Ray Carbonell and the team at Qnary have helped radically change the way we think of thought leadership and reputation management. Ray says thought leadership isn’t about a TED Talk that goes viral… and if you only worry about reputation management when something goes wrong – then you’ve missed a big opportunity.
They show companies in a wide variety of industries how they can use thought leadership to boost engagement with their audience, land new business, and boost recruitment of top-notch new employees.
But they don’t focus on building the brand. Today’s consumers want a more personal connection, and that means building up the online profile of key executives.
We talk about the strategies they implement for their clients, including…
- The top 5+ social networks for creating thought leaders from the ground up
- Why helping executives build an individual brand actually increases retention
- How to use social media to create an exponential boost in audience engagement
- What to include in your online bios – and what to leave out
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: www.qnary.com
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst.
Today, we’re going to talk about growing the reputation and thought leadership of professionals. Here to speak with me about the topic is Ray Carbonell, who is the CEO of Qnary, an award-winning reputation management solution company for professionals, brands and enterprises. Before joining Qnary, Ray held multiple analyst positions in private equity, venture capital and investment consulting firms, and ran the operations, e-commerce and finance department at a leading Spanish food company based in Chicago. Ray, great to have you on the show.
Ray Carbonell: Thank you so much for having me, Steffen.
Steffen Horst: Ray, when I read your LinkedIn profile, and it says you were employee number one at Qnary. What made you leave the financial sector and join a startup in New York?
Ray Carbonell: This is a great question. I was working as the lead analyst of online data for Qnary’s angel investor, and I was going through the initial business model. The idea of kind of working on developing your own personal social media profile and finding ways to unlock the benefits, it was something that truly caught my attention. I saw there was potential in terms of doing something that was unique and that was new to the market.
I truly didn’t know where that would lead, what type of benefit, where the company would shape, but I thought that there was a big market for it, the market was untapped. I wanted to be a part of the people that would shape the future of it, so that’s what made me want to … Obviously, I approved the investment on behalf of my boss in a way, but then I decided to leave and join Bant Breen at Qnary.
Steffen Horst: Interesting. Obviously, Qnary helps individuals with reputation management, but what does that mean, reputation management for individuals, and how is it different to establishing one’s thought leadership?
Ray Carbonell: Those are great questions. If we take a look at, like what does reputation management mean? Kind of like the traditional sense of reputation management always had a very negative connotation. It sounds that it means like, you have to have a problem or something to be fixed on your Google search results in order to take action and to execute on some of the best SEO tactics, in order to push down unwanted comments.
Our approach is different. Our approach is, “Hey, there is tremendous opportunity in social media and across digital communication platforms, and you don’t have to have a problem in order to see any benefit.
For us, building thought leadership, and I would add, authentic thought leadership, means taking a much more proactive approach to social media, and wanting to unlock the true benefits from not only sharing your expertise, but also curating, developing relationships across platforms where you know your audience is going to be most active in a natural or in an authentic way.
You know people are going to go LinkedIn. You know people are going to go to Instagram, Twitter. Because that’s what they have on their phones, that’s how they gather information, that’s how they communicate with their peers, that’s how they look for jobs. That’s how they try to see what their executives that they look up to or their celebrities do.
We want to make sure, we understand that that’s their natural habitat, and we find that there’s tremendous value of sharing your point of view, your expertise, developing relationships in these platforms. We find that the benefits for the executives and the companies are significant.
Steffen Horst: Qnary was founded in 2012, I think. When you founded Qnary with Bant Breen, and people weren’t really talking about reputation management for individuals … Obviously, reputation management for companies is something that we’ve talked about for a longer period of time. Back then, for individuals, it wasn’t really a service that people probably were looking for How did you go about winning your first clients?
Ray Carbonell: Oh, that’s a great question. I mean, when we first started, and you’re absolutely right, only very forward-thinking executives had the ability to see the opportunities behind developing thought leadership in social media platforms.
The initial response that we would get from companies was, “Oh, if I invest in my executives, and if I develop their social media brand, et cetera, they will get noticed and then somebody will make them an offer, and then they will leave.” Or, “Why do I need my executives to speak on behalf of the company if I already have brands or a logo speaking?” The reality is, we’ve been able to prove them wrong.
Getting our first client was complicated. I believe was the, at the time, was the Chief Media and E-commerce Officer at Mondelez, Bonin Bough, who is one of the most kind of like forward-thinking digital executives in all of the last probably like decade, and he gave it a shot. He’s been, today, one of the greatest case studies that we’ve had, and he’s been a great advocate for Qnary.
