Andy Sernovitz: How Cargill built its global thought leadership position from scratch - SmartBrief

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Andy Sernovitz: How Cargill built its global thought leadership position from scratch

Cargill worked to become a thought leader in the field of food security by collecting data, curated existing conent and cultivated followers.

3 min read

Marketing Strategy

How Cargill became a global thought leadership from scratch

Cargill's Maria Lettman (Photo:

“Cargill is probably the oldest 150-year-old company you’ve never heard of,” says Maria Lettman, director of social media at Cargill.

They’re in the business of supplying food, agriculture, financial, and industrial products and services to the world. With food security a major issue in the future, Cargill didn’t want to be just part of the ongoing conversation — they wanted to be a thought leader in that conversation.

At’s Brands-Only Summit, Lettman maps out how they became a global thought leader in the field of food security — with no staff, and no budget. Here are a few takeaways from her presentation:

  • Collect data: The first thing Lettman did was set up a monitoring tool. They tracked conversations around hunger, trade policy, rural development, farm productivity, sustainability, and climate change — on not only social media, but also on traditional media. She says this step is crucial if you are going to begin thought leadership, especially if you have limited staff and budget.
  • Start with curation: “It’s better to be in the conversation everyday when your audience is there, rather than to wait until you put together content of your own,” said Lettman. They created complicated search strings to bring in specific online conversations into their monitoring tool, which developed into their new content engine.
  • Carefully cultivate followers: They wanted to be the first to offer the best content that wasn’t shared by others every day. Cargill launched the Twitter handle, @foodsecureworld, and built their new community one by one. They chose select influencers to offer valuable content, who in return shared and retweeted their content. Through this they slowly built new relationships and grew the community.
  • Use event anticipation: They found that for events, “before” is the most powerful opportunity. Interest is highest before an event takes place, however, there is never enough content available. This is when Lettman’s team curates or creates original content to share, as well as live-stream events to bring awareness back to Cargill.

To see how Maria built thought leadership in more detail, check out her full presentation here, or download her slide deck here.

Andy Sernovitz builds organizations that help people help each other. His company, GasPedal, builds peer-to-peer communities for people leading meaningful change at the world’s biggest companies, including and Health. He wrote the best-selling book Word of Mouth Marketing that teaches you how to earn the respect and recommendation of your customers.