Brain power

The value of corporate thought leadership

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

The internet is awash with content, and companies are certainly not immune to producing their fair share. Indeed, many companies and executives strive to be thought leaders in their field, publishing an array of articles and papers that aim to advance their particular field.

While the concept of thought leadership is well established among individuals, it is less so among organizations, which is a gap a recent study1 from INSEAD attempts to plug. The researchers found that when companies exhibit thought leadership on the likes of LinkedIn, they receive a boost to revenue, with the size of the company’s following linked with the scale of this growth.

Corporate thought leadership

The researchers argue that while companies often invest considerable sums in engagement via the likes of Instagram and Twitter, they invest far less in longer-form engagement via platforms such as LinkedIn. They believe this is a mistake, not least as the LinkedIn audience is likely to be more reliable than that found on Twitter.

They examined the correlation between thought leadership and a company’s financial performance, as well as the key drivers of an organization’s emergence as an opinion leader. The study analyzed a representative sample of 310 companies from the S&P 500 index that maintained an active presence on LinkedIn, spanning 99 sectors and eight overarching categories including services, basic materials, consumer goods, finance, healthcare, industrial goods, technology, and utilities.

The researchers first gathered data on follower counts and company revenue to evaluate the link between opinion leadership and business success. The findings reveal that a 1 percent increase in LinkedIn followers corresponds to a 0.5 percent boost in average revenue for firms.

Moving the agenda

The researchers highlight that whereas the practice of using social media to inform followers of things like product updates and deliver customer service is well established, the practice of expressing opinions and progressing one’s agenda can be similarly influential in terms of sales.

Interestingly, the study suggests that it’s not just lengthy blog articles or papers that contribute toward thought leadership, with reactions to posts, job postings, and employee profiles also producing a positive contribution.

This impact is not only made on potential customers but also potential employees, as platforms like LinkedIn are a fertile recruiting ground for prospective candidates.

Becoming a thought leader

While there are numerous guides to becoming a thought leader as an individual, there is less support for organizations that wish to become opinion leaders. The researchers provide a number of suggestions to help organizations on their way.

The first step is to ensure that unique and innovative content is created on a regular basis. The researchers cite HupSpot as an example of a company that has managed to achieve this.

Job advertisements on LinkedIn can reach a wider audience when posted as visual posts directly to a company’s LinkedIn feed, rather than relying solely on paid job advertisements. Visual content tends to be more engaging and memorable, offering companies the opportunity to showcase their strengths, stand out from competitors, and establish themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries.

The right content

This approach highlights a company’s commitment to talent acquisition and development, which is a crucial component of thought leadership. To further bolster their online presence, companies should encourage their employees to create LinkedIn profiles that highlight their skills and experience. While some recruiters may use LinkedIn as a head-hunting tool, employees can serve as powerful online advocates for their employers, further enhancing the company’s image.

Moreover, using humor and pop culture references on professional social media platforms can help companies establish strong connections with their audience. HubSpot, for instance, recently utilized the “Barbie” movie filter on LinkedIn to playfully feature its key leaders.

By showcasing employee profiles and highlighting their expertise on specific topics, companies not only establish themselves as thought leaders but also provide employees with the opportunity to showcase their skills, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and engagement.

Taking the lead

Airbnb is another prime example of a company that has positioned itself as a thought leader in the hospitality industry. The company has accomplished this by highlighting its hosts and sharing real-life examples of how its platform has positively impacted people’s lives.

Recently, Airbnb shared a heartwarming story on LinkedIn about a former host who met his wife via the platform. By emphasizing the company’s commitment to delivering exceptional and unforgettable experiences to its customers, Airbnb has built a devoted community of brand advocates who contribute to its continued success.

In today’s digital age, becoming a thought leader requires a multifaceted approach. It involves creating and distributing top-quality content across professional social media accounts, encouraging employee engagement and participation in online conversations, and leveraging user-generated content to boost brand credibility and relevance.

By focusing on these crucial strategies, companies can establish themselves as trusted authorities, improve their online visibility and reputation, and cultivate a loyal following of customers and advocates.

To achieve this, companies must adopt a strategic approach to social media marketing, using data and analytics to track engagement and measure the effectiveness of their content. Additionally, investing in employee training and development can empower workers to share their expertise and insights with their online networks.

Furthermore, companies should actively engage with followers and users, responding to comments and feedback while showcasing user-generated content that highlights the unique value and impact of their products and services.

Article source: The Value of Corporate Thought Leadership.

Header image source: Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash.


  1. Korzynski, P., Paniagua, J., & Mazurek, G. (2022). Corporate opinion leadership on professional social media. Management Decision, 61(1), 223-242.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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