Yeah, I think the first three, four years was a battle for us. Trying to change mindset is always complicated, but we found, so ever since, probably since 2016, kind of like the market caught up to our vision, and it’s been quite successful ever since. Every time we talk about what we do to executives, it becomes a no-brainer.
I think identifying the right executives, especially forward-thinking digital executives, at the beginning, was key to our success. Getting really good case studies, and then patience. Patience and the belief that the market would meet our vision, and it’s been a great adventure ever since.
Steffen Horst: What does Qnary do? How does it help professionals to manage, increase their reputation and their thought leadership?
Ray Carbonell: Yeah, absolutely. Let me start with what we do and how we work with executives, and then I can go over the benefits, more like tangible benefits that our executive clients experience.
Steffen Horst: Sure.
Ray Carbonell: In terms of what Qnary does, is we’re basically a technology enabled solution that manages the day-to-day social media activity of executives. Our goal is, “Let’s make sure that we work closely with executives, and we’re able to build their digital thought leadership in an authentic way.” What does it mean?
First of all, we go ahead and we build, optimize and refresh their social media profiles. We make sure that their story is properly captured on that LinkedIn profile, on that Twitter profile, Medium, Facebook, et cetera. This is number one.
Number two, we create weekly content for each one of our executives. Content that is very much purposefully created in order to position our executives as experts in two to three areas of expertise that we have collectively identified, they are relevant, are close to our executive clients. It can be transformational leadership, it can be AI, it can be SEO, et cetera.
We try to identify two to three pillars, and we make sure that the content that we create is aligned, and is purposely created to achieve that goal. This is content that we share, we create every week for our clients. We find on social media, the value of a LinkedIn post, of a tweet, is not, there’s like one post that is going to be vital and is going to change your career forever. It’s that consistency and cadence of content.
We usually create five tweets a week, and three LinkedIn posts per week, that consistency, to be in front of your audience’s feeds, day-in, day-out, that will help you build up thought leadership, be top-of-mind.
Then what we also do is we create long-form content, blogs, video blogs, infographics, and then we also help our executives grow their audience and monitor for comments. We find that that consistency of delivering this is what’s going to help them become known as industry experts. This is what we do for our executives, clients.
What we find is one of the reasons why we’re relevant for them is because while executives understand that this is critical nowadays for business and to advance on their careers and their business goals, what happens is nobody has time to do it, right?
Steffen Horst: Exactly.
Ray Carbonell: Our solution is able to do that on their behalf. This is kind of like the core of what we do. In terms of benefits, at core, I mean, what our thesis and what we believe is that company stakeholders, especially if you look at millennials and Gen-Z’ers, they don’t usually engage with organizations the same way that they used to.
They care so much about the brands that they support, they engage and they work for, and they want to have a very close relationship, sort of like a special connection. They want to feel they’re close to the company. The best way for organizations to be able to get to that level of proximity and connection with their stakeholders is by actually putting their executives in the forefront of that conversation.
We find that by doing that, you are actually able to develop a level of trust and engagement, that you will not be able to do that if the entity that is speaking is a logo or a brand. We find that engaged content that is being shared by executives generates eight times higher engagement than content shared by brands themselves.
We find that this is really important, especially in a day and age where we find that there’s a huge intergenerational gap between the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. We find that by activating the leaders of today on social media, we’re actually able to bridge that gap and ease that, and facilitate that communication, that connection.
Steffen Horst: Interesting.
Ray Carbonell: Then, yeah, if you think, “What are the tactical benefits?” Not only building thought leadership, developing professional brands at companies. You use their executives’ social media activity for, in order to improve employee engagement, employee retention. Change, kind of like, shift the perception of the company. Especially if you want to break into specific audiences, into a specific set of stakeholders that, otherwise, you would not be able to do with the company itself, from a business development perspective.
There are a lot of tactical, kind of like benefits, that organizations would use their executives, and would hire Qnary in order to achieve certain results.
Steffen Horst: That makes a lot of sense. Before we dive deeper into this, let’s kind of frame, when we talk about reputation, what does that mean? What’s the difference to thought leadership, from your perspective?
Ray Carbonell: Yes, absolutely, absolutely, thank you. Reputation, the way we understand it, tends to have somehow of a negative connotation. While the term is broad, in the industry, it’s very much used for protecting somebody’s Google search results to make sure that if there is any negative story, any negative comment or conversation about you, you are protected and nobody will see you.
