Personal Websites – Lessons from the Top Thinkers50

If you are professor or thought leader and want to create an individual website, where should you begin? An interesting reference point is the latest Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers, many of whom are professors. Published every two years, the Thinkers50 ranking is communicated as “the essential guide to which thinkers and which ideas matter now.” For an idea to matter, effective communications is essential.

Back in 2014, I interviewed Thinkers 50 co-founder Des Dearlove on a podcast episode I was hosting. “They are all fantastic communicators – that has enabled them to get where they are,” said Dearlove on the commonality of the top 50 thinkers. “It is partly an attitude mindset. These people were all smart enough earlier in their careers to realize that if they were going to influence the world, media skills and communications skills were important to sharpen and hone.”

The most recent ranking was unveiled at an event in November 2019. I went through and reviewed the personal website of each of the top 50 thinkers. I considered the following key elements that I generally recommend my clients consider:

  • – Is there a clear value proposition statement or paragraph that succinctly summarizes their work of the academic and its application to a specified audience?
  • – Is content – blog posts, articles in the press, podcasts, etc. – published regularly (at least one new piece of content within the last three months)?
  • – Is there a sales call to action for a book, program, consulting service or some other related offering?
  • – Is there an email marketing component (visible call to action to subscribe to receive specific content)?

I should note that my definition of a personal website is an external site that generally is branded around the individual (for example, I also counted websites that are branded around an individual’s big idea. I do not count a LinkedIn profile or an academic’s bio within the institution’s website. While both are useful and should be strategically crafted, a personal website provides a different value proposition.

At the following PDF document, you will see the complete website analysis of all 50 individuals on the 2019 Thinkers50 global ranking. Highlighted is the name of the individual, their website (if applicable), the value proposition (if clearly stated), whether an email marketing component is in place, whether there is a clear call to action for selling a product / service, and if thought leadership content is updated regularly.

Best practices to consider

Based on my analysis, here are some points to consider if you are thinking about starting or revamping your own personal website:

  • – David Burkus offers a great example of how to effectively capture emails. His “Resources page” offers 29 different “lead magnets” – downloads of his content that can be accessed once someone provides their email. This enables David to segment his audience’s interests in his email marketing campaigns as he has the data to understand who might be interested in content on innovation, networking, leadership, etc.
  • – As a value proposition statement, I highly recommend following Whitney Johnson’s example: We help high-growth organizations build high-growth individuals. This is very clear, direct and focused on an external audience. Often times, personal websites dedicate too much energy to communicating the individual’s background – achievements, awards, degrees, etc. There is certainly a place to showcase one’s reputation. But that should come after the person visiting the website has a clear idea about what is in it for them.
  • – In my work with clients, I often guide them through the process of thinking about their main value proposition and then the related 3-5 key messages. I usually work with my clients to summarize these takeaways in a short document. This is the foundation and then should be cascaded on all communications collateral. Eric Ries’ The Lean Start-up website is a great example of communicating key messages. There is a clear value proposition front and center – “The movement that is transforming how new products are built and launched”. Then when you scroll down, you come across the five different principles (or messages) that relate to the value proposition (Entrepreneur are everywhere, Entrepreneurship is management, Validated learning, Innovation Accounting and Build-Measure-Learn).
  • – Too often, individuals and organizations focus their content efforts on the medium instead of the problem that is being solved. They build everything around terms like “blog” or “podcast” or “YouTube videos”. In my opinion, it is better to build your content around customer pain points. I really like how Sheena Iyengar approached this. At the bottom of her website, there are five different boxes centered around “Big Question – Choose a Question to Learn More About my Work”:

* Why is this choice important
* What does it mean to be authentic?
* What is the art of choosing?
* What does it mean to think bigger?
* How do you study authenticity?

  Within each question is a link leading to a section that features additional resources.

  • – Susan David’s website provides a great example on how to market and sell a book. There is a nice background image of Susan speaking at a TED event, visually appealing thumbnails of the book cover and medals on the website. It is smart to offer a free first chapter of a book as the lead magnet. The quiz related to the book, videos and long list of “as seen on” media outlets provide further credibility.
  • – Of the Thinker’s 50, Liz Wiseman’s website provides the most compelling example of selling a workshop. The question at the outset – “What if you could double your team’s intelligence?” – peeked my interest. The visuals, storytelling, examples and social proof are all very well done.

Kevin Anselmo is the founder of Experiential Communications. He works on a 1-to-1 basis to help individual academics and researchers share their expertise effectively to achieve specific objectives.