“We are in an imagination battle – Claudine Rankin and Terry Marshall speak of this. Imagination turns brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. Imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race. We have to imagine beyond those fears.”
These words, written by adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy, influenced my definition of thought leadership. I define thought leadership as a practice where we consistently tap into our passion, experience, and credibility to build trust and community as we imagine and shape the future together, for the better.
But thought leadership can have an “icky” reputation. Being invited to speak at powerful events, being elected to influential boards, and being published as authors and op-ed writers have traditionally been so much more accessible to those who already wield power. Their imaginations were shaping the world, in a way that definitely worked for them, but not necessarily for everyone.
That’s why my mission is to guide the folks who are shaping a just future, one that’s rooted in their lived experience and wisdom, and one that works for the collective.
In this imagination battle, influence is a major currency. Without influence, the promise in our imaginations dies on the vine. Influence is like the fuel that lets our imagination work as a 3D Printer, actually creating those new spaces we see. Influence is part of the necessary kindling that can spark a new way of doing things.
So, how do we use our influence to drive change, especially if we have identities that are historically overlooked and underestimated?
When I was a wee Social Psychology student, one of my assigned books was Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. I fell in love with it, because it was unveiling to me the psychological science behind building power for good. I was also a student fundraiser at the time and could see how these lessons could lead to social impact.
In this episode, I’m going to talk about using these principles to drive change and raise revenue to support the future you’re working to build.
Highlights from the podcast episode:
I talk about:
[03:14] Reciprocity as an influence builder
[05:46] Commitment and consistency for thought leadership
[09:29] Social proof and the power of lived experience
[14:30] How to build your “know-like-trust” factor
[17:25] How to become an approachable authority and thought leader
[20:12] Unity as the ultimate principle of influence
How to use Reciprocity for Thought Leadership Personal Branding
I love talking about reciprocity because it’s really a tenant of participating in a community. There are a lot of examples Dr. Cialdini includes in his book, like the fact that getting peppermints with your restaurant bill generally increases your willingness to tip, or a nonprofit sending return address labels led to more donations. At least when direct mail fundraising was more of a thing – this book was written in 1984, remember.
When I was a nonprofit fundraiser, the model we used taught us to provide a small, tiny gift at our events. Like an apple, or a flower. You may wonder, well, shouldn’t a supporter want to give on their own without any psychological manipulation?
And by the way – this goes for all of the examples I’m going to share – yes, it is completely possible to use these to manipulate and control others but because you’re in the field of social impact, I think it’s about intention and guiding people to buying into the better future you envision. So, I think reciprocity without exploitation is about releasing an expectation of quid pro quo.
Like, that reciprocity may come in the form of them having a great experience and then telling their friends about you. Or, it may come as a donation. Release the outcome, and provide value knowing that it will come back to you tenfold in some way, even if it’s not from that person themselves.
In the world of marketing, you see examples of reciprocity in providing freebies, like valuable downloads or educational webinars, writing blogs, writing e-books, and even this podcast. Any podcast episode you listen to – whether it’s mine or someone else’s, I can guarantee it took them time and love and care and money to create. So, if we look at it from a lens of reciprocity, I’m providing value and education, knowing that it creates a certain amount of influence and goodwill. I don’t know how that’s going to come back to me but I trust that it will, in some way.
And I can say that since launching this podcast about what is it now about eight months ago, it definitely has in a multitude of ways, you know, so it works. Reciprocity works.
Commitment and Consistency for Thought Leadership Personal Branding
Dr. Cialdini calls this out as our “obsessive desire to be – and to appear – consistent with what we have already done.” (pg 57) This principle always reminds me of studying in the college library and asking our neighbor, who also happens to be a stranger, to watch our stuff. We don’t know that person. Yet, if you’ve ever said yes to watching a stranger’s stuff, you’ve probably done so right? Even if you had to go pee or leave for some reason, you would stay and guard that stuff because you said you were going to do it.
In the book, it talks about a study done on a New York City beach where a researcher, pretending to be a normal beach-goer – put a radio down on a beach blanket and then left – probably to go down to the ocean. Then another researcher, pretending to be a thief, would steal the radio and try to run away with it. Under normal conditions, only four out of twenty onlookers would actually chase after the “thief.” But if the beach-goer asked the subject to watch their stuff, nineteen of the twenty people actually chased after the “thief!”
