How Thought Leadership and Social Media is Unlocking Belt and Road Opportunities

Thought leadership initiatives promoted by social media are helping companies, consulting firms and professional services firms unlock opportunities along China’s vast Belt and Road infrastructure development initiative.

As the Economist and the World Bank have detailed, China’s Belt and Road initiative was launched in 2013 and is aimed at strengthening infrastructure, trade and investment links between Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  71 other countries have joined the initiative, which collectively accounts for over 30% of global GDP, and 62% of the world’s population.  And as the Guardian has detailed, China is spending approximately $150 billion dollars per year on a range of Belt and Road projects.

Belt and Road’s economic impact and opportunity for the private sector is made clear in a report last year from Reuters detailing that China has now become Germany’s largest trading partner, overtaking the United States.  Notably, German government and trade association officials say they plan to continue efforts to expand trade with the greater Asia-Pacific region. And Belt and Road, of which Germany is an original member — is cited among the catalysts for this bilateral trade expansion.

Conversely, as a Nielsen report details, high-growth markets along the Belt and Road are now seen as “showing significant opportunity for Chinese brands looking to expand their operations overseas”.

Emerging Belt and Road Thought Leadership

The Belt and Road is geographically vast, and the power of the internet is already being harnessed by many to capitalize upon its’ opportunities far afield.  Notably, China’s Foreign Office has written to encourage media cooperation along the Belt and Road to foster and promote the initiative’s success.  In response, some accounting, legal, trade and investment firms have established sophisticated thought leadership positions as a means by which to attract new clients and increase their brand awareness along the Belt and Road.

Notably, all of the Big4 accounting firms have begun to write extensively on Belt and Road, including Ernst & Young (EY)DeloittePricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and KPMG.  Asia-Pacific region accounting firm Dezan Shira has established Silk Road Briefing. And international law firms Norton Rose Fulbright and King & Wood Mallesons have also established a growing body of work devoted to Belt and Road subjects. And Belt and Road Advisory, a consulting firm focused on Belt and Road opportunities, maintains the Belt and Road Blog which “encourage[s] a plurality of views on the BRI and…invite[s] guest contributors.”

Perhaps the most significant hub of information on Belt and Road to date comes from the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC).  And PwC’s initiative is a unique standout as it now publishes the PwC B&R Watch —  a “review of capital project and deal activity in the countries that fall under the Belt and Road Initiative (B&R)”.

Too, leading think tanks, multinational organizations and news publications are publishing about Belt and Road in increasing frequency, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank, the Brookings Institution, The Diplomat and the Economist. And conferences about Belt and Road, often with substantial social media promotion, are occurring at increasing frequency.  Some of these conferences have been conducted by the Milken Institute, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Cavendish Group International, ATWORK, Innovation Angel Funds, and INNO Innovation Space and the World Transportation Conference.

Create a Belt and Road Thought Leadership Initiative

It remains early days for Belt and Road thought leadership.  And firms that might wish to become an early adopter thought leader on Belt and Road still have time to do so.

Well-planned and carefully cultivated — thought leadership initiatives benefit those organizations that undertake them.  McKinsey Quarterly is perhaps the most high-profile example of this success.  And the World Economic Forum’s blog and social media channels are a superb example of thought leadership and social media promotion combined to promote international trade and investment.

Well designed to appeal uniquely to key Belt and Road audiences, a sophisticated thought leadership position staked out now will likely yield more Belt and Road-related publicity, clientele and revenue for firms that take up the challenge.  Given the substantial opportunity Belt and Road offers, it would be wise for any company or organization seeking to generate revenue, brand awareness and expand their network in Belt and Road regions, to establish a Belt and Road-focused thought leadership position as a key organizational priority.

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How to Use Twitter and LinkedIn for B2B Business Growth

Recent reports from XEN (@xensystems) (citing Regalix) and Shane Barker (@shane_barker) detail how Twitter and LinkedIn remain the top social media platforms utilized by B2B businesses.  Regalix detailed how 93% of companies are using Twitter, while 91% are using LinkedIn. Amid this usage, the acceleration of social media usage continues, with Barker detailing how by 2021, social media usage will exceed 3 billion globally – up from 2.6 billion in 2018.   

