The CEO as an influencer

February 5, 2024
Written by
Robert Cornish

Years ago the common approach for a CEO was to be mostly private, doing the deep work, pushing leadership and ensuring objectives are attained, and so forth.

Very few were in the public spotlight and accessible. If at all it was in the form of news or publicity but still relatively disconnected from the public and only those who follow business closely might know who they are and what they look like.

Today, the role of the CEO is changing. They still need to be responsible for the vision and leading the company to attain its objectives but they have another role -- influencer.

Today’s CEO needs to be out there, known and helping lead publicly in a way that sets the tone for the company and builds the brand. They need to be connected and more accessible to the audience at large. And they should build a large following. This is really an extension of the brand, marketing, and sales efforts.

The urge is to be head down doing the work or meeting with the internal team or only relevant actions but that needs to change these days if you want to build your community and grow the brand.

My agency, Richter, works with many of the largest B2B companies in the world, and in 2023 one of the most common terms that came up as a need or want was thought leadership.

Companies are talking about expanding thought leadership. Why? Because they know that it educates the audience, builds a brand, and influences people. Today, there are more CEOs and leaders known than ever before and it’s now part of their duty or mission.

I’ve often admired people like Richard Branson who helped pioneer this approach for the last 30 years. I know Virgin because of Richard and it’s well thought of and demanded because of him.

The reality is that influence works and is a key component to building the brand and a following. This is true for any company including B2B companies that are considered more conservative. It’s an investment that will pay off and will help with things like:

  • - positioning
  • - demand
  • - sales
  • - recruiting new hires

Breaking thought leadership down, here’s what it might look like:

  • LinkedIn content strategy weekly with blogs, posts, videos, snippets, comments ...
  • Podcast interview circuit
  • Podcast show
  • Custom Masterclass that educates your audience
  • YouTube series or vlog-style content that’s consistent and can be turned into snippets for social media
  • Blog series either on an owned media site or on Substack and Medium
  • Custom audiobook from the CEO or for the company itself

This should amount to 5-12 content pieces per week that can be created and shared with specific follower targets to build the audience for sites like Linkedin, YouTube, Blog subscribers, etc

It’s a commitment but one that pays off. You never really know who’s watching or listening and how that may influence them. It could be the next A-player hire who found out about the company via your content or it could be the next large customer who happens to listen to your podcast and now has a feel for the brand and values and trusts you.

If you don’t build the message, position, and story -- someone else will. So as CEO or any leader of a company, it’s vital to get out there and lead publicly. Communicate openly and authentically.

People are watching and listening these days. There was a Gartner report that said that 87% of the buyer journey is spent before they connect with sales. If that’s true, what are they watching or looking at for research? If it isn’t something you put there -- what is it? That should make you feel a little paranoid. Because it should be you who puts that content there. Your message, your leadership, your positioning. You should curate that journey.

Something about seeing the CEO or founder and feeling like you know them is powerful.

For years companies have built the brand as a key strategy and this is really no different. But today, to some degree people like to know who’s behind the brand. Who runs it or leads it? Having an authentic connection to the audience can move the company forward. Including learning what the customer needs or wants via comments and feedback.

"People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision." —John Maxwell

I believe, in 2024, the companies that will do well will lean into this and will work to build influence and thought leadership via the CEO or key people within the company.

This will become a key driver for awareness, revenue, and hiring.

— Robert

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