As a consultant, most times you are asked to lead a conversation and your audience already knows you are the best choice for the job. You are the "obvious expert". You have the most certifications, longest resume, and deepest experience of anyone in the room.  From the very beginning, the room is quiet, still, and eager to have you shed light in your area of influence.

 

But what if you are asked to lead a conversation and you aren't the "obvious expert"?

What if your audience includes people...

  • with more experience than you?
  • with higher level degrees and more advanced certifications than you?
  • with businesses bigger than yours?
  • with larger followings and better reputations than yours?

How do you fully own your responsibility as the leader while respecting the expertise found in your audience?

 

Today I want to introduce you to someone doing a phenomenal job responding to this challenge.  Her name is Jackie Domanus and she is the owner of the TED: Ideas Worth Spreading - Unofficial group on LinkedIn. The group contains 457,847 (and growing) thought leaders who are some of the best and brightest LinkedIn has to offer.

Jackie will tell you, she is not "smarter" than the people in the group , there is more than enough intellect to go around. Still, she recognizes her responsibility to lead the group in a way where mature conversation, engagement, and debate can take place. Her strategies must work. Her group is one of the most active "mega groups" on LinkedIn.

This interview discusses how she does it.  Not only did we have a great conversation, but we also revealed four specific best practices you can apply as you continue to influence your audience. See below.

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Interview Transcript:

Alzay: Hey everybody, it's Alzay Calhoun with Coveted Consultant. I'm here with a special guest, I'm here with Jackie Domanus, who runs a group on LinkedIn, that's all about TED, T E D if you know what that is. We may have her explain that in just a minute.

Not only does she run the group, but she's also a freelance consultant herself in the marketing and advertising world. She understands what it means to be a consultant, she also understands thought leadership. She does it in her own business and she does it with this group.

First of all I want to welcome Jackie. Jackie, welcome to the call today.

Jackie: Thanks for having me.

Alzay: Why don't we just begin at the beginning, which is, why did you start the group and...yeah, just why'd you start?

Jackie: I actually started the group back in...it was either June or July of 2007. The reason I started it was because, I was on a number of different social platforms, including, obviously LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter...I don't remember if MySpace was there at that point or not, or it's been already dismantled for the most part.

Ultimately, what I was finding is that, when I was on these different social platforms and following the head brand, there was a little difficulty in having long term and thoughtful conversations. A lot of times with different channels, you'd have people trolling the sites, who can just start fights and everything, it's not that, that doesn't particularly happen at LinkedIn either.

I think that LinkedIn specifically, kind of, sets the dates for a little bit more of a intelligent discourse. Because I was following TED on these other social channels, and I'm an avid LinkedIn participant, I went to LinkedIn, to see if there was actually a TED group on the platform, and there wasn't. It really was that simple, I just started it.

I was like, "I want to connect with other people that are interested in TED ideas, or spreading in what they're doing," and I thought that was fascinating. It was actually, right around the times that LinkedIn groups actually started. So, it's just the luck of the draw, ultimately, being the first one that really did it, and yelled quickly, and people joined.

There was no marketing component to it, and that brings us now today to...I think the groups are near 450,000 members, and growing strong. It has one of the highest engagement rates of the Mega Groups. I couldn't speak for all the other groups though.

Alzay: For those who may not be familiar with TED, just tell us what TED is, what it's about and what you find interesting about it.

Jackie: TED, Ideas Worth Spreading, is ultimately the really kind of think tank, conference organization where they bring together thought leaders in a multitude of different disciplines from the arts, technology, design. It's very hard for me to even come across somebody that's not familiar with TED Talks.

If there's a topic you're interested on and there's somebody that you're curious that's a leader in their space to hear about, likely there's either TED Talk or a TEDx Talk of some sort of them actually articulating whatever that is. It's really engaging because the format that they actually have for their talks is really drilled down and really to the basics of just somebody potentially with some sort of maybe there's a video, maybe there's a power point behind them.

It's really those speakers that really compel you in such an engaging manner that has captured the interest and intrigue of everybody. I like to call people TED sters. They're really just engaged in the community as a whole, whether it be on LinkedIn or other platforms.

Alzay: The tag line for TED is "Ideas Worth Spreading." At least for you personally, what are some of the ideas worth spreading, for you, in your world

Jackie: I guess I would probably transition that more in regards to ideas worth spreading that I perceive within the confines of the group itself. When it comes to the group itself, I try not to particularly dictate that I know everything and that I'm all knowledgeable about all topics.

