Daunting — but ultimately worthwhile.

When it comes to integrating thought leadership into your marketing strategy, these words might sum up how you’re feeling. But, the good news is that taking on the task might not be as challenging as you think.  

“Actually, a lot of the time, thought leadership marketing strategies for organizations are simple,” said Jennifer Lonchar, vice president of strategy and partnerships at Net Natives. “A thought leader is an authority in a specialized field who advises on their topic to bolster trust with clients, partners, donors, or the general public. And it’s a really effective way to build your brand — if you do it the right way.” 

Recently, we sat down with Lonchar to get her thoughts on what thought leadership is and how you can leverage this marketing technique at your institution. Read on to see what she shared.  

The challenge and opportunity

First off, we know that your marketing objectives are very broad.  

“While the stress of it all lies in trying to attract prospective students, you’re also trying to help meet fundraising goals and maintain trust with several parties,” Lonchar said. “Donors, students, alumni, and staff want to align their name with the university that has the best reputation or one that is making a difference in the world.”

And juggling all of these objectives can be pretty stressful. However, publishing thought leadership content is a quick-hit way to show everyone your school is worthy of their attention — and money and resources.

But how can thought leadership content contribute directly to leads? According to Lonchar, the greatest benefit of thought leadership is becoming a news source worth citing. 

“When your college president’s opinions are cited online, a backlink is created that can boost your organic search rankings,” she said. “A couple more powerful and informed opinions can have you appearing at the top of Google searches in no time.”

Getting started

Lonchar’s first step is for you to choose who your thought leader will be and the scope of what they will share their thoughts on. One example of thought leadership that Lonchar provided is Vern Granger, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Connecticut and chair-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). 

Granger has been quoted on topics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion in the college admissions process, and has been featured in publications like The Washington Post, she added. (FYI, you can also find Granger’s thought leadership on a variety of podcasts and championing professionals in his field on LinkedIn.)  

“It all might sound a bit intimidating, but that’s where the importance of scope comes in,” Lonchar said. “It’s true that not every institution may be positioned to make these graceful strides into the evening headlines, but universities everywhere are no longer playing a passive role in the media. Now, they’re aiming to change the tide of pressing issues in society.”

Trying to figure out how you can position your leaders for these types of opportunities? Here are a few of Lonchar’s tips: 

  • Study other higher ed leaders who have made an impact. Remember Granger? Pay close attention to other thought leaders who are making strides. What topics have they focused on? How do they share their work? Looking to other leaders will help you find an opportunity in the market to distinguish yourself.
  • Form a writer’s team. Who on your team can identify hot news topics and issues worth developing an address? A writer’s team would be able to help assist in the development of your content and advise on strategy. “This could be any number of people,” Lonchar said. “Individuals who are passionate about the goals that could be achieved through thought leadership are great options.” From content professionals on the marketing team to student affairs professionals who keep up with higher education headlines to faculty members who teach a subject you’re planning to address often, they can all contribute. And don’t forget that your students are also a great resource.  
  • Harness the power of faculty. “If anything is certain, it’s that faculty are a rich resource of information that marketing and admissions folks should utilize,” Lonchar said. “For example, it’s likely that your school of public health has much to say about the recent COVID-19 pandemic.” Not to mention, faculty members like to have their voices heard. By keeping them in the loop, you’ll have opportunities to use their wealth of expertise, mitigate any distrust between faculty and marketing, and gain enthusiastic contributors to the marketing of programs that are near and dear to them.
  • Consider co-authors. Even if you have a solid writer’s team, and you’re teaming up with those in your circle, joining forces with professionals outside of your network can extend your content’s reach. “A president of a nearby community college, or another leader at your school, can help with securing placement in an article or blog,” Lonchar said. But, be sure to reach out to possible co-authors yourself, rather than leaving it up to the writing team. “This will help build trust and get your foot in the door,” she added.
  • Stay alert. Keep on top of the news — and not just major news, also local and regional, too. Current events relevant to your institution are a great jumping off point for deciding the what, how, and when of your next content piece — whether that’s a full article, a podcast, or a LinkedIn post. According to Lonchar, a good starting point for keeping up to date is setting up simple Google Alerts for topics of interest.
  • Be consistent. Thought leadership can leave someone feeling vulnerable. If you don’t see success immediately, chances are you may find success down the line. “Thought leadership feels vulnerable because it keeps a lot of eyes on you and your expertise,” Lonchar said. “Even more than that, it can take asserting your leadership multiple times to see recognition and an uptick in your search rankings. My best advice is consistency, consistency, consistency.” 

Next steps

Be patient and know that when it comes to thought leadership, there may be some trial and error. It can take a bit of time to see ROI for your time and energy. Need a little guidance to plan your strategy? Let us help. Click here to start the conversation.