured yourself an advocate that will tell people that you and your brand really do think about their market.
John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile USA, has shown he isn’t afraid to say and do whatever he’s thinking – even if it’s as outlandish as crashing a party held by rival AT&T. With actions as bold as his, he’s bound to rile up a few people. But when he’s done that, he’s also shown the tact to respond to his questioners, displaying a self-effacing wit that would benefit most members of C-suites worldwide.
Imagine how much more influential the rest of our list could be if they actually listened to their customers. The world would love a banking CEO who actually seemed to “get” his or her customer’s complaints. Now harness that same power for yourself, and make sure you’re not ignoring a client that’s begging to spend money with you.
That may seem like a slightly daunting list, but when you take each step on its own, getting started shouldn’t be too hard.
Take a pen and some paper and think about what you like talking about, what your company sells, what your colleagues seem to most enjoy hearing from you, etc. Do you notice any recurring answers between each category? That could be your topic to own. Now take some time to think about what’s the most appropriate angle and tone you should use when addressing the topic, as we discussed previously. Find something that comes naturally to you – there’s no sake in forcing out formality if you’re a naturally bubbly communicator. With all these in mind, dash off your first draft of a blog post.
There’s literally no reason not to get started today; you’ll improve and refine your technique with each subsequent attempt. Once you have a good stream of content going, each piece will be exponentially more valuable, as it’s now part of a collection of wise and inter-related thoughts. Expand your content from your personal or company blog to Medium, or perhaps LinkedIn. Once you’ve shown you can put good thoughts on paper (or screens) you’ll be more appealing to speak at events and tradeshows. And after you’re a familiar face on those circuits, expect the press and general audiences to get all the more comfortable referring to you, quoting you, and asking advice from you frequently. It’s a virtuous cycle, and with a little hard work you and your company will really start reaping benefits.