And businesses are an important part of this usage, with XEN detailing that by 2015, 95% of B2B businesses used social media.  Blogging was the primary tactic of this business usage, with two-thirds using multiple social platforms to share their blog content. (Here’s more information on the importance of blogging for Middle Market Advisors, Public Affairs Advisors, and Legal Services Sector Professionals)

Primary goals of B2B businesses include brand awareness (the first priority according to XEN), lead generation, constant customer engagement, updating customers about company products or services or promotion of company products or services.

Prime forms of B2B business content include blog posts (the most popular), case-studies, white-papers, and articles.

Optimizing Twitter use for B2B businesses

Dominique Jackson explains in Sprout Social that Twitter is a crowded place, where businesses must utilize specific techniques to increase their chances of being seen.  But importantly, it “drives the third most referral traffic of any social network”, as Andrew Hutchinson (@adhutchinson) has noted in Social Media Today.

Hutchinson further details how Twitter has recently seen recent growth in active users, in time spent on the platform, and in engagement. It’s open, public platform provides advantages to businesses, he says.  This provides B2B businesses with an opportunity to identify and engage with clients and customers on a global scale, either through Twitter itself – or via other platforms including email.

Jackson suggests utilizing an often overlooked tool that Twitter affords users – the ability to directly message followers. (Here’s more information about how Twitter lists, which can be used to identify and organized key contacts for B2B client development via Twitter).  Beyond direct communication with individual followers, Jackson recommends working with Twitter’s algorithm.  Specifically, Twitter reversed the way it displays users feeds to show Tweets they’re more likely to care about.  Hence, learn and tweet about what your target audience wants to know about – and your Tweets will receive greater exposure among your target audience.  When followers engage more with your Tweets, Twitter’s algorithm will pick up on this and prioritize your tweets for this audience.

Jackson underscores the importance of Twitter video, citing statistics that reflect that 82% of Twitter users watch video on the app.   Even with few followers, your videos stand the chance of being seen by many more users on Twitter.  And using industry or subject specific Twitter hashtags is another way to find people looking for the subjects you’d highlighted with your hashtags

Because tweets don’t have the same organic reach as they did before, Jackson recommends tweeting more frequently.  Utilizing different hashtags and becoming creative with the introductory language to specific content would be helpful here.  For example, sometimes use the title of your article when posting it to Twitter – other times use excerpts from the body of the article.

Jackson emphasizes the importance of “always put quality ahead of quantity. If you have the ability to Tweet something awesome every hour, go for it. Your audience will tell you if it’s working or not.” He mentions Twitter advertising as another option (though it’s more expensive than Facebook ads).  (Here’s more information about how Twitter can be utilized by Public Affairs advisors for business development).

Optimizing LinkedIn use for B2B business

Shane Barker explains how LinkedIn, one of the most popular and widely used B2B social networking platforms, provides an opportunity to connect with other B2B professionals to grow together.  In particular, the site provides for the sharing of content, engagement around content and recruitment. (Here’s more information about how your can identify emerging business issues as a guide for B2B content creation).

He cites a CMI study which indicates over 85% of B2B organizations use LinkedIn, with 500 million members (as of 2017).  Beyond brand awareness, Barker explains, LinkedIn permits users to promote products or services – and then engage with other users in your industry or ideal customer focus to build connections around your business.  This engagement helps strengthen relationships which ultimately lead to one-on-one interactions.  One of the most powerful elements of LinkedIn is the ability to reach decision makers easily, which helps make the often complex nature of B2B sales – more easy.

Neil Patel (@neilpatel) recommends 7 advanced LinkedIn strategies for B2B marketing.  They include turning a LinkedIn company page into a lead generation page, using LinkedIn advanced search to identify prospective clients or customers and utilizing groups to search for topics of high relevance to your ideal potential clients and customers.

Choose to harness LinkedIn and Twitter for B2B Growth

Given the vital importance of Twitter and LinkedIn to B2B business growth, any B2B business seeking to generate new clients and customers – should seek to learn and implement strategies for harnessing these two platforms as a means to achieve growth.   This article provides some first-step information — but there’s much more available by searching: LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Japan-EU Free Trade: Opportunities and Challenges for New Market Entrants

As CNN reports, Japan and the EU have agreed on an historic new free trade agreement which covers one-third of the world’s economy and includes 600 million people

Expected to come into force in 2019 after being approved by lawmakers on both sides, the agreement, as CNN reports (citing World Trade Organization Statistics), will eliminate nearly all current tariffs on EU products of 1.6% when they arrive in Japan – and 2.9% on Japanese products entering the EU. CNN also reported that the EU said current Japanese tariffs “cost its companies up to €1 billion ($1.2 billion) per year”. Notably, as The Economist reported last year, “the deal could raise the EU’s exports to Japan by 34%, and Japan’s to the EU by 29%.”

