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Effective executive brand building in the new normal of COVID-19

Woman on camera
Written by
Tara Wickwire

Tara Wickwire

Written by
Cassey Deveau

Cassey Deveau

We are now living in a world where we are building businesses virtually, forging relationships over a screen and sharing perspectives within a myriad of digital channels and platforms. At this particular moment, executives are looking for ways to lead and be part of the conversations that matter while growing their business and creating affinity for their brand in the process.

Thought leadership has become a fundamental piece of any smart organization’s marketing plan, and certainly more pronounced with the downscaling of in-person meetings, events, speeches and presentations.

At NATIONAL, this is something we work on every day—supporting leaders in these efforts and finding the ways to share their perspectives without falling into the rut of meaningless retweets and cliché leadership rhetoric. And we help them get noticed in what is now an incredibly overcrowded virtual world.

Tara Wickwire and Cassey Deveau from NATIONAL Atlantic offer a few perspectives on how executives can get this right and be successful in their efforts, amidst uncertainty and Zoom fatigue.

What’s the best way for leaders to engage and build their following in this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic?

CD: The place I would start is re-evaluating the persona you put forward online. To start, it’s imperative that their tone be positive but not self-serving—a fine line to walk. In many cases, it’s also making the right strategic choice about when to boost content (i.e. pay for visibility) and when NOT to boost content. Boosting is an effective way to grow your following and engage your audience, as it increases the reach of your posts to your existing followers and puts your content in front of new prospective audiences. However, boosting posts that don’t create engagement is a waste of money. Content that contains a strong call-to-action, links to relevant content on your website, questions or polls to spark conversation are great choices to build engagement and following.

TW: One simple piece of advice I would offer is to return the favour. Follow others—comment and share content where appropriate and be very specific about why this content matters to you. You need to be consistent and the content should be reflective of your stature and role. I would also add, don’t be fixated on numbers. What you want to have is quality engagement. Interaction with the network that is most relevant to your business. That includes following the right company profiles and groups.

What is the sort of content people should be thinking about in the current landscape?

CD: Even though we are all exhausted by video calls, audiences are not yet exhausted by video content. Using short-form videos (30 to 60 seconds), you can capture your audience’s attention, offer a teaser piece, and then drive them to a longer form piece. Most of your audience on social platforms won’t want to watch a ten-minute interview, read a 2,000-word post, or listen to a 30-minute podcast on that platform, but they’re happy to leave the platform to finish that content, or save it to come back to later.

We are also seeing high engagement with straight-up video commentary, such as messages from the CEO, official statements, notes from our president, etc. These should never exceed 90 seconds but can be effective to increase reach of your key messages and updates. Always remember to include captions for those that scroll without sound.

I’d also recommend audio opportunities. Podcasting is a terrific space to be, especially in niche industries. I see great value in participating in a podcast, similar to the value of a traditional media interview.

TW: There are terrific opportunities with both established and emerging podcasts. But the responsibility is doing the research, being well versed in the podcast content, establishing contacts, listening to previous episodes to get an understanding of the content style and THEN make the determination if this is the space for you or your organization.

When it comes to the nature of your content, you need to be very considerate that what you’re pitching, sharing or recommending is relevant. It’s OK to be controversial (if what you’re saying ties to your values) but be plugged into the broader conversations around this topic.

What are people getting wrong when it comes to building profile?

CD: Executives often make the mistake of not paying enough attention to who is engaging with them. It’s important to understand who is engaging with your content and why. It’s not enough to put money behind a post, set it, and forget it. You should check in on how each promoted post performs so you have insights to guide your decisions.

Taking the easy route is also a common mistake. Most platforms make it simple to boost a post for a few dollars and will prompt you to do so, but using the quick prompts doesn’t give you access to the full breadth of opportunities or full control over targeting. Although it can be intimidating, using the platforms’ ads manager, or having a designated paid media specialist handle this for you, is an easy way to bring your advertising and analytics to the next level, and better inform future content.

One of the best ways to build leadership profile that lasts long-term is to position yourself as an expert in your field and give people a reason to come to you for information, insights, and inspiration. Create content and boost it on a schedule so that you’re popping up on people’s feeds often enough to become a recognizable resource.

TW: You need to ask yourself: What value am I adding to the conversation? Remember that Twitter and LinkedIn algorithms will show your followers what you like/celebrate, so you can look at the content that you endorse as two tiered. It should be the most notable and personally compelling content that you share. And you should include why you are sharing it and why it strikes a chord.

In many cases people also miss the opportunity to self-publish on LinkedIn. Why not write a three-paragraph piece and share it along with a strong graphic and monitor engagement with your own network? This can prove to be more effective than pursuing an earned media opportunity, and the beauty of LinkedIn is that the metrics are right there for you to analyze.

Ultimately, sharing space is key. In the pursuit of profile, lead with values first and you will find success.

——— Cassey Deveau is a former Associate at NATIONAL Public Relations

——— Tara Wickwire is a former Associate Vice-President at NATIONAL Public Relations