I think that’s pretty incredible. When you make a public commitment, you do what it takes to fulfill that commitment. Similarly, he speaks to another study, that I think would be especially interesting for social impact leaders, where homeowners received a sign they could display noting they were making a commitment to use less energy in their homes PLUS a mention in their local paper. So they did. And later on, when they would no longer get that publicity, it turns out they actually increased their energy savings from even before. Why? Maybe their once public stand helped them start to see themselves as the kind of citizens who took care of the environment.
But how I think social impact leaders can use this tendency is to give board members, clients, referral sources, and any kind of person who has a stake in your work a way to publically make a stand for your shared vision. Of their commitment to the kind of change, you’re trying to make in the world.
If you’re a coach or service provider with a unique framework or service, create a way to be certified in your process. If you’re an app or technology that does good, give your partners a seal or logo to put on their site as partners. If you’re a nonprofit, give key potential partners opportunities to speak at your summits and conferences, and promotional materials for their LinkedIn and other social media to publicly share their affiliation with your cause. If you’re an advocacy organization, give your constituents a way to sign a pledge. There’s an obvious criticism of pledges as being toothless as folks aren’t actually taking a big action, but I’d beg to differ based on the studies Dr. Cialdini speaks to in this book. Think of it as a first step in the journey to them becoming a supporter. Once they see themselves as the kind of person who supports the social impact work you’re doing, they will become more invested in taking the actions required to move the cause further along.
Social Proof for Thought Leadership Personal Branding
This is one of my favorite ones to use in practice and teach my clients working towards becoming trusted thought leaders on LinkedIn. This boils down to the fact that humans are persuaded more by the actions of others than any other type of proof. This is why we drive past the speed limit on the 405 – because everyone around us is doing it, so it’s got to be OK, right?
Again, the actual chapter from Dr. Cialdini’s book is full of great examples. But the best example has to be when he’s trying to teach his three year old son to swim. He hires one of his graduate students, a 6’2 former lifeguard and swim instructor to teach him the basics. But his son is not interested whatsoever. What eventually gets him to learn to swim is realizing his friend Tommy, who also happens to be three years old, knows how to swim, so of course, he should know how to swim too.
I love this so much because it points to the power of our own lived experience as being more powerful than stats, facts, figures, or even doing what people in power tell us. When people tell me, I don’t have enough degrees, credentials, or years of experience to be a thought leader or put myself out there in this way, I bring up the example of the college tour. If you ever went and took college tours before deciding on a campus, think about who it was that gave you that tour. It wasn’t the Dean, right? It wasn’t a professor or even someone from the staff. It was a college student, who was maybe 1 or 2 years older than you, who was showing you around. And that is really the most appropriate person because they’re relatable. They were once in the very spot you’re in, trying to figure out where to go to school, and you probably have the same fears, concerns, and questions.
So how can you use this concept of social proof to build influence as a social impact leader?
The first way, I think, is to share the story that positions you as the guide you are. I talk about this all the time right? But spaces you can share that story include your LinkedIn about section, the About Me or About Us section on your website, including your story in your welcome email sequence if you have one. When you’re giving a presentation or webinar, or even introducing yourself on a panel – share your story. Again, your story is your greatest tool in demonstrating that yes, you have the lived experience and social proof that can now help them get to where they’re going.
The second way to use social proof as an influence builder is testimonials and case studies. I’d recommend having an automated way to ask for a testimonial once you’ve worked with somebody, whether that’s an investor or a client or a referral source. And definitely utilize the LinkedIn recommendations section because that brings a high level of trust. You can’t make those up – by the way, I’m not saying that anybody is making up their testimonials – but on LinkedIn, recommendations are attached to someone’s profile and they have to leave them for you.
So consider who you’re trying to build more trusted relationships with, whether it’s investors, or conference hosts, or referral sources from a certain vertical that you work with really well, or obviously clients. And after you’re done listening to this episode, ask one or two people who fit that description that you’ve already worked with, had a positive experience helping, and can speak to your character. Go to their LinkedIn profile, make sure you’re already connected, click on More, then Request a Recommendation. You’ve got to be connected with them already of course, but this is a great way to build up your social proof over time.
Building your “know-like-trust” factor to build your personal brand and thought leadership
So, everyone who talks about personal branding and thought leadership talks about the know-like-trust factor. So how do you actually get people to like you, which over time leads to them trusting you?
The good news is that you don’t have to change anything about yourself, because you’re awesome! The bad news is there’s a systemic issue in that people tend to like people similar to them. So how do you rise above artificial markers of difference, like class or race? I think you’ve got to talk about a shared vision. Paint a picture of the future world you’re committed to creating – consistently – until they can see it too, with you.