Ankit Panda, reporting for The Diplomat, detailed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement following the signing of the agreement: “The EU and Japan showed an undeterred determination to lead the world as flag-bearers for free trade”, Abe stated.  And European Council President Donald Tusk, Panda reports, stated “the deal was the ‘largest bilateral trade deal ever.’”

The agreement is important as it comes at a time when both the EU and Japan, staunch allies of the United States, face increased tariffs on exports into the U.S. as a result of protectionist trade policies of the Trump Administration.

The EU Economy

The EU’s economy was ahead of the United States in 2015 with a GDP in 2015 of €14,600 billion. “With just 6.9% of the world’s population, the EU’s trade with the rest of the world accounts for around 20% of global exports and imports.”

The Japanese Economy

And as the BBC reports, Japan’s economy is the world’s third largest — with economic growth (according to the OECD) projected to edge up to 1.4% in 2017, aided by increased international trade in Asia and fiscal stimulus.

7 ways to avoid risk and capitalize on opportunity in new foreign markets

While EU-Japan Free Trade will reduce tariff barriers, making it easier for EU and Japan-based companies to do business in these respective markets – there remain significant challenges which must be understood and addressed on an ongoing basis for any firm to succeed in a market entry strategy.

Lauren Maillian, writing in Forbes, details essential strategies (1 to 5) companies should consider before developing a presence in a new international market. And Marco Calabrese, writing in Trade Ready Blog, details additional prime risks (6 and 7) to companies entering a new international market:

  1. Educate yourself on the customs and business etiquette of the international market.
  2. Gather historical data on the country’s currency value fluctuation and import/export timelines – Maillian explains how deal values can change based on currency fluctuations between the time the deal is agreed until it’s finalized.
  3. Become an expert on the country’s laws governing business.  Maillian underscores the importance of local legal counsel to navigating the export markets unique legal and regulatory environment.  (I would add to this public affairs, financial advisory and local market entry advisement).
  4. Conduct focus groups to test the waters in the prospective international market. “A new approach may be needed to make your product or service suitable to the needs and expectations of the potential foreign market”.
  5. Find out what your competition has done in the same territory.
  6. Protecting your business from political change – Calabrese cites how “the current global economy has been undergoing significant changes that have had major effects on international business.”
  7. Identify and avoid corruption – “Companies entering certain regions may be confronted with unorthodox ways of doing business. In several nations, bribery is required in order to complete trade”.

Henry Tan, Representative Director of Tricor K.K has outlined 5 Challenges Of FMNs (Foreign Multinationals) Entering The Japanese Market. And Donagh Kiernan, founder and CEO of Tenego Partnering, details some of the unique challenges foreign companies face when entering the EU market.

Looking forward

The EU-Japan free trade agreement (FTA) will provide significant new opportunities for Japanese and EU companies seeking to expand into each other’s sizable markets. As both markets are highly developed and complex, however, they’ll pose a variety of challenges to any business seeking to capitalize upon the newly agreed FTA. Despite these challenges, companies can seek to secure the assistance of local experts in market entry, legal and public affairs advisement and other specialisms tailored to the needs of a new market entrant. By securing specialized market entry assistance, companies can successfully meet the challenges they’ll face when entering the EU or Japanese market.

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Thought Leadership: Worth the Challenge to Achieve It

Thought leadership is worth it – but it’s hard to achieve, explains Aden Andruswriting in Disrupting Advertising.  He explains that thought leadership is much more than simply social shares or backlinks.  “True thought leadership”, he details, “makes people want to work with you and [it] has a huge impact on your bottom line.” “People respond best”, he explains, “when you create real value for them.”

In the case of his own efforts to generate a thought leadership position for his client company – excellent content produced significantly higher organic traffic and 32 times more organic lead volume – over a two-year period of committed thought leadership efforts.