The way I see it is that the LinkedIn group, in my view, is TEDx Internet or TEDx LinkedIn. This is a self organized TED group based on LinkedIn, but ultimately, the way I like to think about it is that everybody has different types of ideas that they deem worth spreading. It ultimately comes down to putting it out into the group. Certain things will gravitate and really get a lot of traction and other things won't.

As long as people stay within the posting guidelines, generally I'm really open to people opening up discussions on a whole slew of different topics.

Alzay: This is probably a softball but I'm going to go ahead and ask anyway.

Jackie: No go for it.

Alzay: What makes the TED community as you see? I'm talking about your LinkedIn community. What makes that community special and worth engaging in?

Jackie: They're passionate that's for sure [laughs] . I'd say that's probably one of the things that makes it...from what I've see one of the special groups I've come across and most passionate users. People go into these conversations with other individuals whether they're down the street or across the globe.

The thing that I found most interesting is that because the group is housed on LinkedIn and people's profiles are supported by ultimately their resumes, references and their networks.

I think that people tend to have for the most part higher level and more engaging conversations. The thing is you can understand when you're actually engaging in these conversations with people. The background that they bring to the table and that background really ultimately dictates to what degree you take this person as an expert or take their opinion from whatever that they're actually saying.

Because of the nature of what TED is, and the nature of the Internet and LinkedIn, it's kind of creative, really interesting dynamic of intelligent people that can disagree whole heartedly on a [inaudible 07:38] different topics, but still open themselves up to having engaging discussions with people across the globe and ultimately hopefully learn new things.

Ultimately, that's what TED as a whole is all about. It's about learning new things, it's about educating yourself. I consider myself an information junkie. I don't think I can get enough of the different feeds that I have going into my RSS feeds. Ultimately it's whether it's more passive message of reading content.

Maybe you're communicating or maybe you do comment on things. The thing is the LinkedIn group is very much [inaudible 08:19] very quarrel like as well as that it's solely based on comments. It's not really just content delivery, it's content engagement ultimately.

Alzay: Let's talk about this. Tell me more about how you think about content engagement, and how that has become beneficial to those that are better in the group.

Jackie: Let me start off and back up with just my thought process when it comes to proving things within the cue to the group. Ultimately on a day to day basis I'll go on numerous times a day, and there's so many people going in and trying to spam. Lead generation for generating clicks to different articles and everything.

For me I made this point that, when I started the group, one component of it was that I didn't think that I was more knowledgeable than other people and that I could solely dictate what ideas of each individuals were worth spreading.

With that kind of thinking in mind and knowing that people were in fact just trying to get linked or get clicks through to articles. Whenever I'm going through these posts, one of the things I always decide on, and one of the questions that continually comes into my mind is, is this a discussion?

Ultimately if someone just posts a link to something it's like that's not a discussion. I'm sure the article's great, but ultimately for the group it's not a discussion.

Links associated with a thoughtful summarization of somebody's opinion and potentially some follow up jumping off talking points and questions to engage the group, that in fact is a discussion. It's not self promotional, it's potentially someone could be writing about some article that they did in fact write.

More than anything it's ultimately someone found an article through whatever channel and they're like, oh I found this and I want to have a conversation with this specific engaging group as opposed to maybe in the comments section of that article.

Just by virtue of the nature of the group and the fact that TED is a think tank conference organization based on learning and educating and questioning and having engaging dialog that ultimately just replicates itself in an online platform. It's surprising to me the different scales of things that actually resonate within the group because I think of a long time ago, and I think of the discussions made.

It maybe maxed out of however many comments it had. The thread was based on poems like people sharing poems. And so, it was actually a lovely thread. People would just go in and post different poems that they found or that they've written themselves.

Within groups, you can opt in to actually receiving updates from push notifications as new comments are posted to the group. At some point, people were just like, "Oh, my god. I love this thread so much." I saw that people that would comment that on the thread.

It may be out currently. I have to double check. It had tens of thousands of comments, poems and everything. I would never encourage anybody to go to the very beginning. Because, I think, just by virtue of clicking "go to most recent comments" would probably take forever.

It's that conversations on poems. There will also be conversations on very kind of altruistic thoughts. I actually see that's actually resonating thread within the group. There's a component of people, good will and giving. That really comes through.

And then, there's also people on very polarizing topics like evolution, god and everything. I will say, for those types of discussions, I try to mitigate those a little bit just because, and I'm being completely honest, those are such a headache for me. [laughs]

It's sort of the things that...I don't think people particularly need to respect one another. I don't think they need to respect each other's opinions, but I do think that they need to have a level of civil discourse.

