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The 5-minute thought leader: What’s your social style?

Written by: Beth Kanter
Published on: Apr 28, 2016

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Beth Kanter blue [square]Beth Kanter is a trainer, speaker, and author, most recently of The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. A version of this article originally appeared on Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn.






As a thought leader online, you need to be what I call a social media “chameleon”: open and authentic, but selective regarding content and audiences.

Open and authentic in that you’ve crafted a professional persona representing the real you, including a tone that reflects your professional style. Consider yourself inspiring? Don’t be afraid to get profound. Got a strong sense of humor? Feel free to crack wise.

Selective in that you understand the audience you want to reach, where they gather online, and how their interests overlap with your goals as a thought leader. Your public efforts should also enhance your private thought-leadership work: reading, training, learning from peers, taking on challenging assignments, etc.


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It also pays to know what kind of social sharer you are. There are nine different “engagement profiles” outlined in research by IBM, but my personal research—looking at hundreds of nonprofit CEO profiles on Twitter—has led me to narrow that field to four:

Amplifers re-share content from their own organizations, peer organizations, professional colleagues, and influencers. Example: Rich Huddleston of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, @RichHudd.

Responders answer questions from a target audience, either informally or in designated forums like “Twitter Chats.” Example: Helen Clark of the UN Development Program, @HelenClarkUNDP.

Conversationalists start discussions with a target audience, other influencers, or peers. Examples: Jim Canalaes, CEO of the Barr Foundation, @JCanales; and Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children, @CarolynSave.

Content curators seek out information on the internet, pick out the best stuff, summarize it, and share it with an audience. Example: Bruce Lesley, CEO of First Focus, @BruceLesley.

None of these approaches are better than the other, and all can be effective models for thought leadership—they just depend on your personal style (or even your particular mood).

And don’t limit your efforts to the Twitter and Facebook—remember that LinkedIn’s Pulse platform has become an important channel for publishing original content. Anyone with a LinkedIn profile and an article to publish (or a blog post, op-ed, tip list, etc.) can share screen space with “LinkedIn Influencers” like Guy Kawasaki, Arianna Huffington, and Bill Gates.