He explains, however, that “any good blog editor knows that more organic ‘leads’ is not the same thing as more organic sales.”  Two years after his thought leadership efforts began, he noted, his company generated 64 times more revenue

“So, does thought leadership generate meaningful business results?”, he asks. “Absolutely. In fact, if you do it right, becoming a thought leader in your industry is one of the most effective ways to build your business.”

Practical Advice on How to Achieve Thought Leadership Status

Julie Schwartz writes in ITSMA blog that “marketing can’t do thought leadership alone… if it does, the output will be promotion, not thought leadership.” Marketing, she explains, “must get the buy-in, support, and commitment of executives and subject matter experts to become part of the idea-generating and dissemination process.”  She further notes that the success of any thought leadership effort “requires a deep commitment not just from marketing but from the entire company”.

Schwartz details 4 key elements for any organization to successfully achieve thought leadership status:

  1. Thought leadership efforts must connect deeply with target audiences need and goals
  2. Fact-based research is essential to establishing a more credible thought leadership
  3. Organizations must develop engines for idea development as well as dissemination (often, but not exclusively, social media based). “McKinsey and Bain have had these [initiatives] for decades, [and] more mainstream B2B companies are now making the same kind of thought leadership marketing transformation”, she noted.
  4. Concrete metrics used to judge success are required, and they are: Reputation Relationships and Revenue.

Further Considerations if You’re Contemplating Thought Leadership 

Julie Schwartz and Aden Andrus explain with precision the reasons why thought leadership works to increase revenue and can be achieved via specific steps taken by an organization (not only marketing).  They both also cite the need to measure the effort as against revenue.  I’d note that when considering who might be appointed to undertake responsibility for the editorial process of such an effort – consider appointing someone who understands the intersection of business development and content marketing.  Too, that this person has deep experience in researching and writing thought leadership publications.  And finally, that this person also understands fully the mechanisms by which inbound marketing and content production fit in the mix between outbound sales and business development.

Thought leadership, as is explained above – is not easy to achieve.  It takes time, patience, and the work of both marketing professionals, writers and subject matter experts.  Working together, however, these professionals can help an organization achieve substantial revenue growth.  Which begs the question:  If you’re not focused on building a thought leadership effort – shouldn’t you be considering it?

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Want to achieve thought leadership status? Hire a professional writer

If you work in a large business that is seeking to become an industry thought leader, the assistance of a professional writer is imperative to achieve success.

As thought leadership expert Russ Alan Prince has detailed in Forbes, competition for high-caliber clients is “becoming more intense”, and thought leadership has become a powerful way to secure new business amid a sea of “increasingly fungible” competitors.

McKinsey & Company is the example to aspire to

The bar to superior thought leadership is a high one.  The leader in thought leadership for professional services is, as Prince explains, McKinsey & Company, who first published McKinsey Quarterly in the 1960’s.  It’s effectiveness, he details, “has resulted in many other management consulting firms following suit”.

Vital for firms to consider is Prince’s prediction that: “There will be an increasing bifurcation…between the relative few [firms] that are thought leaders and the majority that are not.”  

Becoming a thought leader requires hard work

But Prince also cautions that: “More often than not the biggest obstacle to a professional services firm becoming a thought leader…is a willingness to put in the requisite hard work.” Firms aspiring to thought leadership, he explains “have to seriously commit to the endeavor, or they should avoid it altogether.”

He cites Hannah Shaw Grove, Executive Editor of Private Wealth magazine, who explains that: “‘originality and quality are the keys to lasting success as a thought leader. The barriers to entry are pretty low right now; virtually anyone can make a three-minute video or produce a six-page white paper. But if you can demonstrate depth of knowledge and bring fresh insights to areas and industries that have suffered from decades of conventional thinking you have the ability to transform the game. Nothing else will make the cut.’”

Why a professional writer is helpful

Any large organization seeking to become a thought leader requires a professional writer.  As Maria Wood explains on McGuire Editorial Blog, corporate CEO’s under tight time constraints regularly utilize the services of ghost-writers to help them craft “thought-provoking articles that build their personal brand and show their companies as cutting edge pioneers in their respective industry.”

Addressing corporate content marketing managers specifically, she explains her reasoning for the need to hire ghost writers capable of producing thought leadership pieces: “You know that your company’s leadership and other individual experts in your organization hold a lot of valuable insights in their heads, but you’ll never get them to sit down and write a “big idea” piece.”  “But”, she continues, “you’re hesitant to do thought leadership writing for several reasons: Writing isn’t your CEO’s forte (as it isn’t for many executives and entrepreneurs), and the process would take precious time away from his or her real job of building and growing the business. Fortunately, working with a ghostwriter provides the perfect answer to those challenges.”