Unfortunately, sometimes they're just polarizing conversations that are just prime opportunities for people trolling the Internet looking to get into fights with people. It goes against the grain of what the community had created among itself.

I would also like to say that the bad apples or the people that do those type of things are very few and far in between. But, I will say that amount of time that I've spent dealing with some of those is ridiculous.

Alzay: I appreciate what you're saying because there's actually...Oh, sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead.

Jackie: Did I answer your question actually? Sorry. I started going...Did I get to your point?

Alzay: No. You did. Actually I wanted to go little deeper into some of the things that you said because you're giving us your philosophy on thought leadership in a way that you have chosen to lead this group.

And so, we were discussing this offline, this idea of TED is full of thought leaders. These are people who went through experience, or through education, or some mix of those things having very specific opinions on a given topic. And so, these people want to have conversations around that topic at whatever level is appropriate.

You happen to lead a group who loves these people, actually, a whole lot of these people. Creating an environment where those conversations can happen is challenging especially when you have some of the people to consider.

In a very practical way we were discussing, as consultants we are trying to establish thought leadership in different forms, large forms, small forms, et cetera, and there's a lot of philosophy and ways to go about doing that.

I think you have given us a very specific take on how to do it, and I think that the size of your group is an indicator of how well you're doing. It must be working because you've got people actively engaging in your forum.

Jackie: It potentially works. I will say, though, people don't always like it. I get emails on a regular basis about people feeling that I'm censoring them in some capacity.

That's actually one of those specific trigger words that I vehemently disagree with. If somebody were to actually post something within the context of what's dictated within the group, it would likely make it through, but the reality is you can tell when people are spamming the group and trying to promote certain agendas, and everything, and really, ultimately, it's not there for the point of actually having an engaging conversation.

That's like the previous notes, my point for really, ultimately, how I engage this group. Also, what helped is, also, in the early days, and ever since day one of having this group, I have moderated the queue. My thing is that, at a certain point, when you've been a member of the group for a bit of time, you're able to comment freely but, ultimately, not one person, no matter how long you've been a part of the group, is actually able to post a new discussion to the group.

Every single new discussion topic post, they all go through moderation. I think also what helped ultimately within the group, and I heard this a lot more in the earlier days, people were like, "Oh my god, this group has no spam. Thank you so much." We're advertised to...

Granted, I come from the marketing/advertising background, but we're advertised to in so many different channels. When you're on LinkedIn, you're advertised to, as well, but the reality is, within the group, for the most part I'd like to think that you're not advertised to.

You're engaging in conversation. Hopefully you can let your guard down to a certain extent and not feel like somebody's trying to promote you and get something out of you. You're there to contribute and engage to this community.

Alzay: I'm hearing a couple of themes. Either talk to or refine these themes that I'm thinking of.

I'm thinking of his idea of moderation, meaning that someone needs to vet or filter the conversation that's happening to keep it healthy. That's the point.

I'm also hearing engagement. The idea is that we want to engage in conversation, you use those words often.

There needs to be, again, a back and forth. Someone's got an agenda, it's a one way communication, then there's no space for someone to talk back, and them that deadens the conversation.

Jackie: Honestly, those people get [inaudible 18:03 because at some point...The group to a certain extent self moderates, to a certain extent. Of course there's the flagging functionality, and everything, but generally there is a component of these tribes that are friends, that have been virtual friends with these different people and familiar with them. If people clearly are not there for the same goal, ultimately they're not really going to be there for very long.

Also, Joe, in regards to the thought leadership component and the moderation, although I moderate the group at a very high umbrella in terms of the discussions that get posted, what I do expect for anybody that actually starts a discussion, is that they're actually accountable for that discussion, to keep it on target, to keep it moving along, to keep it within the guidelines of whatever.

If something's going on, it's really up to them to reach out to me. Also, in that same regard, if I've had a few people reach out to me about issues within a certain thread, the first person I'll actually go to is the person that actually started the thread.

I'll actually reach out to them. It's like, "Hey! I'm hearing this. What's going on here?" I'll get their take on what's happening. Ultimately, with a group this size, as an individual, I do not have...

Also, I'd like to mention that this is on a volunteer basis. I don't have the time to moderate every single conversation, every single comment, that goes through the group. The people that have started these discussions, it is their rule to stay engaged.

Ultimately, if they don't get back to me or if they're letting these threads go haywire, I do go in and close the discussion.