We have done that in the past, especially in the beginning when the idea of executive thought leadership was not as well-received by kind of like, by the market. The difference is with thought leadership, what we say is you don’t have to have a problem in order to be active with social media. You take a much more proactive, a much more … Play offense, not defense.
This is what for us executive thought leadership means and why it’s important. Take advantage of these new age digital platforms in order to develop a presence, build an audience, and benefit from the consequences of talking at scale with an audience that is interested in what you have to say.
Not only you will benefit as an individual, as an executive, as a professional, but also the positive echo that it’s going to have towards your company is incredible. This is what thought leadership, and why we strongly believe that this is the way to go forward.
Steffen Horst: Obviously, reputation and thought leadership for companies is something that has been talked about, and has been existing for a very long period of time.
Why, in addition to what you said earlier, for companies to use solutions like Qnary to keep their people, but why would an individual, a professional, be interested in raising their profile, creating a better reputation, better, and thought leadership?
Ray Carbonell: Why would an executive itself?
Steffen Horst: Yeah, yeah. Because earlier, you talked about more from a company perspective, why a company would invest in kind of building a reputation. For an individual, why would they be interested in doing that?
Ray Carbonell: Absolutely. I think that kind of like the same benefit that it has to companies it has to professionals themselves. I think that the power of having a strong and engaged network, the power of being known as an expert is significant.
Just not only professionally opening up to new opportunities to advance your own career, but in order to want your company to actually be able to deliver on your KPIs, on your business objectives, because you’re able to much more easily reach out to potential partners or clients, be able to recruit talent that will help you outperform your competition.
It also helps you from a traditional PR perspective. The more out there you are, the more you are able to develop your thought leadership presence across digital platforms, the more speaking opportunities you’re going to have. The more chances you will get to get quoted on media and on press. I would say it goes hand-in-hand, but this is what I would say when it comes down to executive reputation, for the benefit for the specific individuals.
Steffen Horst: You mentioned earlier that, obviously, Qnary helps with kind of reshaping the LinkedIn profile and probably also other social profiles an individual has. Then creating content, so fresh, new content. Probably also re-using articles that are available online, so other publications and posting them. From your perspective, what other areas can individuals do in order to increase their reputation and thought leadership?
Ray Carbonell: Yes, so that’s a great question. Exactly what I said, from profiles, like short-form content, long-form content. I think it’s stepping back, it’s understanding the industry and the overall goals of the executives. Then, first of all, is assessing what are the right platforms for them to be? Our default platforms are LinkedIn and Twitter. We also find that Medium, from a long-form content, is very popular. We drive a lot of engagement for our clients.
The YouTube video content is very popular. It’s much more time consuming for some of our clients. We find that not only that we are able to get a lot of visibility and awareness through the YouTube, so I would say one of the areas, it would be kind of like video blog, but not very professionally done video blogs. We want to make sure all the content that we put out for our executives is authentic, so we kind of, we try to make it a little bit, kind of less on the professional side, but much more natural coming from them.
We also find, depending on the industry, if it’s an industry that is very much close to the travel industry or like design, architecture, et cetera, we find that Instagram and Pinterest are still very relevant.
One area we also find extremely valuable for thought leadership are infographics and quote cards. We find that this type of content that we produce for our executive clients, like really drives engagement and interactions. It’s so easy to capture kind of like the message from an image, that it really kind of like causes a strong kind of like reaction and engagement for our audience.
Then, two other areas that I always advocate to all our executives, and this one is very important, is try to bring everything that you do off-line, bring it online. To all our executives, I say, “Hey, if you are traveling for business, or if you are meeting with your team, if you are at a conference, take photos. Then you can either post them yourself, or send it to us,” and then we can post it on their behalf.
Because what we find is all these photos taken by the executives are celebrating their team, talking about conferences that they are attending, talking about their travels all over the world. We find that that really kind of like captures the imagination of the audience and also is able to make a very unique, very personal connection. That also drives a lot of engagement.
Now, and the last piece that I would also suggest is engaging with those that interact with you on social media. Everyone that comments on a LinkedIn post, at least “like” that comment or say, “Thank you,” or an emoji. Acknowledge that interaction. Why? For two reasons. One is you want to make sure that people who engage with you once, engage with you more than once in the future, so you’re opening up to your audience that they are welcome to interact with you.
Two, especially on LinkedIn, what we often find is that through their algorithm, if we are able to start engaging with our comments, that makes that post much more time sensitive, and becomes timeless, so we see a huge boost on impressions and overall engagement.