“A great ghostwriter”, she explains, “elicits expertise and enthusiasm during… interviews [with corporate leaders]”. A ghostwriter then helps put into writing a CEO’s “big ideas and point of view”. She concludes by explaining how: “A packed schedule shouldn’t prevent your leadership from [publishing thought leadership]. If they don’t have the time to craft a stellar article personally, hire a ghostwriter.”

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5 digital thought leadership platforms worth emulating

Thought leadership initiatives require social media platforms in order to succeed, according to a 2015 article in Law Practice Today by Guy Alvarez, founder and CEO of Good2bSocial, and Lee Garfinkle, chief marketing and business development officer of the Americas at Allen & Overy LLP.

They explain that a thought leader is someone whose views on a subject are recognized as a major influence in their field.  But they note that in the internet age, access to useful information is easy to access, making the achievement of thought leadership more difficult. Thought leaders, they explain, should also seek to actively and consistently understand their client’s businesses and the challenges they face.

Owned social media channels also important to achieving thought leadership status

Alvarez and Garfinkle underscore the importance of harnessing not only social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn to both publish and engage, but the need to utilize owned channels like a firm blog.  This permits firms wishing to achieve thought leadership status access to data on readers which can then be utilized to improve thought leadership efforts, as well as for business development purposes.

While Twitter and LinkedIn can be utilized to broadcast, engage and collect market research on existing and prospective clients, they will not provide the depth and breadth of information an owned blog will. The digital marketing and social marketing ecosystem created by a digital thought leadership platform, they explain, will with time and perseverance lead you to a thought leadership position in your industry.

Integrating thought leadership social media with business development

Integrating thought leadership social media efforts with your business development strategy is vital. As Liz Cerasuolo, Stefanie Marrone and Gina F. Rubel advise in a recent article on Law.com: “Develop a lead-focused content strategy” in order to effectively convert prospective clients into new clients.  This includes placing calls to action in your thought leadership articles, funneling inbound new leads into your business development team and working closely with them to create thought leadership they can use in their engagement with prospective clients.

Plan for the challenge of producing consistent thought leadership content

It’s also vital to consider the time commitment required to publish regular, thought-provoking, and client-centric thought leadership.  To do this, firms need to work with a professional writer capable of not only articulating your ideas in writing to your key audiences, while also helping you adhere to ambitious publishing goals (e.g. four blogposts per month).  Most professional writers who focus on marketing as a niche are also often very capable of assisting you adopt and manage all the relevant social media channels you may need to create the all-inclusive digital platform Alvarez and Garfinkle recommend.

5 examples of thought leadership effectively integrated with social media

With all this in mind it’s important to consider who already appears to be working toward perfecting these efforts in their own industry niches in various parts of the world.  While there are many examples of what might be considered excellent digital thought leadership platforms, I’ve selected 5 which you may wish to emulate (and perhaps you know of others you’ve already contemplated emulating).  Each is not only utilizing its’ own blog, but is also active on important social media channels to distribute content and engage with key audiences:

  1. UPS Longitudes – As United Parcel Service explains: “UPS created this blog as a forum to share not just our thoughts and views on the trends reshaping the global economy, but those of the true thought leaders in topics ranging from trade to transportation, ecommerce to emerging markets, Big Data to … well, whatever the future holds.” View it here: https://longitudes.ups.com/
  2. World Economic Forum — As the BBC reported in 2016— in the past few years – WEF has gone from opposition to social media use – to a highly active and successful example of its’ best use. Read a more extensive description of their social media success here. And view their site here: https://www.weforum.org/.
  3. Interel – Interel is “an integrated global public affairs and association management consultancy…with offices in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Beijing & New Delhi, along with [a] worldwide network of affiliate firms.” View their blog here: https://interelgroup.com/blog/
  4. Corporate Finance Associates is an investment banking firms serving middle-market companies in North America. Their blog is located here: http://www.cfaw.com/blog/
  5. King & Wood Malleson’s China Law Insight – This multinational law firm with a substantial China mainlaind presence blogs in both English and Chinese on their blog, located here: https://www.chinalawinsight.com/

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