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10 Tenets of Thought Leadership, Part 1: Audit Your Public Persona

Published on
June 7, 2019
Working diligently at the Grasslands office

Ricardo Baca is a 20-year veteran journalist and cannabis futurist, widely respected in both modern media and drug-policy circles. He was appointed The Denver Post’s first-ever cannabis editor in 2013 and founded news vertical The Cannabist, where he extensively covered the advent of the U.S. adult-use cannabis market and related issues around the world, as seen in the feature documentary Rolling Papers

Ricardo launched Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency in 2016 to work directly with business leaders in highly regulated industries, from cannabis and psychedelics to spirits and healthcare. In 2023, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed Ricardo to the state’s first-ever Natural Medicine Advisory Board to contribute to policy development around the state’s eventual psychedelics framework.

Named one of Fortune’s 7 Most Powerful People in America’s Marijuana Industry in 2016 and Marketer of the Year by AdCann in 2019, Ricardo has received numerous accolades for his trailblazing work. In addition to his previous journalistic coverage of drug policy, cannabis business and culture, Ricardo continues to host panel discussions at events nationwide and contribute columns for a number of top publications including Rolling Stone. He is also a sought-after thought leader in media, cultural events and podcasts, and has spoken on The Colbert Report, NPR’s All Things Considered, TEDxBoulder, TEDxMarin and multiple years at SXSW.

Three media outlets I check every single day: The Denver Post, Vox, The New York Times

Super inspired by: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My monthly #GrasslandsGives donation: The Marshall Project

When I’m off the clock (in five words): Travel. Design. Writing. Feminist. ENFP.

Editor’s note: This chapter is part of our ongoing series on modern thought leadership. Read more here.

When Grasslands first starts working with a brand or executive on thought leadership, we begin by conducting an audit of your online persona, including your social media profiles. Yes, being audited might sound like an ordeal, but it’s really just a frank assessment of the client’s online presence.

Why assess your public persona?

Because as much as many people love to hate social media, your profiles are actually a terrifyingly accurate online snapshot of you and your brand or business: your values, your skills, your interests, your connections, your professional savvy, your thoughtfulness, your participation, your public-facing everything.

Never assume potential business partners are only checking out your company’s website: More often than not, potential employers and collaborators and clients are also looking you up on social media. So when they find the personal Facebook profile you’ve had since college, beer bong pics and all, what do they see?

Some questions we ask as part of this process:

1. On Which Social Platforms Do You and Your Brand Have a Presence?

Too often, we learn our new clients are semi-active on an assortment of social media that doesn’t include LinkedIn, and those are both critical errors.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter each have their advantages for reaching different audiences—but LinkedIn is the single-most important social platform for thought leadership. People used to think of LinkedIn as Facebook’s boring business-dinner cousin, but it’s so much more than that.

Pew Research Center reported in 2018 that the LinkedIn platform is most popular with educated, urban professional Americans from households earning more than $75,000 per year; it also found that an astounding 50 percent of Americans with a college degree are on LinkedIn.

And unlike some other platforms, LinkedIn is actually growing: A 2018 trends report from the content marketing researchers at BuzzSumo revealed that content sharing on LinkedIn is increasing, even as shares on other social networks decline.

And you can see why. With the right execution, LinkedIn can serve as an ideal professional branding platform, one that helps you define yourself in your industry and create meaningful connections within your business cohort.

So ask yourself: Where are you on social? Who are you on social? Once you’ve rounded up all your accounts (and joined LinkedIn, and/or updated that profile pic and bio from 2010) we move to the next step in our audit.

2. What are you putting out there?

From your profile pictures and social handles to the tone of the posts you publish, does the content you post to social media channels serve your thought leadership aspirations? Are you offering insight and fresh takes on your industry, amplifying others in your space whose work you admire—or just posting ads for your products?

Ads are not thought leadership. They are, in fact, the opposite: Unlike ads, thought leadership can’t be bought. In the words of Forrester Research analyst Jeff Ernst: “Prospects want your perspective, not your product. ... Buyers don’t ‘buy’ your product or service, they ‘buy into’ your perspective and approach to solving their problems.”

In LinkedIn’s helpful primer The Sophisticated Marketers' Guide to Thought Leadership, marketing strategist Stephanie Sammons calls thought leadership “a powerful content marketing strategy because it strikes that delicate balance between the personal and the professional.”

We ask clients to consider that balance carefully, because it matters.

One of our clients had followers on LinkedIn and Facebook who wanted to hear from her because of her groundbreaking career in journalism—but because she’d gotten caught up in posting about politics, she hadn’t shared anything related to her actual field of expertise in months. We encouraged her to speak her mind on politics and be sure to post her industry insights, in order to keep building that trust as an authority in her field.

Assessing your public persona is key to laying the groundwork for successful thought leadership, and getting a professional’s take on your social media presence can be eye-opening. The persona you’re putting out there matters—and seeing yourself through fresh eyes makes all the difference.

Catch up on Grasslands’ 10 Tenets of Thought Leadership blog series.

We're always happy to talk shop at Grasslands. Drop us a line.

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