Alzay: Now a third theme has just been introduced, which I appreciate. There's moderation, there's engagement, now I'm talking about accountability. That's what you just described.

Jackie: If some person made comments. [laughs] I like that.

Alzay: If it's your job, I'm sorry, it's the person's job who posted to then be responsible for keeping the health of their own individual comments there, because you can't do it all.

Jackie: I agree with that, yes.

Alzay: Are there more? Let me ask you that question. You gave us three big ideas there. Are there any other big ideas that someone should consider if they're leading a group like this one?

Jackie: You've got to give people enough rope to do their thing with, but not enough to hang themselves with. At the end of the day, there are numerous comments that have come through the group that I don't particularly agree with on a personal level.

The melody is I find that this horse really engaging, really interesting. I think there's always a learning opportunity. Whether or not on a factual level, you potentially know something is inaccurate, you can open the flood gates up to a certain extent for people to learn.

Keeping that in mind throughout it, and just giving people leeway, and just acknowledging that these are other adults and everything. At some point, it's like we're not children anymore. Let's act like it. I think when put to the challenge, people really rise to it.

Alzay: Here's what I'm thinking about. As a consultant myself, and I've got my own business, and for those who are listening to this who are consultants or advisers in some way. I'm listening to what you're saying. For some people, they may take these thoughts and call them second tiers. Say, "Listen. I don't lead some big group. These things are over my head."

As I'm listening to you, I hear some very deliberate application. The idea of moderation, engagement, accountability, flexibility. When we're having meetings with our clients, and we're sitting in a group full of three people, the idea of moderating, of making sure that the right ideas are brought to the forefront still is appropriate.

It's important for everybody in the room to be engaged if it's just two people. Everybody has got to feel like they're a part of the conversation that's taking place. Accountability, if someone said something...I'm sorry. go ahead.

Jackie: Oh, no. I'm just agreeing with you. Absolutely.

Alzay: Even if it's just a very small group, if someone said something that's out of bounds, or contrary, or just not necessarily relevant, and we've got to hold them accountable for what it is that they said they said.

[crosstalk]

Jackie: I say to that specific point too, it's like you hold them accountable. I think what we all fall in danger of whether it be from a consultant standpoint or even within moderation of a group is that you don't want to hold people so accountable to the point that nobody wants to say anything. Everybody needs a little bit of a leash to run with, that you can take accountability for potentially an idea that really scales to a really great level.

Maybe it ends up being a huge pitfall and if that's the case too, that's fine as well. I'm very active in the startup community. It's like a "fail fast, learn fast," but ultimately it's never really a true failure. You're learning. It's a learning process, and everything.

Sometimes people say things out of turn. Sometimes people will say things that are maybe inappropriate like poor ideas, or maybe somebody wasn't listening to something and it's already been iterated. It's helpful to give people a break every so often. People don't always have to get in trouble for every little misstep that they take.

Alzay: Absolutely. I think that's a really big idea for those of us who consider ourselves thought leaders. It is easy to take the opinion of, "I'm right and you are wrong. I'm a thought leader. I'm the guy that read the [inaudible 24:27] book."

Jackie: I'd like to think that thought leaders don't think that way. The reason also thought leaders get to that certain point, aside when you get to certain elements that are like kind of factual based. I'd like to think that thought leaders also get to that point, because they're open to the learning experience. I think ultimately you don't really become an expert in anything unless you're actively learning and engaging.

Those people also are well aware that until you've actually figured it out, you make a lot of missteps until you get there.

Alzay: Absolutely. I agree. You just stole my thunder. [laughs] That's where I'm headed. It's the back and forth that actually fills your authority, your leadership, your knowledge about [inaudible 25:15] .

Jackie, I appreciate you and your time today. Did we miss anything? Is there anything else that's got to be discussed while we're on the line together?

Jackie: No. I definitely would say from a group management perspective, and I think that there's very much an application to just what I said within numerous different groups. From batting good of it, it's all the truth.

Alzay: Absolutely, it is. Jackie, it's a pleasure talking to you. Thanks so much for your time.

Jackie: Thank you.

Alzay: Yeah, thank you. Thank you much.

Jackie: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much. If anybody does have comments, I'd love them to tweet me at Jackie Domanus, @JackieDomanus. I'm always happy to hear different takes on this, and suggestions.

Alzay: Absolutely, we'll do. I'll include that in the interview. OK, Jackie.

Jackie: Bye bye.

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Did we miss anything? What other best practices should be considered when leading other thought leaders? Post below.

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