That’s something that we strongly recommend. Anybody that engages with you, with your content, acknowledge and interact back, we see that there’s an exponential boost on your engagement, moving forward.
Steffen Horst: A second ago, you said, when you talked about video content, that you’re not trying to make it too polished. That it feels more natural done by that individual.
Is that something that, from your experiments, from applying what you do to many people, that you have learned that things that people share in their network doesn’t have to be polished? It might actually be, if it is polished, might actually be seen more negatively than positively?
Ray Carbonell: I wouldn’t say it’s perceived more negatively, but what we find is authenticity is capital. We want to make sure that all the content that we put out on behalf of our executives has that perception.
Because it is, because these are pieces of content that work with our executives, that our executives review and they are participants on it, so we want to make sure that the audience understand that there hasn’t been like a million dollar video production behind it, and that all of a sudden, it’s being, basically, done from the big, kind of like agency and communications department. That it’s done by them at a much smaller case, and that it’s the executives trying to transmit something that they are passionate about to their audience, without no specific agenda.
Steffen Horst: After you, you kind of explained what you do, I’m wondering, how do you see the difference between the reputation management for a company and for professionals? Companies, obviously, they, if they have a good social media approach, they will do posts several times a day, or at least once a day, several times a week, blog posts and other articles. Is that so much different to what you do for professionals, and if it is different, how it is different?
Ray Carbonell: It is, and it isn’t. I think the logic and the thinking and the strategy is fairly similar, but the scale and the cadence of content is different. Let me explain this a little bit better.
What we find is, and number one is an executive needs to be active with the thesis that it’s an authentic voice. We know that somebody who is busy just won’t be posting 10 tweets a week. We always look at what is that perfect kind of like mix of enough content, where we can take advantage of these digital platforms and make the most out of it, with the right amount of content that will be natural for each one of our executives? This is number one.
Number two is the scale of the audience. What we find is companies, and from the experience that we’ve had with some our clients, like organizations, they use their brand to talk to, basically, their entire set of stakeholders. From consumers, if they are B2C, to investors, to employees, to vendors, partners, et cetera. They use their brand to talk to everyone.
What we do is we get like a subset of executives and we say, “Okay. You, Mr. CFO, you have a specific set of stakeholders that you are accountable for or that you report to, so you will talk to this set of stakeholders.” “You, Mr. CMO, you have this set of stakeholders, both internal, and external.”
Or, how we look at executives is each one of them plays an individual role within a wholistic communications approach to a company, so we are able to have a much more intentional, a much more direct relationship with the audience. Whereas, a brand as a whole, just shoots for the masses and what’s left behind are these meaningful interactions that we’re able to achieve by activating the executives.
Steffen Horst: For someone who wants to get started to take a more proactive approach to shaping their reputation and kind of creating thought leadership, if they’re not ready to kind of sign-on with Qnary, what would you recommend? Where should they start, and how much time should they kind of invest on a weekly basis? What’s the activities that they should do?
Ray Carbonell: If somebody was interested in doing so without hiring a company like ours, so what I would, first thing that I would always tell them is spend a couple hours, a few hours and just go through your LinkedIn and Twitter profile. Especially on your LinkedIn, because it has much more detailed information about you, and about your professional career, and about your history.
This is number one. Just make sure that static profile is accurate, is crisp, is modern, and it represents you the right way. Because at least, what you are making sure of is that whenever you go to a meeting or you go to a networking event or you go to a job interview and you give your business card, that person’s going to look you up online, either on Google or they will go on LinkedIn and they will want to connect with you, or you will want to connect with that person. Just make sure that that first impression is meaningful and you’re able to really impress that person. This is number one, and this is a must thing to do for everyone.
The second piece is just share a little bit of content every week. Even if it’s just like a post per week, or once very couple weeks, but just start to develop a history of content, of point of views that matters. Because that’s also on your profile, people can read about it.
Also, in parallel, just be mindful that whoever you meet in real life, if you will, then you can actually make a much … You can connect with a person online, and make sure that that relationship can last much longer, and you have the power to curate that relationship, moving forward.
First of all, build that static profile, make sure that’s good. Second of all, start, create content little by little. Don’t go from zero to a thousand, especially if you don’t have that much time. Then always be thinking, whoever you meet in real life, try to make that connection online, and then be mindful about curating it, because you never know when an opportunity might come through it.
Steffen Horst: That’s good advice. How important are the descriptions to your job these days, from your perspective? Is it important that someone kind of outlines what they do at a company, and what they achieved and what they worked on? Or, from your experience, do you say what … You have a short paragraph there, that’s pretty much all you need?
