The Highlander or the Musketeers? What applies to consultants on LinkedIn?

The #ConsultantForConsultants

The Highlander or the Musketeers? What applies to consultants on LinkedIn?

June 30, 2020

Personal Branding auf LinkedIn

What is the recipe for success? Putting the CEO in the social media spotlight OR the individual consultants? I am analyzing as #BeraterBeraterin on Consulting.de the LinkedIn presence of various consultant bosses and give strategic recommendations on the question of “lone wolf or team”.

Can there be just one?

What do the numbers stand for? The followers on LinkedIn.

Interesting spread! All the more so after noting that Cornelius Baur, McKinsey’s head of Germany, has zero to show for it. He is not even active on LinkedIn. Yet in Handelsblatt in March 2020, he called for “companies not to get bogged down” and advised managers to communicate intensively.

Google has 14.3 million hits on personal branding. ♯SocialCEO shows 40,500 hits – tendency rising! Management consultancies cannot avoid both trends.

Why?

Consulting is becoming more and more of a commodity. Only a differentiating brand helps to stand out from the crowd. A Marketing-colleague called it “shaking off the pent-up homogeneity“. A brand defines the place it should occupy in the minds of its target groups. That’s why distinctiveness is the most important characteristic. It is the ‘face’ with which it is perceived on the market and by all relevant stakeholders.

Human-to-human marketing does not position professional services companies as an abstract brand, but rather the people behind it as “consultants of choice”, whom one trusts in the long term.

There is no opt-out for digitalization. No consultant or Big4-auditor can rely solely on print mailings of his thought leadership for his relationship management and to bost its saless. He would miss the leverage through social media. Especially under COVID19 – a disruption where agility and speed are decisive.

Hence the cardinal question for marketers in Professional Services is:

Should you push your CEO/Country Manager on LinkedIn OR the individual consultants?

The former are represented by Martin Eisenhut (Kearney) or Matthias Tauber (BCG). For the past few weeks, he has been scoring more and more often with photos from his consulting life, such as the first flight after the Corona shutdown (680 likes), the meeting with Janina Kugel (419 likes) or the recently downloaded Corona app (321 likes).

In the book “Lead the Future – Shape your Brand” this new type of leaders are described as follows:

They don’t communicate their successes, they are successful because they communicate.” Social media is compared with a “personal leadership cockpit: Here they can turn the crucial knobs and buttons that determine their impact as leaders: their charisma, their enthusiasm, their trustworthiness, their ability to learn and their distinctiveness. In short: their leadership brand.

Is this leadership brand the savior on LinkedIn?

There are countless, statistically sound proofs for the relevance of ♯SocialCEO – from the classic among the studies from WeberShandwick back in 2012 to the current bestseller „The Social CEO: How Social Media Can Make You A Stronger Leader“ from Damian Corbet.

So spot on their theses are: CEOs as central reputation managers may be decisive in the battle for differentiation among consulting brands, but they alone are not enough. No matter how convincingly CEOs act in social media, they have a challenge: They are just one person, one face.

This has three limitations:

  1. They are one brand, and brands can only be ‘stretched’ to a limited extent. Their mix of topics must not be arbitrarily broad, but strategically pointed. He/she cannot represent every industry in-depth.
  2. Authenticity is king with the consequence: some LinkedIn users might be intrigued by content, style (and person), but some might not.
  3. Time – No matter how social the #SocialCEO may be, more than 3-4 posts per week is not an option. This is also a lot, but unfortunately important to feed the ‘greedy’ algorithm.

After more than twenty years of experience as a Marketing advisor, I prefer to claim:
It requires the orchestrated triad.

  1. The clearly visible CEO/Country Manager
  2. Accompanying ‘Brand Ambassadors’ – active consultants from various practices and industries
  3. The Corporate-LinkedIn account – quasi as line extension of the website.

That’s the great reason for the Musketeer principle of “one for all, all for one” on LinkedIn

In order to make a consultancy brand as widely visible as possible, the legendary Highlander dictum “There can only be one” does not work. In addition to the CEO, many active consultants are needed. On LinkedIn they become curators of their own history. They make it possible to experience in which consulting area they are experts or which canon of values drives them.

An excellent example of this is Dr. Veit Bütterlin, Director at AlixPartners with a focus on forensics and compliance. Although his topics seem rather ‘dry’ for LinkedIn, the consultant already has around 15,000 followers.

By contrast, Roland Berger’s global CEO, Stefan Schaible, has only 231.
Bütterlin’s formula for success? In addition to classics such as professionalism, continuity and agenda surfing, he publishes his own content as LinkedIn Pulse articles. And always with the suspense of his own expertise in the context of current events.
For example, „The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Changing Compliance Agenda“ generated 54 likes and „The Financial Crime Side of the Coronavirus“ 61 likes – the latter a topic that the FAZ took up weeks later. One of many examples of how thought leadership works successfully.

Three tips to make consultants fit as Corporate brand ambassadors

Consultancies and Big4 auditors that want to protect their brand core and reputation all have a detailed social media policy as a guard rail.

In addition, there are three more practical tips.

1. Empower & motivate

Social media are ur-democratic. To return to the examples of Schaible & Bütterlin: A consultant might easily attract more followers than a CEO. The LinkedIn algorithm is incorruptible and hierarchy-free.
Only the engagement rate and, since the beginning of May 2020, the dwell time count. Consultants should take advantage of this: The more firms motivate and empower their individual consultants to become the face of the brand, the better.
The message – ‘Showing the flag/demonstrating attitude desired‘ – should be credibly carried by CEOs to their teams – ideally already during onboarding and continuously thereafter. Otherwise, things will remain quiet at the grassroots level.

2. Train, train, train

Transferring the goal of maximum reach from theory to practice requires training across hierarchical and generational boundaries. Every third LinkedIn user falls into the 35 to 54 age category; i.e., the excuse that LinkedIn is only something for Millennials and Generation Z and thus falls under employer branding of the recruiting department is obsolete.
Important for such training: The focus cannot be on the technical side. The mechanisms of shares, comments & likes or optimal post times are quickly explained. The decisive factor in this differentiation war is the development of precisely tailored content and the link to sales strategy and business development.

3. Promoting Authenticity

Top coach Stefan Wachtel calls for „a good mixture of authenticity and role“. No one can get around this dictum on LinkedIn either. Of course, content marketing platforms like Passle help with dissemination. But in the end it’s the personal style – the writing person behind the posts and articles – that determines success. Pre-made blurbs from the marketing department can be a help. However, the sustainable breakthrough only comes through the individual view.

A final note

… for all those who continue to dismiss social media as l’art pour l’art, shrug their shoulders and point out that Cornelius Baur is not active on LinkedIn either.

Everyone may know the McKinsey boss. But unfortunately not every single consultant or even every hidden champion. And if the purchasing department of large corporations checks the LinkedIn profiles of the consultants before the pitch – and they do that nowadays – but finds nothing, that is a malus. And who wants that?

Let us have a chat about how to sharpen your profile on LinkedIn. I am active here since 2008 and give coachings for individuals and teams since more than six years; i.e. already long before the current hype started.