Consistency is important because as you show up more, you become more familiar. When I was a fundraiser, I wouldn’t have asked someone for a gift unless there had been an appropriate number of touch points between the time I met them, and the time I asked for a gift. It takes time – more time than you might think – for someone to warm up, get familiar with you and your mission, and build enough trust to make a transformative investment. And I’m not just talking about fundraising here – this goes for potential clients, investors, really anybody who can help you make shift happen.
I want to make a distinction here for social impact leaders – you probably know how important it is to get your organization or company’s mission out there and you probably invest in marketing accordingly. But it’s also important for YOU, to get your face out there. People want to know the face behind the company and if you’re a founder, executive director, or responsible for a certain project or initiative, let people know who you are. Show up on video, or at LEAST show your face. Share your unique opinion. Take an authentic stand and let people know what you believe in. People will either NOT like it – and remember those are the people who were never going to invest with you anyway – or they will LOVE it and lean in.
And I know how busy social impact leaders are. You’re in the trenches, doing the work, tending to your staff, helping the people you serve. It can be hard to find the time to show up consistently. I have a strategy I call Lazy on LinkedIn, where I’m only committed to posting once per week. I’ll tag the info about that in the show notes so you can learn more about it.
Building your Authority as a Thought Leader
In the book, markers of authority are considered titles, clothing, and trappings like the car you drive. I think authority is an interesting one. I think now, as the workforce continues to be humanized, it intermingles with SINCERITY and VULNERABILITY in ways that it did not before. The more sincere you are, the more people you attract to learn from you as a guide.
For sure, some examples of ways to position ourselves as authorities are through our LinkedIn featured section, where you can highlight different pieces of media you’re proud of. It can be podcasts, or YouTube videos of you speaking and educating other LinkedIn posts. Another way to tap into authority is to include logos of the different companies you’ve spoken for or worked with in your LinkedIn Cover Banner, your website, or your press kit.
And listen, I know some people are building their authority on other platforms, like Instagram, or maybe just through email or earned media. And you’re not just that into LinkedIn. I would recommend you refresh your LinkedIn profile anyway to put some of these pieces to position you as an authority in your niche BECAUSE when folks Google you, your LinkedIn is going to be one of the top things to come up because it’s such a trusted site in the eyes of Google. So, keep that in mind.
Scarcity and Social Impact
Scarcity is another interesting one. And it’s actually one that I obviously will concur is an influence builder, because it motivates people into action. I also think that scarcity is a mindset that has led to some really unhelpful or even dangerous policies, funding patterns, and systems within the social impact space.
I also believe that in change-making work, you have to believe so fiercely in the vision you’re working on making real that you have to act as if that vision has already come true. And in my vision for the future, scarcity has been replaced with abundance. So I’m not even going to talk about this one. Instead, I’m going to talk about the new principle that Dr. Cialdini has introduced since the publishing of his original work, Unity.
Unity to build influence as a thought leader
Unity is about crafting a group feeling. I think the true nature of our world is communal, it’s interdependent, it’s relying on each other and lifting each other up. Unity turns your audience into a community. This is something I could literally spend a whole podcast episode on – and to be honest, is the entire underpinning of what the Campfire Circle represents.
What are some specific examples of infusing unity into your work?
One easy way to practice this in your copy and content is using the word “you” far more than you use “I’ or “we.” Try using the LinkedIn polls feature, or ask your community for feedback. Convene meetings and hold summits, asking other people to speak in service of your shared vision. If you’re going Live on LinkedIn, remember to engage your audience.
More than anything, remember that you are building a COMMUNITY – not an audience – as you practice brave thought leadership on LinkedIn. Share authentic content about your story – which is such a powerful tool to create unity and get on the same page. If you’re looking for support here, download my 14 LinkedIn Prompts in the show notes – they’re designed with a lot of these principles in mind – from social proof to authority, and definitely for unity.
I hope this provided some food for thought. If you’re up for it, reach out to me and let me know what emerged for you!
Resources from this episode:
To learn more about Dr. Robert Cialdini, visit his website.
You can find my previous podcast episode about vision, Episode 6: Reframing Thought Leadership as ‘Lived Leadership’, here.
14 LinkedIn Content Prompts: Build your personal brand and thought leadership, show up for your target audience and grow your know-like-trust factor with your professional audience on LinkedIn.
Lazy on LinkedIn Strategy: Why posting once per week works for thought leadership on LinkedIn.
Demystify LinkedIn and Thought Leadership with Tania
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