Ray Carbonell: That’s a great question. We like to advocate a little bit of, I would say, both. We don’t want to over, kind of like, over-communicate all the little, kind of like achievements that you’ve had. Certainly, communicate if you’re in business development, kind of like revenue, hitting your quota, et cetera. Exactly what potential recruits might be looking for.
Just be smart. Just keep the two, three, the most kind of like data points that you think are going to be the ones that will represent you the best, and that will help you tell your own story of you are an excellent professional. Don’t try to go too deep because you will lose the essence of kind of like what you are trying to communicate of your achievements because there will be too much information there.
We are also very passionate about making sure that whenever you write a summary on your LinkedIn or even on your job description, for instance, try not to do it as bullet points. Just try to write it as if it was your own bio. Make it easy to digest.
Also, extremely important. If there are articles, third-party articles where you’re mentioned, where work that you’ve done is being mentioned, please add that onto your profiles or onto your resume. Why? Because we want to make sure that if somebody else can validate what you’re telling about yourself, it’s just going to make your profile that much more credible.
Steffen Horst: From social profile perspective, LinkedIn, obviously, is kind of the business network that every professional should be on, hence posting and communicating on that social network is paramount. What other networks should people consider to engage with and share information on? Are there any? Is Facebook relevant, is Instagram relevant?
Ray Carbonell: The other platforms that we see kind of like popping up, and what I would say, like the first one that I feel it’s relevant for all our executives is Twitter. That one’s very important. Maybe you won’t have that much of a small, curated audience that you have on LinkedIn that is so professional focused, but the way we see Twitter is, it’s the place where all journalists, media, kind of like event-goers will go in order to gather information, kind of like engage with people and quote.
We also see Twitter a little bit as a cocktail party, where’s there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of noise, and you have to be there. You need to interact with them, but maybe you won’t get that kind of like love at first sight, like meaningful connection, but people will notice you there. That’s why it’s so important.
Now, I think I mentioned that before, Medium is important from a long-form content perspective. Especially executives in the tech space, in the venture capital space, in the advertising space, very important. There’s a very strong and engaging audience there.
Then, depending on the industry, Pinterest tends to be popular for like the travel industry, design, kind of like fashion industry. Instagram, it starts to become important for our executives. The biggest challenge that we find with Instagram is we need the contribution of our executives with their own photos in order to make it meaningful and authentic, so we can …
Now, if you’re an executive and you’re committed to taking photos and having your life be somehow public, then we strongly recommend Instagram. Because we feel that Instagram is going to become as important as Twitter is in the next couple of years, from an executive thought leadership, and whoever makes the first move right now is probably going to have a huge advantage down the line. Then YouTube, from a video posting, it’s a huge search engine and it just gets that much more awareness.
These are the platforms. What I would say is like the top two, Twitter, LinkedIn are the ones that are imperative for anybody wanting to develop their digital thought leadership.
Steffen Horst: How important is it to seek out speaking engagements, if someone really wants to advance their thought leadership?
Ray Carbonell: It’s certainly important. Mostly because it just gives this extra validation for you. It gets you much closer to an audience. In order to achieve the results that you want to achieve as a professional and also as a business, by activating your executives and positioning them as industry thought leaders, the scale of speaking at a conference, except if you go to like the biggest conferences where you get to speak in front of like thousands of individuals, it certainly doesn’t have that much more of an impact.
It does help, but there’s only so many that can actually achieve that, versus just being on social media, and just being careful to curate and grow your own audience.
Steffen Horst: Ray, thank you so much for the information you shared. It’s been really great to hear how this entire area has kind of developed and then what people should do these days to make sure that not only the company they work for but also they, individually, raise their own profile and therefore are seen within the industry, but also within the company that they work for, as an expert has progressed. Ray, if someone wants to find out more about you and Qnary, how can they get in touch?
Ray Carbonell: Yeah, absolutely. You can always go to the Qnary website, Qnary, Q-N-A-R-Y .com. One thing that we like to offer to those who are interested is a free analysis of their digital presence, so they can, anybody can always go to our website and request that and connect with us then.
You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, Ray Carbonell. You should be able to find me. Or you can always shoot me an email at Ray@Qnary.com.
Steffen Horst: Wonderful. Again, thank you so much for your time.
Ray Carbonell: Thank you.
Steffen Horst: To everyone else, thank you for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at SymphonicDigital.com, or follow us on Twitter @SymphonicHQ. Thanks again, and see you next time.