Employee Thought Leadership. Leveraging the Company's Intellectual Firepower: A Case Study on Employee Knowledge Sharing for Thought Leadership on Social Media

Estelle Desaint Lomholt

Student thesis: Master thesis


Purpose: The increasingly competitive landscape in the global consultancy industry has created the need to externalize the intellectual capital of the company, in order to increase reputation, subject matter authority and trust. This thesis is inspired by a growing thought leadership trend where forward-thinking employees share knowledge and innovative perspectives on social media to enhance the perception of the company’s intellectual power and influence client and stakeholder decision-making. The purpose of this study is to generate more knowledge about thought leadership as a concept, as it is a novel field within the literature. More specifically, this thesis explores thought leadership in an organizational context from the perspective of employees to define the drivers and barriers to sharing knowledge on social media for thought leadership, including the required capabilities.
Methods: A mixed methods case study design is used to answer which factors influence employee knowledge sharing for thought leadership on social media, and how the organization can create the right circumstances to develop thought leaders. Thought leadership is viewed as an externalized knowledge sharing situation, and a mix of deductive and inductive research approaches are used to shed light on it. This includes a review of the thought leadership- and knowledge sharing literature, which has resulted in a research model of technological, individual and organizational factors. This model is tested and iterated on through 4 in-depth employee interviews and a survey distributed among 120 employees in a global digital consultancy.
Results: This study has found employee knowledge sharing for thought leadership on social media to be influenced primarily by individual factors, namely intrinsic motivational drivers (helping others and learning/self-development) and extrinsic motivational drivers (personal branding and social recognition/status). Likewise, motivational barriers have been identified, including practical costs (time and effort) and social costs (the fear of providing inadequate knowledge and losing face). The latter is found to be enhanced in an external knowledge sharing situation compared to findings in internal knowledge sharing studies. Furthermore, mitigating this fear has been linked to developing core thought leader capabilities, which have been conceptualized in this study as intellectual leadership and communication and influential skills. Secondly, organizational factors have been found less influential than individual factors, however, the findings indicate that formalization, encouragement, motivation, support, feedback and recognition of thought leadership from the investment in resources (time and training/upskilling), as well as in strengthening the thought leadership culture with management practices that foster innovation and drive generation and sharing of tacit knowledge in order to develop thought leaders.
Implications: Although the constructed model has limitations and the findings cannot be generalized widely due to the chosen approach, this thesis still generates original value. On a practical level, this thesis provides actionable insights to the case organization that may lay ground for decision-making when investing in thought leadership. On a theoretical level, this study may help mature thought leadership as a literary field by serving as an inspiration for how it can be studied as a knowledge sharing situation contingent on a number of factors, including the identified thought leader capabilities. Moreover, the findings contribute to the knowledge sharing literature by suggesting how an externalized knowledge sharing situation may affect employee motivation.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages85
SupervisorsLiana Razmerita