What You, Steve Jobs, Hillary Clinton and Karl Rove have in Common

Why are people like Steve Jobs, Karl Rove, Hillary Clinton, Malcolm Gladwell, and Jon Stewart so compelling?

Steve Jobs, A Thought Leadership Rock Star

Steve Jobs, A Thought Leadership Rock Star

Recently Newsweek crowned these people (and a few others) as “Thought Leaders.”

In social media, Thought Leadership is a holy grail, a quest to achieve a competitive standing that promises revenue and differentiation. However, Thought Leadership is easier to extol than it is to achieve.


Perhaps it has to do with a seldom talked about requirement for thought leadership strategy – the ability to tell a distinctive story.

In fact, when you look deeply, you see that each of the thought leaders listed above have a unique knack for telling stories that are impossible to ignore.

  • Steve Jobs weaves a tale of why everyone should be able to carry their entire music library in their pocket.
  • Karl Rove convinced a good chunk of America that a Texas governor had the right solution for America’s problems.
  • Hillary Clinton showed us that anything is possible if you can tell a compelling story, and showed us a future where women presidents are the norm.
  • Jon Stewart has used comedy to holding the press accountable to delivering news that matters.
  • And…my favorite, Malcolm Gladwell, redefined the genre of business non-fiction by creating utterly irresistible vignettes that challenged and engaged.

Although these icons are thought leadership rock stars, you can glean useful lessons from them to position your business as a source of innovation and leadership.

The Basic Ingredients of Thought Leadership Strategy

A Story:
The most interesting factoid about Subway’s “Jared” ad campaign, is that it beat the pants off another commercial campaign. During the Jared Campaign, Subway also ran advertising touting its 7 subs for under $6. This traditional campaign laid out the facts about why Subway was great lunchtime bargain.

The Jared Campaign kicked its butt.

Why? I bet you know why. People love stories.

Thought Leadership requires you need to dig deep for your businesses story.

Here are some places to look:

  • Who founded your company and why?
  • Who were the first customers and why did they buy? Your first customers are often the early adopters who know exactly why you stand out from the rest.

Why do customers continue to buy your product?

Your loyal customers are excellent sources for the pure, unvarnished truth about your brand.

By the way, you can’t fabricate great stories. Don’t worry though, I bet there are dozens of compelling stories locked in your organization. You just need to be committed to unlocking them and using them as the foundation for your thought leadership strategy.


You can’t lead your industry from the middle of the pack.

Your product has to be the bright light on the top of the mountain (even if the mountain is the size of a hill!).

As a thought leader, you will rely on the distinctiveness of your product to draw an audience and add zip to your marketing. Without it, you are hanging out with the generic brands on the bottom-shelf.

The thought leaders I highlighted earlier are masters of being distinct.

Malcolm Gladwell surprised his readers when he showed how small counterintuitive changes could deliver amazing results. Jon Stewart shocked us when he held Jim Cramer’s feet to the fire, and Karl Rove rocked the democrats when he used technology to create a new Republican coalition.

You must do the same.

What is distinctive about your product, culture or approach to business? How do your customer’s benefit from your distinctiveness?

Telling Your Thought Leadership Story

Social media marketing is important because it is the ideal platform for establishing thought leadership. But don’t make the mistake of believing that using social media makes you a thought leader, it is just an efficient way to tell your story to your prospective audience.

Once you’ve decided on your story, then you can select the best social media platforms for amplifying your message.

Here are some suggestions for the most effective social media platforms:

We almost always advise our clients to use a blog as the hub of their thought leadership strategy.

A blog is great for storytelling. Consumers tend to trust blog content because it feels spontaneous and non-contrived. Blogs also encourage content sharing via comments and share buttons like retweets, Google+, and Facebook likes.

Use your blog to refine your voice and elements of your story, while receiving valuable feedback from your audience. Once you are comfortable with your content, then move to the other platforms.

We helped Pure Michigan grow to a 300,000+ Facebook community by encouraging Michigan locals to talk about our State.

We used Facebook to create conversations around beautiful fall photos, heart-string pulling commercials, and debating about the best pizza restaurants around the State. All of these points built and communicated Michigan’s distinctiveness.

Facebook is a great option to develop a community and grow it through an audience that enjoys sharing information with their friends, peers, and family.

Thought leaders establish their credibility by being a reliable source of information. Twitter is a simple tool for sharing resource links, events, and other specific information with your audience.

Twitter also excels as a blog and Facebook promotion tool. Over time you will create a loyal group of followers who can expand your reach exponentially.

Without a doubt, LinkedIn is a powerful social media platform for many businesses, especially B2B companies. Recent stats show that 50% of LinkedIn’s 100 million members are decision-makers in their organization; the exact people who need to hear your thought leadership story.

Your business can tell your story in LinkedIn Groups, optimize your leadership team profiles, and take an active role in being a resource to your potential prospects.

Your Turn

What are your biggest challenges in thought leadership strategy? What lessons have you learned from creating your organization’s thought leadership story?